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Australia AI The Military Technology

US Robots Win Big Down Under 60

Posted by timothy
from the but-did-the-teams-afterward-get-bombed dept.
An anonymous reader writes "US teams dominated the MAGIC 2010 autonomous robotics competition, mapping and neutralizing simulated bombs at the 250,000 sq. meter Royal Showgrounds in Adelaide, Australia. Leading the pack with a team of fourteen robots was Team Michigan, principally from the University of Michigan, followed by the University of Pennsylvania, and RASR. This contest marks the beginning of practical robots that not only think for themselves, but also actively coordinate with a human commander."
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US Robots Win Big Down Under

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I for one welcome our robot overlords.

  • by Freaky Spook (811861) on Friday November 19, 2010 @01:35AM (#34278752)
    All the Australian robots realised they were in Adelaide and were quite happy to let the place get blown to bits.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ah yes Adelaide, the only place a bomb would do $5,000,000 worth of improvements.

      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        Ah yes Adelaide, the only place a bomb would do $5,000,000 worth of improvements.

        I guess that you have never been to Detroit. It's difficult for new networks, though:

        CNN: "Look at these pictures before the bomb blast in Detroit and after the bomb blast! Do you see the difference?"

        Viewer: "No."

    • by davidbofinger (703269) on Friday November 19, 2010 @02:09AM (#34278862) Homepage

      All the Australian robots realised they were in Adelaide and were quite happy to let the place get blown to bits.

      Nonsense! Robots love Adelaide. You didn't think the place was designed for humans, did you? The city's laid out in a nice rational square, the nasty rust-making river is damn-near non-existent and nothing ever happens. It's the sort of place an AI can sit back, chill out and let its hard drive spin down because it knows it won't be needing to make note of anything.

      • Pfft. What robot fantasy-world are you from?

        All the robots I've ever seen are fully into vibrant cities with a great night life. Why, I'm friends with a robot in my local botburb last night who had gotten completely off his tree analysing 5mm plastic washers. Completely filled his residential memory - and swap space. You should have seen the things coming from stdout!!! Segfaulted and when he rebooted the next day and had cleared the memory dump said, "B357 \|/33K3|\|D 3\/4|2". Go figure.

        Anyway, my po
  • I love robots (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Friday November 19, 2010 @01:39AM (#34278766) Journal
    Anyone remember the early 80s where there were basic video games, calculators in the department stores, and computers were terribly expensive? You think to yourself,"Maybe someday there will be more computers and video games around." And before that computers were rarer still and more basic. And now we're living in a world where computers are everywhere and are pretty satisfactory. You gotta think maybe in 30 years the world will be populated with decent AI robots of various types. Just like I couldn't conceive of all the types of video games possible in the future then, I can't conceive of all the types of robots possible in the future now. This feeling of,"Anything is possible in the future" brings a warm feeling into my heart. I just hope robots don't become cheap soldiers that any rich guy can own his personal army.
    • by pspahn (1175617)

      Ok, you first.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      "I just hope robots don't become cheap soldiers that any rich guy can own his personal army."

      They probably will be used for war if they become somewhat useful. That's the most important thing ever, right?

    • Re:I love robots (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Friday November 19, 2010 @02:59AM (#34279028)

      I think robots are nice and have loads of practical uses, but honestly I'm just waiting for something like LCARS [memory-alpha.org] to be practical. Integrated compute control of all the major systems in the house, etc.

      The only thing that never really made sense to me were typing things out. In Enterprise they had a keyboard of sorts but there weren't nearly enough keys to cover most of the major symbols.

      I suppose I'm just in love with the general concept of it.

      I just hope robots don't become cheap soldiers that any rich guy can own his personal army.

      I imagine eventually the UN is going to draw a line between remote-controlled drones (UAVs like the Predator) and AI bots and forbid AI bots from being used, at the very least, in direct combat. Besides, there are a lot of issues at hand with bots; EMPS, for one. Robots won't be nearly as agile and fast as a human running for his life can be, so I imagine they would be far more vulnerable to specialized weaponry designed to counteract them (or hell, even conventional "big bang" weaponry like grenade launchers, rockets, missiles, etc.) Robots can be hacked and reprogrammed, soldiers cannot so easily. It would be a P.R. disaster if an Army Combat bot is seized by an enemy combatant with off-the-shelf gear and turned on its own soldiers.

      I don't believe that robots will be practical enough (cost-wise) to be used as soldiers for at least 20-30 years (if we and/or the international community would even allow such a thing to happen).

