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Building The World’s Largest Robot Is Not Fun

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Writers are told to write what they know. So why shouldn’t builders build what they know?

That’s exactly what Japanese engineer Masaaki Nagumo did when he created a giant humanoid inspired by childhood favorite anime series Mobile Suit Gundam.

The fictional RX-78-2 Gundam manned robot—based on Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel “Starship Troopers”—is a prototype weapon that falls into the hands of a young mechanic-turned-pilot.

The real-life LW-Mononofu is a 28-foot-tall, two-legged robot that weighs more than an elephant. Nagumo controls the machine’s arms and legs from inside the cockpit.

A modern Dr. Frankenstein, Nagumo spent six years constructing his monster—a purpose-built robot to help promote employer Sakakibara Kikai, which develops farming equipment.

The firm also manufactures “amusement machines” that people can operate for fun. Its varied collection includes the 11-foot Landwalker, as well as the smaller Kid’s Walker Cyclops and MechBoxer boxing machine—each of which the firm rents for about 100,000 yen ($900) an hour.

The massive Mononofu, however, could surely command an equally lofty price. There’s just one hitch: It can’t leave the factory without being dismantled, because it was built taller than the workshop doors.

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“I was drawn to things that get you around without having to use your own strength,” Nagumo said in a Great Big Story video. “So, I create machines because of their ability to move on their own.”

As reported in April by Reuters, Nagumo’s colossal cyborg can maneuver individual fingers, turn its upper body, and walk forward and backward—at a pace of about 0.6 miles per hour.

But no one could be fooled by its leisurely clip: Towering over any human, the bot carries a bazooka-like air gun on its right arm, shooting sponge balls at a dangerous 87 miles per hour.

“The reason why I made this [robot] is so everyone can enjoy it, and I think this is one small step closer to my childhood dream,” Nagumo said.

Like many great works of art, though, the long process of building the world’s largest robot was, well … unpleasant.

“It’s [easy to get] burned—it’s heavy, and dirty,” Nagumo explained of his 5-ton apparatus. “There is nothing to enjoy.”

Except, perhaps, the eventual payoff: The original Mobile Suit Gundam series spawned anime and manga, novels, movies, video games, and generations of fans. Who’s to say LW-Mononofu can’t also be turned into a business opportunity?

Or at least inspiration for the future.

“I believe that someday we will create things that people are imagining today,” Nagumo said in the video. “So, if there are are kids like me who get inspired when they see robots they want to create and ride, it would lead to more innovative robots.”

Nagumo even believes his best is yet to come: “[The robots] I used to watch in the anime moved faster and were stronger than humans. So, this is the reason [Mononofu] can’t be my greatest robot yet.”

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Tokyo Introduces Support Robots for 2020 Olympics

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Human athletes won’t be the only spectacles at next summer’s Olympic Games.

As part of the aptly named Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, the organizing committee introduced a team of androids designed to assist disabled fans at the sporting extravaganza.

Olympic sponsor Toyota is contributing the Human Support Robot (HSR) and Delivery Support Robot (DSR), which will roam the National Stadium, carrying food and other goods, guiding people to their seats, and providing event information.

Human Support Robot (HSR), developed by Toyota Motor Corporation (via Tokyo 2020)

“We believe that the robots will help spectators in wheelchairs to enjoy watching the events without any restrictions, to soak up the atmosphere inside stadiums, and to feel the excitement of sport,” Nobuhiko Koga, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Center, said in a statement.

Officials plan to deploy up to 16 HSRs and five DSRs, as reported by the Associated Press.

Delivery Support Robot (DSR), developed by Toyota Motor Corporation (via Tokyo 2020)

Panasonic, also a major sponsor, will provide 20 of its Power Assist Suits, used to support the wearer’s back and hips while carrying or lifting heavy objects—like, say, guest luggage.

“We strongly believe that our robot technology … will be of use to all people regardless of impairments, and to society in general, becoming a legacy for future generations,” according to Panasonic Executive Officer Masahiro Ido.

Panasonic’s Power Assist Suits come in handy when handling heavy luggage (via Tokyo 2020)

While these bots will be deployed in specific roles during the Games, the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project team hopes this international stage will help showcase their potential for wider applications in everyday life.

“The Tokyo 2020 Games are a unique opportunity for us to display Japanese robot technology,” Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, said in a statement.

“This project will not simply be about exhibiting robots, but showcasing their practical real-life deployment helping people,” he continued. “So there will be not only sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but some cool robots at work to look forward to, as well.”

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AI Polygraph Is Better At Detecting Lies Than You

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Some people are natural liars, while others have no poker face. But it doesn’t take much to fool someone in blind computer conversations.

In an attempt to remove those blinders, Florida State University researcher Shuyuan Ho has developed the first online polygraph test.

“You could use it for online dating, Facebook, Twitter—the applications are endless,” Ho, an associate professor in the College of Communication and Information, said in a statement. “I think the future is unlimited for an online polygraph system.”

Imagine a future where technology can automatically identify liars and truth-tellers based on the words they type in electronic messages.

In a study published by the journal Computer in Human Behavior, Ho detailed the findings of an online game created to measure truthful and deceptive communication between people.

Players were randomly assigned the role of “Saint” or “Sinner,” then left to have a computerized chat. Researchers, meanwhile, followed along, using machine learning tech to scrutinize patterns of words and writing.

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Just as physical cues provide context, so, too, do language-action cues in written text.

Lying sinners were less expressive but used more ornamental words, displayed more negative emotions, and appeared anxious when communicating with truth-tellers.

Conversely, saints tended toward speculation, taking longer to respond to inquiries; sincere players provided more reasoned ideas and expressed more reflective thinking, according to the study.

Ho’s experiment highlighted that while a human can spot lies in messages about 50 percent of the time, the machine-learning approach has a much higher success rate of 85 to 100 percent.

“I want to get the world’s attention on this research so we can hopefully make it into a commercial product that could be attached to all kinds of online social forums,” she said.

“I think we all have good common sense about the people we meet face to face, but how much common sense do we have with the strangers we encounter online where you can meet a lot of people very fast,” Ho continued. “This research is so important because it can provide another reference point offering more protection. All of society can benefit.”

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Jeff Bezos Shows Off ‘Nerdy’ Innovations at Annual Mars Conference

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Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is hosting his annual Mars Conference again, an invite-only event that showcases many “nerdy” innovations, including flying robots, electric multicopters, and rocket engines.

The conference, which is taking place in Palm Springs, California this week, celebrates quirky technology in the sectors of machine learning, automation, robotics, and space (MARS), CNBC reported. The aim of the Mars Conference is to advance new technology ideas, enable attendees to engage with high-tech gadgets, and discuss how these four fields will impact the future.

This year, Bezos opened the Mars Conference by taking “my new dog,” Boston Dynamics’ latest electric quadruped SpotMini robot dog, out for a quick stroll on the grounds, TechCrunch noted.

However, this wasn’t all: The Mars Conference, which doesn’t allow press in, only gives fans a sneak peek of what’s happening via tweets. Attendees shared some cool insights from the invite-only event on Twitter.

Star Wars actor Mark Hamill discussed robot sidekicks.

Bezos went for a ride in Hexa’s electric, single-passenger multicoptor.

Attendees experienced an “out of this world” feeling with NASA’s Orion spacecraft simulator.

Meet Centauro, the robot that can be your next yoga buddy.

Blue Origin’s massive rocket engine was on display outside.

Even though the “secret” Mars Conference is in session, it will be interesting to see which “geeky” devices will be advancing machine learning, automation, robotics, and space in coming years.

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