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For better or worse, the robotics revolution is underway, and it's continuing to happen regardless of some concerns expressed by humans. In Japan, a leading robotics research nation, engineers hope that robots can play a role in helping close the workforce gap due to an aging population.
Toshiba's Aiko Chihira humanoid robot is currently on display in a Tokyo department store, where it recently performed a few songs alongside a human band. Nestle is testing SoftBank's "Pepper" robot as a method to help sell coffee machines, while other companies hope the robot is able to engage in store visitors.
The Huis Ten Bosch theme park located in Nagasaki will feature a hotel that has more than 90 percent of hotel services conducted by robots alone. There are no easy answers for Japan, which has an aging population that is only getting older, so adopting robots could prove to be an effective way to ease pressure on the workforce.
NASA is working with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and FlexSys to test a new morphing wing technology that uses a seamless flexible edge. The Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) provides major improvements when compared to conventional flaps that are used on aircraft today.
"Armstrong's work with ACTE is a great example of how NASA works with our government and industry partners to develop innovative technologies that make big leaps in efficiency and environmental performance," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator of the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directatorate. "This is consistent with the agency's goal to support the nation's leadership in the aviation sector."
The NASA Langley Research Center will now study flight tests to help create designs used for large transport aircraft.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is concerned about the future of humans and artificial trying to co-exist, believing the future could be "very bad for people." During a recent speech in Massachusetts, Wozniak spoke about how computers might not be the best thing for humans - even though he helped start one of the biggest computer companies in the world.
"The machines won 200 years ago," Wozniak said during a speech at the MassMutual Center last week. "We made them too important. That makes us the family pet." Wozniak has expressed concern that humans could one day lose control of artificial intelligence, which would pose a major threat to mankind.
Woz also spoke out about the reliance on computers to help try to educate students, though that can't be effective if class sizes are too big. "A lot of our schools slow students down. We put computers in schools and the kids don't come out thinking any better."
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, a space venture company, successfully test launched its New Shepard spacecraft last week. The New Shepard reached 307,000 feet, powered by a 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine. The boundary between Earth and space is 62-miles above the Earth's surface, so the New Shepard maximum altitude of 58 miles was close to the limit.
"Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return," Bezos said in a blog post. "In fact, if New Shepherd had been a traditional expendable vehicle, this would have been a flawless first test flight."
The space capsule demonstration was successful, but the reusable rocket booster was unfortunately not recovered. Bezos said his company is working on an improved hydraulic system, and hopefully the next launch will not lose pressure during its descent.
Small businesses want to see if robots are able to drive sales and increase productivity, unfortunately at the expense of human workers.
Robots are estimated to carry out 25 percent of all industrial tasks by 2025, according to the Boston Consulting Group - and almost half of US jobs face "high risk" of being automated in the next 10 to 20 years, according to co-directors of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment.
"Automation is having a big impact. It's both positive and negative," said Martin Ford, author of the "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future" book, which will be published later this month, in a statement to CNBC. "Business will need to hire no people or fewer people. You can literally have one person start a manufacturing business."
The Toshiba ChihiraAico humanoid robot was first shown off during CEATEC last year, and recently completed a 15-minute singing performance alongside humans. Although Toshiba designed the robot to speak to department store guests, including using Japanese sign language, a singing performance was a unique way to promote the robot.
Robots are being featured in an expanding role, especially in Japan, with designers hoping to show off their humanoids without scaring off visitors.
"We chose a very realistic appearance and movement, which can be used for the service industry," said Hitoshi Tokuda, marketing head for the business development division at Toshiba, in a press conference earlier in the year. "We plan to extend our technology to an automatic response. We plan to use [ChihiraAico] with elderly people who have conditions such as dementia and she can be connected to a counselor or doctor."
Drones are being used for a lot of new and innovative purposes, and a few rather questionable activities. It looks like drone graffiti could be a future trend, with a tagger taking aim at a billboard featuring a Kendall Jenner ad.
"KATSU" used a drone with a can of red spray paint attached to the side, successfully vandalizing the billboard in SOHO, between Houston and Lafayette streets. He had this to say about graffiti drone 1.0, when speaking with WIRED: "It turned out surprisingly well. It's exciting to see its first potential use as a device for vandalism."
Graffiti removal is a costly effort in metropolitan areas, so this certainly could push the boundaries even further. It may take some time for KATSU and other taggers to develop a stable platform for drone graffiti, but it certainly may end up a major headache for a lot of people.
National space programs have shown new interest in lunar exploration, and it's possible robots could roam the moon's surface. The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) has created an iStruct Demonstrator, also known as "Charlie," a robotic ape that can you different locomotion styles.
Using four-legged locomotion adds stability, but bipedal is best for speed and ability to maneuver - so having the robot be able to choose how to move is absolutely huge.
"We chose the ape because it allows us to study several locomotion modes," said Daniel Kuhn, DFKI researcher, in a statement to CNN. "For example, they have quite good quadrupedal walking abilities but they can also perform stand-up motion and walk on two legs - their ability to do this is greater than other animals. This change in posture and walking form interested us."
Military technology has become absolutely fascinating in the past few years, with autonomous drones, robots, smart technology, and exoskeletons advancing nicely.
The Russian military is reportedly developing mind-controlled exoskeletons, multiple Russian news outlets claim. If there is any truth to the reports, soldiers could carry up to 600 pounds of additional weight. What makes this announcement curious is the idea that Russia is five years away from being able to include a neuroelectronic interface so the suit's wearer has a unique controlling mechanism.
"The Russian Army is set to receive mind-controlled exoskeletons," the Russian Sputnik media source said. "The wearable robots will be controlled by brain waves and will increase the strength and endurance of the serviceman wearing it by several times."
The 'Eve' robot is being utilized at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center at Mission Bay, a new facility that opened in February. The robots can help humans, make test sample deliveries, and ensure each room has supplies as needed.
UCSF purchased 25 robots from Aethon for $3.5 million, and then invested an additional $2.5 million to prepare the robots and hospital. The hospital expects to break even within two years on its robotic investment, while also freeing up staff to conduct other tasks.
"The hospital is set up almost as a virtual railroad... if they encounter an obstacle along the way, that's when they use their various sensors, laser, sonar and infrared to navigate around those items and continue on their path," said Brian Herriot, director of Mission Bay operations planning for the UCSF Medical Center, in a statement published by NBC News.