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by Peeteriz (821290)

        Robots can be hacked and reprogrammed, soldiers cannot so easily.

        In our current major conflicts, like Afganistan, the risk of rogue drones (which has happened) is insignificant to the huge number of cases where soldiers have turned on us - a noticeable percentage of troops, officers and demolitions experts trained by NATO forces have later went on to support the insurgents. If anything, I'd say that the drones will be more loyal in practice, simply their actions may have more PR-risk.

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Citation on troops going turncoat?

          And IMO better a human being make the conscious choice to join the enemy side rather than a robot being programmed to flip sides in the middle of a battle. If our own soldiers are jumping ship to live in a cave and shoot RPGs at Humvees, we're doing something very, very wrong.

      • Re:I love robots (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:21AM (#34281142) Homepage Journal

        Robots won't be nearly as agile and fast as a human running for his life can be

        You can outrun a motorcycle when you're on foot? Robots don't have to be anthropomorphic, and usually aren't.

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Yes, in many situations:

          • On sand/loose gravel
          • Up a rocky, uneven hill
          • Through a cavern through which the drone will not fit
          • Over basically any surface unstable, small, or unnavigable enough that a vehicle of any sort wouldn't be able to keep up with me

          Until we have drones that can match or exceed what a human can do, we will have the advantage in places that they cannot go. Incidentally, some of those places (like the Tora Bora caves) are where a lot of forces hostile to us like to hang out.

          Either way, a bot th

    • by vegiVamp (518171)

      > computers are [...] pretty satisfactory.

      Alright, that's it. Turn in your geek card and get out of here.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        You don't think today's computers are satisfactory? What do you need your computer do do that it won't do now? Most likely the GP's a geezer who's been around since the IBM PC, with no hard drive, a 360k floppy, 64k of RAM, and a 5mHz processor that cost $5,000 was the norm.

        Hell, my recently stolen netbook [slashdot.org] was more powerful than any desktop on the market just ten or so years ago. A gigabyte of RAM was unheard of back then.

        • You don't think today's computers are satisfactory? What do you need your computer do do that it won't do now? Most likely the GP's a geezer who's been around since the IBM PC, with no hard drive, a 360k floppy, 64k of RAM, and a 5mHz processor that cost $5,000 was the norm.

          Yeah, they seem great compared to what they used to be able to do, but they are still far from reaching their capabilities. Voice recognition is still pretty poor and computer generated speech for general input is only moderately decent. Try getting it to speak a math text for example; that can only be done if the input text is in the perfect format currently. Computer vision is very poor, AI is nowhere near where people thought it would be at this point, and machine translation is moderate to poor, though

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            AI is nowhere near where people thought it would be at this point

            I don't think it ever will.

            The amount of processing power that can be carried around on a battery charge that can last more than a day is also extremely limited compared to the uses that it could have for the above tasks and more.

            My netbook (which was just stolen) was far more powerful than the desktop machine I was using ten years ago, and even more powerful than the POS I use at work, but its battery lasts over eight hours.

            I look forward to

            • If current capabilities are all you need, and want then fine, but that's not what you asked. You asked what else one would want a computer to do that it wouldn't do now, and I gave a bunch of examples. If you don't see how those would impact people's lives, you're not being creative enough. Finally, while 8 hours is 2-4 times better than very old and current crappy laptops could do, the real benefits start to happen when you don't have to be tethered to power every few (or 8) hours. More than a day would st
        • by vegiVamp (518171)

          It was a *joke*. I feel that the idea that things are satisfactory is anathema to the geek mindset, which tends to go something along the lines of "Hey, Cool. How does it work? I wonder if I can make it go to eleven..."

    • You gotta think maybe in 30 years the world will be populated with decent AI robots of various types. [...] This feeling of,"Anything is possible in the future" brings a warm feeling into my heart.

      Everything except a decent goddamned flying car.

  • Congratulations... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Willbur (196916) on Friday November 19, 2010 @01:47AM (#34278790) Homepage

    Congrats to the teams that did well. I know a bunch of Australian teams that looked into entering and decided not to because:

        a) It was an engineering challenge more than a research challenge,
        b) It was closer to that ethical line of making killer robots than, say, the DARPA Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle competition,
        c) There was an extremely compressed timeline to actually make anything, and
        d) The prize is mostly prestige. i.e. It wouldn't come anywhere near the development costs even for the teams that won.

