The Week In... Robots! - Atlas Obscura
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The Week In… Robots!

All the robot stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

Stare into the face of the future.
Stare into the face of the future. Boston Dynamics/YouTube

It’s a wide and wonderful world out there, and frankly we can’t always keep up with it all. Atlas Obscura’s ‘The Week In…’ is here to help! Each Friday, we track down the interesting things you didn’t even know you missed. This week, our subject is robots.

From smart trucker hats to robot religions to frightening mechanical dogs, it’s been a big week for robot-related news. Happy Friday!

What’s the Opposite of Flying the Coop?

Officials at Arizona’s Lewis Prison this week discovered a crashed drone inside the prison’s fences that was carrying cell phones and marijuana. The drone and the orange knapsack that carried its payload were found in a section of the prison yard where the inmates couldn’t get to it. This is not the first time drones have been used to try and smuggle contraband into a prison, but it was the first time in Arizona. As if we needed another reason to find drones annoying. [Fox 10]

See Spot Terminate

Boston Dynamics, that wellspring of robotic beasts that move eerily like living creatures, has released a new video of their latest creation, the SpotMini. The sleek yellow robot is about the size of a large dog if it didn’t have a head, and moves with an enviable agility that is simultaneously impressive and terrifying. It’s the type of video we will one day look back on from the robot-controlled ore mines and think, “we should have seen this coming.” [PC Mag]

Three Pikachus Walk Into a Smart Convenience Store…

Amazon has been testing its new “Amazon Go” smart convenience store technology in a Seattle storefront, and they’re taking some unusual measures to make sure it’s working. Their new shopping experience would allow customers to scan their phones as they enter and then, via sensors and cameras, be charged automatically based on what they put in their carts. To make sure the system can identify people correctly, they had some testers go shopping dressed as the Pokémon character Pikachu. Why they chose Pikachu costumes to test the technology isn’t clear, but probably because, really, everyone chooses Pikachu. [Bloomberg]

In DOS We Trust

Much ink has been spilled over the possibility of robots one day rising up and not just taking our jobs, but subjugating us completely. A former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, has devised a new solution to this coming crisis: starting a religion that worships AI. Called Way of the Future, Levandowski says that the goal of his church is to get people used to worshipping what will undoubtedly be a superior intelligence. He thinks that when the singularity (“The Transition” as he calls it) occurs humans will be seen as either a benign friend and creator, or as a threat. Sounds like it’s time to pray for the former. [Wired]

Botline Bling

Can a robot be programmed to dance with the improvised fluidity of someone like Drake? That is exactly the question being asked by the choreographer Wayne McGregor, who is working on developing an algorithm that would be able to create invented dance moves all on its own. While his technology is a far cry from producing meme-ready moves, the director of the “Hotline Bling” video, Director X, thinks that one day it might get there. Until then, we’ll all just be waiting by our cell phones. [Motherboard]

Disrupting Trucker Hats

Unveiled in a video in mid-October, but just now gaining wider attention, Ford Brazil is developing a smart trucker hat that they hope will make trucking safer. It looks like a traditional trucker’s cap, but is fitted with sensors that will be able to detect when a driver is getting drowsy—at which point it will try to wake them back up by vibrating, employing flashing lights, or making sounds. The hat is still in the development phase, but it’s possible that this staple of mid-’00s fashion is actually the future of safe driving. [CNET]

Viva Bot Vegas

Like so many places across the globe, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas has added a robot to its staff. Located in the 23rd floor Sky Lobby, the robot (one of the increasingly popular models of Pepper service robots) is acting as a greeter, giving directions and posing for selfies with guests. Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that it will lure guests over to it by humming, or even awkwardly clearing its “throat.” It would seem that the future of customer service is much like the past—occasionally over eager. [Los Angeles Times]