You could be seeing things that aren’t there: Google Glass finds new home in old industries

google glass with manual
On the left is an assembly engine manual that GE’s mechanics used to consult. Now they use Glass Enterprise Edition on the right. Picture: Google X

About four years ago, when Google first showed off its Glass product – a pair of hi-tech spectacles capable of running augmented reality apps – it was met with some scepticism, incredulity even. 

Few people thought it would take off, as interesting as the idea was. Maybe people generally couldn’t see themselves walking around wearing glasses which could be seen as intrusive.

Theoretically, Google Glass could display images on pretty much everything and everyone you looked at while wearing them – and would people in your eyeline appreciate that?  Continue reading You could be seeing things that aren’t there: Google Glass finds new home in old industries

Interview: Fast-moving robotics and automation market prompts updates to forecasts

apple homepod
The new Apple HomePod, the home automation device which mostly acts like a speaker and plays music

The global market for robotics and automation systems is growing so fast that it’s causing seasoned industry analysts to revise their forecasts. 

For example, the Boston Consulting Group released a report into the robotics which it has now updated with new numbers.

The causes of the reviews include the relatively new interest in personal robotics technology for the home, and the burgeoning market in collaborative robots for industry.

Another key development is the launch of the Apple HomePod, which, along with Amazon Alexa and Google Home, looks set to automate a huge number of homes to levels never seen before.

Continue reading Interview: Fast-moving robotics and automation market prompts updates to forecasts

SoftBank to buy Boston Dynamics, the maker of those unnervingly realistic humanoid and canine robots

boston dynamics bigdog

SoftBank, the maker of the Pepper and Nao humanoid robots, has reached a deal to buy Boston Dynamics, the robotics business owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google. 

Some of the robots Boston Dynamics has been building a wide range of robots, some of which are humanoid, others canine and one or two wheeled – or a hybrid of these structures.

But whatever robots the company has made, they’ve been widely acclaimed as having some of the most realistic movements and best balance of any robots made anywhere – watching them move can be quite unnerving because they move almost exactly like humans or canines.  Continue reading SoftBank to buy Boston Dynamics, the maker of those unnervingly realistic humanoid and canine robots

Apple developing processor especially for AI

Apple A10 chip for iPhone 7
Picture of chip for iPhone 7 via ExtremeTech.com

Apple is developing a processor specially for artificial intelligence applications, according to a report on Bloomberg

The maker of iPhones, iPads and a number of other computing devices and machines is said to refer to the chip internally as the “Apple Neural Engine”.

Bloomberg, which says its source requested anonymity, adds that the AI-dedicated chip will be used for facial recognition, speech processing and other tasks which require the processing of large amounts of data.  Continue reading Apple developing processor especially for AI

How Burger King’s OK Google ad exposed flaws in home automation

Burger King recently decided to try something different to promote its classic Whopper. The fast food giant aired a commercial in which a Burger King employee who says he doesn’t have time to talk about all of the ingredients in a Whopper comes up with another way for customers to learn about its ingredients.

The employee leans into the camera and says “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” This activated Google’s smart speakers — Google Home, and that’s when people started having fun. The actual ingredient list, as published on Wikipedia, was edited with some items replaced with things like children, toe-nail clippings and rat — among other creative ingredients.

Google wasn’t in on the plan, which led to an interesting chain of events that exposed some of the weaknesses of virtual assistants and home automation.

Voice Recognition
The Burger King ad pointed out an issue with voice-activated home automation devices. It’s not difficult for people besides the primary owners to manipulate them.

With some creativity, someone may find a way to do something more nefarious than manipulate the ingredients of your favorite burger. If clever had turned to criminal, this would be an easy way for hackers to manipulate virtual assistants.

Learning to recognize specific users’ voices would help minimize these problems and give people more control over their devices. To get around this issue, tech companies need to start improving the voice recognition capabilities of their VAs, which they are currently working on.

Google
Google responded to the ad by changing their devices so the voice in the ad wouldn’t wake them. They probably did this by getting the device to recognize the voice and then compare it to a blacklist before responding.
This worked for a while, but Burger King got around it by airing similar commercials featuring different actors. Google has said it’s working on the ability to recognize the voices of multiple users.

