On the Robot Beat #5

On the Robot Beat #5

robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

On the Robot Beat presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

What could be scary about a robot throwing 35 pound blocks?

I’m a big fan of robots, and especially the Big Dog, but what was Boston Dynamics thinking releasing this video?

Dynamic Robot Manipulation

For those of you who don’t know, Big Dog is a military robot that can carry things…kind of a robotic pack mule.

I showed a video of it to one of my classes, and one of my adult students had a great line: “It looks like two guys carrying a mattress.”

That was based on this video

BigDog Overview

which really showed off its capabilities.

In that one, somebody kicks the robot, and with its self-balancing, it sort of shrugs it off and keeps going. At that point, my students certainly seemed to be sympathetic to the robot.

Later, I was showing this video

LS3 Follow Tight

which shows the Big Dog, well, dogging someone’s footsteps in response to voice commands. It also appears to choose its own path in following.

The reaction to that one? It seems even more alive, even with the somewhat creepy Westworld-esque display of what it sees.

I’m not planning on showing the latest video to classes…it’s too scary. 🙂

The Big Dog picks up a 35 pound (about 16 kilo) block, dances around a bit to get its body into it (like a three-year old trying to throw a ball), and tosses it about 17 feet (about five meters).

It’s just very hard to see that and not think of it as destructive or dangerous…”BigDog smash!”

Why would a human pick up a heavy object and throw it? Certainly, as a weapon is a possibility. It’s also possible you are trying to make the object break when it falls. You could be trying to uncover something quickly, and you can sort of see this in a search and rescue operation…except that it takes so long to get ready to throw it, it would be faster if it just set it aside.

No, I think that one is off the playlist. 😉 This one, which is a music video montage, is better:

BigDog Evolution

Hm…the lyrics do suggest it is going to “blow you to Kingdom come” in the Middle East, though…maybe not.

My take on…Robot Combat League

Giant robot combat is here…for real.

Robot Combat League

It runs Tuesdays at 9:00 PM on Syfy (10:00 PM Central).

Is it good?

Well, I am watching it with interest, but it’s complicated.

This is a reality competition series…each robot is operated by two people. One is the robojockey, and operates the arms. The other is the tech, and operates the legs (and in the case of at least the robot A.X.E., another weapon).

To care about this show, you have to both care about the human teams, and find the robot combat interesting.

The teams have some interesting mixes, and we do get to know their personalities somewhat. They didn’t know each other before the show, generally (there is a father/daughter team…the daughter is the robojockey).

That part is done okay, although I feel like we could get to know the humans better. You can get more information on the website.

As to the fights themselves…I’m hoping they improve as the teams get better at operating them.

At this point, it’s largely a matter of just two big humanoids getting straight up next to each other, and flailing away.

We are seeing some strategy, but not much skill. It’s like two kids in their first karate class fight, just wildly throwing punches and hoping something happens.

Things do happen, and that can give you a bit of a thrill. SPOILER ALERT: I’ve seen a robot decapitated (although that didn’t stop it), and one broken into two pieces. Armor comes off, arms fail, and hydraulic fluid is everywhere.

It still looks largely like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em ROBOTS.

An obvious question for geeks: how does it compare to BattleBots?

It’s missing a couple of key ingredients. These robots aren’t built by the teams running them, so you don’t have that sort of garage engineer vibe. Also, on BattleBots, they zipped around the “ring” a lot, and had a variety of techniques. Would a scoop beat a flipper? It was flashy, it was fun. You might compare it to…one long rugby scrum versus a soccer game.

However, the RCL robots are cool! They are designed by Mark Setrakian, and clearly are actually working fighting robots…they aren’t faking that part of it. They are designed around themes, and it’s intriguing to see Setrakian and the team’s tech (and the pit crew, I think) trying to repair a robot between rounds.

The host is wrestler Chris Jericho, and while he seems enthusiastic, there isn’t much variety yet in his hosting…that may improve over time as well.

One other thing (SPOILER ALERT FOR EARLY EPISODES). They did a sort of quick lightning round in the first episode to set up rankings, and the top ranked fight the bottom ranked (#1 against #12, #2 against #11, that sort of thing). The rankings have been inverse predictors: people who did well without knowing the robots aren’t doing as well as people who didn’t. I suspect those are two very different skill sets. I also think some teams are overthinking it, and overestimating the capabilities of their bots. It’s easy to anthropomorphize them, and treat them like they have human abilities, because they look human. I think if they just looked like garbage cans with a couple of arms and no heads, people wouldn’t have that problem. They’d know it just makes sense to flail, and they wouldn’t be trying to protect “body parts” unnecessarily.

Still, I plan to keep watching.

What do you think of RCL and/or BigDog? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

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