Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rise of the Robots 2: The Cinderblocking

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As I may have pointed out before, I fear robots. Oh, sure, they're helpful now, or so they and their creators would have us believe, but I know better. They have plans, I tell you. Big plans. Plans for world domination.

Take, for example, the various attempts to create a robot bartender. The first one, developed at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, used sophisticated programming to navigate behind a simulated "bar" in the lab, fetching a limited menu of drinks and snacks selected from a tablet on the bar and placing them before the "customer."

The mechanized publican moved with a ponderous slowness and finally delivered its libations with a flat and emotionless affect, but it was still a heck of a lot faster and friendlier than the bartenders at the Grand Hyatt in New York.

Meanwhile, a group of geeks working under the highly appropriate name of Party Robotics have given us Bartendro, which is decidedly less mobile and completely nonverbal, but which can make "dozens of drinks, including black Russians, Kahlua mudslides, or almost any other classy beverage of your choosing," according to an article on 

Sounds cool, you say? Sure it does. That's all part of the plot. Read on. Once you're confuzzled by robotically mixed White Russians, maybe you'd like some music. Here, again, the 'bots are taking over.

Compressorhead is an all-robot band from Australia made up of a four-armed drummer named Stickboy; a guitarist with 78 fingers named, of course, Fingers; and the self-described "highest precision bass player in known existence," an automaton named Bones. They play tunes like Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" and the Ramones' "Blitkrieg Bop." Since they haven't yet developed a robot singer, the lyrics are projected on a screen behind the band, at least until someone tracks down and finds some way to upload that guy who sang "Cars" back in the '80s.

So what, you think? A few drinks, some hard rock 'n' roll, what could be better? Well, friends, that's just to lull you into a false sense of security until they bring out Big Dog II.
You may remember a few months ago I told you about Big Dog, Boston Dynamics' project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It's an eerie-looking headless robot "mule" with four insect-like legs, designed to carry loads to and from the battlefield.

Well, those fiends have been putting in long hours in their mad-scientist laboratory, making "improvements." Now, called the Legged Squad Support System, the Son of Big Dog has the capability to follow you. Yes, you heard right. According to, "This thing doesn't need to be remote controlled. It's smart enough to go along its human masters. Apparently, it's also intelligent enough to follow paths and work in tandem with his robotic brothers."

Supposedly, this allows the hauler to follow its team, carrying ammo, food, and other supplies on its back like a horse, for miles and miles without refueling. Relentless. Remorseless. No matter how far or how fast you run, it will be right there behind you. Scared yet?

Oh, and remember how I said that the original Big Dog didn't have a head? Well, the new model does. Or maybe it's a tail. Whatever it is, it has a big claw at the end of a long "neck" where a head (or tail) would be. And what does it do with that claw? It picks up and throws large and heavy objects, such as cinderblocks, up to 17 feet.

Boston Dynamics refers to the technique as "dynamic manipulation," which uses the "strength of the legs and torso to help power motions of the arm." I call it the beginning of the end. I've seen the video of this bruiser in action, and, like a digital Paul Revere, I'm here to warn you.

Mark my words. It's just a matter of time before that fateful night when the friendly robot bartender gets us all nice and mellow to the background accompaniment of a real metal band - but their robot buddies will be waiting for us out there in the parking lot, ready to follow us home, run us down and do us in with "dynamically manipulated" cinderblocks upside our heads.

They are coming. ...

1 comment:

Randy Johnson said...

Mustn't forget robot politicians. Though progress there is very limited. The GOP has only had limited success in downloading ideas and keep repeating them over and over.