Amazon
Amazon, which manufactures one of the more popular smart speakers, is also working on multiple user functionality. Users would have to set up this feature in advance by recording a voice sample. Currently, Amazon’s Alexa can recognize more than one user, but you have to switch accounts by saying “switch accounts” or by using the Alexa app.

Microsoft
Microsoft’s Cortana appears on Windows 10 devices, as well as some third-party devices, including smart speakers made by Harman Kardon. Although Microsoft hasn’t gotten as much attention as some other players in the home automation game, Cortana does respond pretty well to voice commands.
You can even train Cortana to recognize your voice and set it to respond to only you. It’s probably a pretty safe bet, too, that Microsoft is working on improving this functionality.

Apple
Apple’s Siri has some ability to recognize speech patterns of particular users. The company doesn’t have smart speakers on the market yet, but it has been rumored to be working on them. Voice recognition is likely a top priority for Apple as it works on this technology, as it’s important to the security and privacy of its users.

It’s even been rumored that Apple may use facial recognition technology to verify users. The fact that Apple typically only allows Siri to work with its devices, and not third-party ones, presents another challenge.

Home automation and virtual assistants are just starting to take off, and this Burger King kerfuffle is likely just one of many slightly strange happenings that will occur as they develop. Although Google didn’t seem to like the ad — it blocked its devices from responding — and some users may have gotten annoyed, Burger King did succeed in getting itself some attention.

The ad put Google Home in the spotlight, too, and highlighted its capabilities, which is a plus for Google as well. It also highlighted some weaknesses in home automation, which tech companies will have to continue to address.

Megan Wild is editor of YourWildHome.com

Artificial intelligence takes centre stage at World Economic Forum

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, at Davos 2017
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, at Davos 2017

In a number of talks and statements at this year’s World Economic Forum, held in Davos, Switzerland, artificial intelligence has been taking centre stage, with many saying that while no one really knows the limit of the technology, it has already had profound effects on business and society.

One of Google’s original founders, Sergey Brin, said he looked at AI a few years back, and didn’t really know AI would develop to the extent it has done.

“I didn’t pay attention to it at all, to be perfectly honest,” he said in a discussion at WEF. “Having been trained as a computer scientist in the 90s, everybody knew that AI didn’t work. People tried it, they tried neural nets and none of it worked.”  Continue reading Artificial intelligence takes centre stage at World Economic Forum

US government officials criticized for ‘inappropriate’ relationship with autonomous car developer Google

rights for robots

Consumer Watchdog has called on US President Barack Obama to hold expected autonomous vehicle policies and stop the administration’s undue haste to get autonomous vehicle technology on the road after newly released documents showed “an inappropriate and possibly unethical relationship between Google and key members of your administration involved in developing autonomous vehicle policy”. 

In a letter to Obama, John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director, writes: “The new revelations make it even more imperative that any such NHTSA policy statements be delayed until adequate Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards covering autonomous technologies are implemented through a public rule-making process.”  Continue reading US government officials criticized for ‘inappropriate’ relationship with autonomous car developer Google

New Infineon chip enables Lenovo to build world’s smallest 3D camera, bringing augmented reality to smartphones

infineon chip augmented reality for smartphones

Lenovo is the first manufacturer worldwide to bring Tango technology to a consumer product.

Google’s technology that allows devices to understand spatial information is an exclusive feature in the Phab2 Pro smartphone.

Based on the Time-of-Flight principle, the Real3 image sensor chip from Infineon Technologies equips the smartphone with a 3-dimensional perception of the surroundings in real-time.

Infineon provides the only image sensor chip in the world meeting Google’s specifications.  Continue reading New Infineon chip enables Lenovo to build world’s smallest 3D camera, bringing augmented reality to smartphones

Infineon develops breakthrough radar technology for cars and devices

infineon soli radar

Infineon has developed radar technology for cars and devices. The company has reached separate agreements with Google and Imec on applications for the technology. 

With Google, Infineon has developed gesture control technology, which would allow users to control their devices by waving their arms about, and more subtle movements.

