Weeknotes 153; more mundane robotics and related

Dear subscribers, another slow holiday edition.

Or maybe not so slow at all… The number of meetings is less that is for sure, so more time to process the research on design (city)things with predictive knowledge. Started coding the results of the interviews with Atlas.ti, a new tool for me (thanks Kars), and expecting some learning curves there…

I listened in to two talks at the ‘Interactive Future Exhibition’, the yearly end presentations of the students of Interactive Media Design at hDa, one of our returning partners at ThingsCon. For obvious reasons the second year, I could check it out online.

First off was Simone Rebaudengo who is one of the most interesting designers combining the Things Centered Design insights in his design practice. But he also does a great job reflecting on it. Check out his little book Everything is Someone, also the title of the talk. He shared practical survival skills for design in the near future where everything is kind of someone. In short 3 skills:

  • Stop thinking of ‘users’
  • Find a way to experience the world from something else’s point of view
  • Think of the mundanity of the future of Everything

I will keep track if the presentation is shared, an earlier version of the talk can be found here, and last week I shared in this newsletter his thoughts on centaurs.

On Friday I also watched the talk by Paul Coulton and Michael Stead on designing sustainability. On defuturing-futures (beware of the future cone, as there is more than a preferable future to explore), avoid colonizing futures, and beware to live in the future; the present is the only place you can be actionable.

They end with three rights of AI Things inspired on the famous Asimov Robot Rules:

  1. Right to sustain its own existence as long as this action does not negatively impact upon Earth’s sustainability
  2. Right to sustain the existence of fellow AI-augmented Things as long as this action doe not conflict with its First Right
  3. Right to end its existence as long as this action does not negatively impact upon Earth’s sustainability and/or the existence of fellow AI-augmented Things.

I think that there is a clear connection between the two talks. And also in the work of Cities of Things Foundation.

Let’s look into the coming week, I only can share two things: there is a more practical session (I expect) on designing for innovation by Clearleft, a company that I mainly remember from multiple inspiring speakers at the dConstruct conferences in Brighton years ago. And from the same region: IoT London.

The interesting articles of last week are bundled this week. From mundane robotics and autonomous platforms, communal software, and a dystopian metaverse. And more. I hope you have enough time to explore… :-) See you next week!

Mundane robotics

This week more examples of robotics entering our daily lives both through new technologies as soft robotics tested on rebuilding the human interfaces like hands, or interactions like helping out disabled to dress. New forms for robotic creatures are created built up from small robot cells. Nice to see how pop up a couple of platforms for easier and cheaper development makes development and learning about applying more accessible. OpenAI is ending its robotic-specific group, which was focussing on the AI and robotics merge. It is too complex still.

Scientists built a robot hand that can play Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros“University of Maryland researchers have 3D-printed a soft robotic hand that can successfully play Nintendo’s 1980s mega-hit Super Mario Bros.”

MIT Engineers Program Robot to Help People with Disabilities “For this project, the engineers say their goal was to help streamline the interactions between robots and people. Specifically “to help a robot find efficient motion plans” to ensure the physical safety of their human.”

Robots 10x Faster, 10x Cheaper: Modular Development Platform And 3D Printing Lets You Build Autonomous Robots Like Lego“Pick the components you need for your particular solution, bolt them together with 3D printing for any components you might need that are specific to your requirements, and you have a robot much quicker, much faster.”

Start Building Your Own Robots With This Nano Bot Construction Set“This kit has seven different bots to build, each packaged like trading cards. First, you’ll be instructed on how to set up your workspace, which is perfect for budding engineers to learn about making things safely.”

This squirming robotic superstructure is the next Roomba“In a new paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics, a team of physicists from the University of Bordeaux designed a new kind of superstructure that uses mindless mini-robots to power a seemingly intelligent superstructure that can squeeze through obstacles, pull things, and even battle other superstructure bots.”

Why OpenAI decided to abandon robotics research“Now consider how much more difficult the robotics-based problem of generalized gripping is, and you can see why it is that OpenAI is abandoning (for the time being) the pursuit of AI-based, robotics modeling. This is not to say that research shouldn’t continue in this area, but it is conceding that the market isn’t mature enough yet for this to be viable”

On with the other type of robotics…

Autonomous vehicles that is. New software is built to improve the behavior. Trucks seem to be more important for development as the general self-driving is slowly developing. There is a boost in the investments with so-called SPACs and apparently extra attention with Apple. It would be great if we can use this shift also to force electric vehicles into the fleet of cars, it is better for our environment to be proven again.

