Little lost robot

Paul Raven @ 19-05-2009

Robots have been mobile for decades, but they’ve only ever been able to go places for which they had a map or set of directions stored. That’s all changed thanks to a team of roboticists from Munich, who’ve built the first robot that can be unleashed into unfamiliar territory without a map. How does it complete its journey? It asks for directions, of course:

ACE uses cameras and software to detect humans nearby, based on their motion and upright posture. As it closes in on a likely helper, ACE’s “head” – bearing a touchscreen and a second screen displaying an animated mouth – turns to face the chosen person.

A speaker working in sync with the animated mouth is used to get the person’s attention and to ask them to touch the screen if they want to help. Willing guides are then asked to point the robot in the correct direction, with the response being analysed by posture recognition software. Direction set, ACE says “thank you” before trundling off.

Pointing, rather than telling the robot where to go, avoids confusion caused by the fact that the robot and the facing pedestrian each have a different sense of left and right.

Although it interacted with 38 people over a period of nearly five hours – ACE did eventually reach its destination. In fact, the team report that the robot was making very good progress until it reached a busy pedestrian area where its own popularity became a problem.

The current rarity of mobile robots in public spaces is obviously a big factor here; in a few more decades, we may barge past lost robots on the pavement as quickly and guiltily as we do homeless people or street-drunks.

The principle on display here is that of robot-human interaction in order to gather environmental data to complete a task or journey, which is all well and good, but it’s a proof-of-concept more than anything else. If all you needed was a robot that could navigate an unfamiliar cityscape, it’d be far easier to kit it out with good visual sensors and a GPS unit.

Hell knows this would be useless for military applications; if your super-killbot had to stop at every enemy checkpoint to ask the way to headquarters, I dare say the best place it would end up would be a long long way from anything at all… [story via regular commenter Evil Rocks; apologies to Paul McAuley for the headline]

Hyperlinking reality

Tom James @ 04-01-2009

where_isResearchers at MOBVIS project are working on a pattern-recognition system that allows you to take a picture of a building on your mobile and have the software identify where you are and what you’re looking at:

…the genius of the system boils down to a higher-dimension, feature-matching algorithm developed by the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, one of the partners of the project. It can very accurately detect minute but telling differences between similar objects, such as buildings or monuments, both by the appearance of the buildings themselves and their context in the streetscape.

Apparently the system gets it right about 80% of the time.

[from Physorg][from Unhindered by Talent on flickr]

Crime stats as sculpture – Mount Fear

Paul Raven @ 12-05-2008

Another little gem spotted by the grinders: what would you get if you took the crime incident statistics for London and represented them as a 3D physical map?

Mount Fear - installation sculpture based on crime statistics

Mount Fear is what you’d get. In the words of its creator, Abigail Reynolds:

The terrain of Mount Fear is generated by data sets relating to the frequency and position of urban crimes. Precise statistics are provided by the police. Each individual incident adds to the height of the model, forming a mountainous terrain … The imaginative fantasy space seemingly proposed by the sculpture is subverted by the hard facts and logic of the criteria that shape it.

While it makes for an intriguing art project, Mount Fear surely presages a short-range extrapolation of geolocative mash-ups.

In other words, being able to call up the data used for Mount Fear and overlay it on Google Maps running on your mobile device would make your next flat- or apartment-hunting experience that little bit more reassuring.

Or should that be less reassuring?

Urban mapping – prepare for the cartographolution!

Paul Raven @ 11-04-2008

SkyscrapersVia the one and only Bruce Sterling, here’s a post that’s remarkably bullish about the potential of web-reality mash-ups like Google Transit to revolutionise urban life:

“… once the knee-jerk paranoia passes, the benefits begin to sink in. With live-feed transit information, Google Maps and Google Earth could eliminate the need for standing on a windy or snowy street corner for twenty minutes, waiting for a late bus. Outside it could be pouring rain, but you’d know exactly when to leave the house to catch your train.”

But it just gets better!

“At City Hall a few weeks later, the general happiness trend of your neighborhood is noticed to be on the rise. Civic officials study the area to learn why this spike in aura has been occurring, and use this people-powered live information to liven up some less brightly-colored spots on the map.”

It’s interesting to see this sort of positive spin on matters, as opposed to the usual privacy FUD. Even so, utopias rarely work out the way they’re meant to – how would this sort of urban planning affect the disenfranchised and the poor? [image by eyeliam]

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