The radar technology – called “Soli” – was demonstrated at Google I/O through a smartwatch and a wireless speaker.  Continue reading Infineon develops breakthrough radar technology for cars and devices

Audi says autonomous cars could cut traffic accidents by 90 per cent

audi
Audi has published its Corporate Responsibility Interim Report. The focus is on climate protection, digitization and the modern world of work. Experts from the company discuss these topics for the future with driving forces from the fields of research and economics.

Autonomous and connected cars have the potential to reduce the number of traffic accidents by up to 90 percent, according to Audi’s chairman.

In a report about corporate responsibility, Professor Rupert Stadler says Audi will be making driving a car “much safer” in the future with the help of algorithms.

Prof Stadler says: “Piloted driving has the potential to cut the number of accidents and road deaths by up to 90 per cent in the long term.”  Continue reading Audi says autonomous cars could cut traffic accidents by 90 per cent

Fiat Chrysler Pacifica to include Google driverless car technology in software giant’s first auto partnership

chrysler pacifica 2017
The Fiat Chrysler Pacifica is set to become the first commercially available car to feature Google driverless car technology when it goes on sale next year

Google driverless car technology set to take to the streets next year

The Google Self-Driving Car Project and Fiat Chrysler have entered into what they are calling a “first-of-its-kind collaboration”, saying that they will integrate Google’s self-driving technology into all new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to expand Google’s existing self-driving test program.

This marks the first time that Google has worked directly with an automaker to integrate its self-driving system, including its sensors and software, into a passenger vehicle.

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will be used later this year for Google’s self-driving testing, more than doubling Google’s current fleet of self-driving test vehicles. Engineering responsibilities will be shared based on each company’s respective expertise. Continue reading Fiat Chrysler Pacifica to include Google driverless car technology in software giant’s first auto partnership

Google boss downplays devices and talks up artificial intelligence

google sundar pichai

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, says the days of the ‘device’ are numbered 

The chief executive of Google, Sundar Pichai, says he can foresee the day when the “device” as we know it will be no more.

In a blog post on Google’s website, Pichai says: “Looking to the future, the next big step will be for the very concept of the ‘device’ to fade away.”

The reason, Pichai writes, is because artificial intelligence will make all devices work seamlessly and, therefore, make devices less important than the AI software behind them.

“Over time, the computer itself – whatever its form factor – will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day,” says Pichai. “We will move from mobile first to an AI first world.”

Full story on Google’s blog.

Google gives TensorFlow distributed computing support

google tensorflow

Google is running TensorFlow across hundreds of machines, and now you can run it on as many machines as you want in your office 

Google has introduced distributed computing support to the latest version of its machine learning software TensorFlow.

TensorFlow 0.8 can now be run on small clusters of machines in your office using Google’s new Inception image classification neural network.  Continue reading Google gives TensorFlow distributed computing support

Google to sell robotics business

The Atlas robot, by Boston Dynamics
The Atlas robot, by Boston Dynamics

Google appears to be looking to leave the robotics business if a report on the Bloomberg website is anything to go by. 

The search giant created Alphabet as a sort of parent company that manages all of its many business units and diverse interests. It is Alphabet’s management which seems to have made the decision to sell.

Boston Dynamics, which created some of the most impressive robots seen so far, in the form of the humanoid Atlas and the four-legged machine that walks like a dog or other small animal.

Bloomberg reports that the reason for the sale is that Boston Dynamics product, however fascinating, are not commercially viable, in that there is apparently no customers for them.

Full story at Bloomberg.com. 

Humanity’s loss at the hands of artificial intelligence is no big deal, says top robotics expert

robot playing chess
Intel robot playing chess. Picture courtesy Jiuguang Wang

The current struggles human player Lee Seedol is facing while playing the ancient Chinese board game Go against an artificially intelligent machine learning program is being watched with interest by the world’s media as well as computer scientists everywhere, probably.

One of those computer scientists, however, says he’s not that bothered. Professor Alois Knoll, co-ordinator of the European Clearing House for Open Robotics Development (Echord), says Google DeepMind AlphaGo is essentially just a software program inside a computer, which is much easier to develop than a mechatronics system.

“A machine or helper that can only help you play Go probably not something on which you’d spend much money,” says Knoll, who is one of the key scientists involved in the $1.5 billion-dollar Human Brain Project.  Continue reading Humanity’s loss at the hands of artificial intelligence is no big deal, says top robotics expert