New platform allows autonomous vehicles to safely drive at small distances“PhD student Robbin van Hoek has designed a new platform for automated vehicles that integrates the benefits of cooperative and autonomous vehicles.”

New Algorithm May Help Autonomous Vehicles Navigate Narrow, Crowded Streets “It is a scenario familiar to anyone who has driven down a crowded, narrow street. Parked cars line both sides, and there isn’t enough space for vehicles traveling in both directions to pass each other. One has to duck into a gap in the parked cars or slow and pull over as far as possible for the other to squeeze by.”

Trucks Move Past Cars on the Road to Autonomy “Money is pouring into autonomous trucking startups, just as many are souring on the short-term prospects for self-driving cars.”

SPAC Fever Hits Autonomous Vehicle Sector “The SPAC is becoming a key mechanism for AV startups to survive the long development and deployment phase before becoming commercial enterprises.”

Apple Watch lead Kevin Lynch shifts focus to car development“Kevin Lynch, a key Apple VP overseeing health and the Apple Watch, is moving into a new role working on Project Titan, Apple’s car project.”

3 Companies Moving Forward With Robotaxis as Tesla Delays“Mobileye has the potential to be for robotaxis what Intel was for PCs. Ford and Lyft plan to launch a self-driving taxi service by the end of 2021. Tesla promised us “robotaxis,” but General Motors is actually delivering on them.“

A global comparison of the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of combustion engine and electric passenger cars“This wide-ranging life-cycle assessment (LCA) examines the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of passenger cars, including SUVs. Performed separately and in-depth for Europe, the United States, China, and India, the analysis captures the differences among those markets, which are home to about 70% of global new passenger car sales. It considers present and projected future GHG”

The metaverse as next big thing

A returning theme for sure. I made the connection between metaverse and new e-commerce concepts we developed years back in the post on the Cities of Things monthly update. Snap just bought a company to make this into reality, it fits their AR path a lot. Facebook is also aiming for metaverse dominance (a different space than the other billionaires are aiming for).

Snap buys another company to make AR shopping a reality The parent company of Snapchat has bought Vertebrae, a company that lets brands create and manage 3D versions of their goods.

Mark Zuckerberg is betting Facebook’s future on the metaverse The Facebook CEO talks to Casey Newton about why he is putting his company’s resources toward the “metaverse,” a future that imagines an internet that combines physical, augmented, and virtual realities.

To close, some other reflections not to miss

To end, some different articles that bring inspiration on perspectives on users if we are making things for communities as users. And on the influence of time increments, we as humans have limits. An update on the chip shortage apocalypse. How will that influence the move to the metaverse and development of new Deepmind concepts? Utopian or dystopian. Systems or for a sweet new product as the Playdate…

Communal Computing’s Many Problems “Communal computing requires a new mindset that takes into account users’ expectations. If the devices aren’t designed with those expectations in mind, they’re destined for the landfill.”

One Tenth of a Second “The tldr of the book might even be: the failure to come to terms with the 0.1s limit in human cognition gave birth to modernity, with all its inherent tensions, via a set of parallel crises.”

Why the world’s microchip shortage is a problemeven as Apple celebrated the M1, the world was facing an economically devastating shortage of microchips, particularly the relatively cheap ones that make many of today’s technologies possible.

DeepMind’s AI predicts structures for a vast trove of proteins“Now, a transformative artificial intelligence (AI) tool called AlphaFold, which has been developed by Google’s sister company DeepMind in London, has predicted the structure of nearly the entire human proteome (the full complement of proteins expressed by an organism).”

Artificial Intelligence Wants You “Having failed to control carbon emissions for several decades, the world is at the point of no return, too late for conventional policy fixes. The only thing left is a scientific Hail Mary pass, an experiment in geoengineering that could fail or, worse, have terrible unintended consequences. The AI responsible for ensuring the success of the experiment may or may not be trustworthy.”

A Prehistory of DAOs This essay is the second in a Gnosis Guild series by @keikreutler bridging cryptonetworks, web3, and gaming.

Playdate preview: You won’t believe how fun this dorky, $179 game system is“This is how you compete with entrenched gaming titans: by putting accessible, unique whimsy into anyone’s hands without requiring an instruction manual, all while delivering a fair price-to-content ratio.”

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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.