Weeknotes 122; smooth human robot interactions

Thanks for the plug, Frank! I was pleasantly surprised by the recommendation by Frank Meeuwsen in his Cappuccino series (code 323304). Check it out for more tips. And thanks for subscribing to new subscribers.

It was a pity I did not publish last week as I was too busy with organizing ThingsCon. But let’s make it up this week, I hope. 

Speaking of ThingsCon, it was a great week. We choose to create a different format than just rebuilding the regular online conference in two online days. We wanted to cater to an event feeling that we noticed with ourselves; you hop in and out sessions, and sessions are often second in attention space. So we created a program that could be consumed per session more than as a whole conference. We realized that it would be hard to have the same feeling of community as we usually have. I think, however, that we did manage to have a bit of that anyhow. 

We also experimented with a couple of new formats and repeated others that we tried out earlier in Salons. The Make & Remix day worked very well. The workshops in the morning and the active remixing of your creation was very lovely. I participated actively in the Smartibot session, and we had great fun. I think the others did too.

Saskia Dörr on Twitter: “Heute beim #Thingsfest meinem ersten fernsteuerbaren Smartibot gebaut 💪 😅- viel gelernt und Spaß gehabt! Danke an @rossatkin und @thingscon #Making #GoodThings”

The Talent day was also very energetic. The mix of masterclasses, topical sessions, and the exhibition worked. And we had an evening with a real ceremony and especially the band intermezzo is something to keep. The hand-out of prizes is a bit strange; you miss a bit of the moment of handing out cheques.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we had several sessions that were mostly combinations of speakers and Miro-board capturing. In one session, the speakers introduced a couple of questions in the first hour, and in the last half an hour, questions were plotted in Miro. With 30 participants all together working was very nice.

Also nice were the Studio Visits. The different invited studios had their way of executing, but there was always a link to the studio interior and some interesting projects. Some gave a live view, and others did tape it. The format is something to keep also in ‘real-life’ editions.

And we did a walk and talk session; no video, just audio, a podcast like a conversation with guests and the audience that could collaborate. 

So was everything perfect? No, of course not; you also learn. We had quite many registrations, but some sessions could still have used some more participants. More communication, more active inviting, and we choose in the end for open participation. Applying up front for part of the tickets would have increased engagement. But we need to evaluate with the team in detail. So maybe later, more reflections.

On with the news. I skip the Apple Max headphones for now (although it relates to one of the topics in the design of audio spaces and voice things session; how will our audio experience become an augmented one), but a lot of other articles dealt with the human-tech collaboration (or is that my search filter :)

This robot is designed to hold your hand when you're feeling lonely
This robot is designed to hold your hand when you’re feeling lonely 
From my explorations in haptics and connecting with the research on Social Touch by Gijs Huisman I know we are able to believe artificial touch as human. So this is not only a weird Japanese research. It is nevertheless interesting to click on the linked paper for the images of the research prototype.“This disembodied robot hand – called Osampo Kanojo, or “My Girlfriend in Walk” – is covered in a skin-like gel that radiates warmth. It can squeeze back on command, and in later prototypes, its designers are hoping to make it smell, sound, and sweat like a human partner.“
A study predicts smooth interaction between humans and robots 
More research showing possibilities for meaningful connections of humans and people.“According to a new study by Tampere University in Finland, making eye contact with a robot may have the same effect on people as eye contact with another person. The results predict that interaction between humans and humanoid robots will be surprisingly smooth.”
AI can design the shape of robots to best suit their terrain
AI can design the shape of robots to best suit their terrain 
Nice example of Team AI or Collaborative design with AI.“Researchers’ at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a robotics system which can optimize its shape for traversing various terrain types.”
AlphaFold: a solution to a 50-year-old grand challenge in biology 
Making connections between artificial and natural life forms on a different level: “In a major scientific advance, the latest version of our AI system AlphaFold has been recognised as a solution to the protein folding problem by the organisers of the biennial Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction (CASP).”
Hyundai buys 80% controlling stake in Boston Dynamics, maker of Spot the robot dog, for $921M 
“The goal of the acquisition is to transform human life through the advancement of robotics, according to Hyundai.”Will we have a car with a robot-dog in the trunk? (I know Hyundai is much more than a car producer). It is interesting how the robots are framed as mobility vehicles.

Tiny AI for edging IoT

AI Algorithms Are Slimming Down to Fit in Your Fridge 
In the same week that I saw a tweet going viral how energy heavy (Google) AI is, it is hopeful to read this.“Last week researchers showed it is possible to squeeze a powerful AI vision algorithm onto a simple, low-power computer chip that can run for months on a battery.’
Stacey on IoT | Edge ML gets a boost
Interesting overview on the developments in Edge AI in the newsletter of Stacey.“Machine learning at the edge may be designed for tiny chips, but it is a huge topic. If we can run machine learning models on constrained devices, we can keep data local, which will boost privacy, and we can reduce the energy demands of both the internet of things and AI.”

How to incorporate this in designed futures?

The hard work of imagining, ThingsCon 2020 (Interconnected)

We were very happy to have Matt Webb at ThingsCon sharing with us his new essay in progress. He shared it afterwards at his blog. Lots of interesting concepts. “Dystopia is the extrapolation of the same old, same old. But utopia is a non-extrapolation, it requires a discontinuity. It requires all these different tribes to choose to do something different, at great risk to their careers and livelihoods.”
Klarnas Postkasten für Online-Shopper kann auch recyceln – Tech & Nature

I was invited to discuss the future of the mailbox by Klarna for their Future Shopping Lab. In this article the prototype is explained. In German. But find also the link to the prototype page.

And not to forget, impact

The curse of ‘white oil’: electric vehicles’ dirty secret | News 
“The long read: The race is on to find a steady source of lithium, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale”What every sustainable designer learns: look at the whole of the life cycle (LCA, life cycle analysis). And energy futures were and will always be geopolitical driven.

Next to catching up, I plan to check out the livestream of INFO on Innovation and the launch of the book of Maarten on voice. Have a great week

This newsletter is weekly sent to subscribers via Getrevue.

Published by


I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s