    So, it was a less than perfect competition. But that also means that the teams that did well in it did well under difficult conditions, so good for them. :)

    • d) The prize is mostly prestige. i.e. It wouldn't come anywhere near the development costs even for the teams that won.

      Engineers and scientists are never in it for the money: they just want to prove that they can do something better than anyone else. This trait in human beings led to constant innovation: quicker methods of starting fires, better weapons to kill cuddly mammoths, etc. The highest art and skill of engineers and scientists is convincing others to pay for their cockamamie contraptions. This was true from Archimedes to Leonardo da Vinci: "Hey, you! Government, despot, whatever! Pay for my research, and I will

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        its just too bad about those enemies.

        • by sempir (1916194)

          Y'know....all this robot shit worries me.....one day someone is going to connect a brain to one and whooooosh.....we're fucked! Now a really well made blow up doll...........! :~)

    • The head of my research group was also looking to compete, but part c in your list is what prevented him. He decided to wait it out, see how the competition went, and perhaps enter the next time the hold it. I have a feeling many universities felt the same way, as you didn't see a lot of the big guns participate in this one (which might be more due to part d, but who knows).
    • by afrojade (1943812)
      The Michigan team won $750K! You call that nowhere close to meeting development costs?! http://ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=8127 [umich.edu] Even if the prize was $5K or something, that is absolutely no reason not to participate! Else hundreds of universities all over the world would not be participating in Formula SAE style events.
  • by PatPending (953482) on Friday November 19, 2010 @02:25AM (#34278908)
    They used the Hokuyo UTM-30LX Laser RangeFinder (LIDAR) which has a MSRP of $5,600 and a 30m range (270 degree FOV). I wonder if the Kinect would be a low-cost/low-resolution alternative in some environments (e.g., urban)? And at $150 each, one could use three or four Kinects for a wide field of view.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by getto man d (619850)
      Interesting idea, however, using a lower resolution sensor leads to a more complicated model. SLAM and other mapping techniques are generally probabilistic based. It depends whether or not they have the processing power and energy to find a viable solution using the Kinect or other visual senors.

      There is a large subset of the SLAM community devoted to this, Visual-SLAM; check it out.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by chardson (1865338)
      Odds that the Kinect will work outdoors should be quite low, as it relies on an array-based infrared system. Alternatively, a laser range finder uses a highly focused pulse of light at (nearly) a single point, which performs better in natural sunlight. It seems quite likely that Kinect will be popular in the near future for indoor robotics and robotics education, but indoor/outdoor robustness is strongly desired these days and scanning LIDARs won't disappear until robust Flash LADAR becomes common
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Laser range finders are a must for accurate mapping and localization. I work with the UTM and other LIDARS on my robots, and the maps the produce are extremely accurate. Vision based navigation is possible, but it takes a lot of computation, and a lot of work to account for the uncertainty introduced. I'd say if you have the money, use both. Kinect might work well in a crunch, but as of now vision based SLAM is still in its infancy.
  • by EricX2 (670266) on Friday November 19, 2010 @02:25AM (#34278910) Homepage Journal

    I read the title as US Robotics and thought it had to do with the modem company winning a lawsuit in Australia. I guess I've been reading slashdot too much lately that I always assume somebody is being sued in the stories.

  • by definate (876684) on Friday November 19, 2010 @09:49AM (#34280864)

    So that's what was fucking going on!

    You dick heads, I was doing exams, and all I could hear were planes and all sorts of shit happening in the background.

    Nice and considerate!

    For those not students of Adelaide University or UniSA, we do exams in the Showgrounds pavilions. No wonder we weren't allowed in the Wayville pavilion which is what we usually use. I did notice and odd amount of military personnel around the exams, I just assumed they were taking cheating seriously... real seriously.

    • "Name one time government did any good."

      Civil rights legislation.

    • YOUR university has exams at a showgrounds and YOUR complaining about the government? I have never heard of exams being taken anywhere other than in classrooms, maybe you should talk to the student counsel at your uni and file a complaint about off-campus exams.
      • by definate (876684)

        LOL It's actually a really good way. The campus is in the middle of the city, this makes it easier to get to. Plus they are able to do heaps of different exams at one time. They get like a couple of thousand people in that meat works.

        The first time, it really hits you and feels surreal. But you get used to it, and it works well after that. Heaps of parking, heaps of space, _usually_ quiet. They're also able to hold them for 3 hours (which is the average exam length for me), where as few classes go for 3 hou

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