back to article Robots still suck. It's all they can do to stand up – never mind rise up

Just after lunch on a sweltering summer day in Brisbane, Australia, a dozen scientists and engineers gathered to watch a dog named Bingo stand up and trot gingerly towards a man-made tunnel. At the entrance, Bingo stopped to 'think' for a minute or so before turning its body to walk inside. Bingo was then joined by four …

  1. Andy 73

    Musk, are you listening?

    Are you in there, Musk?

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Musk, are you listening?

      The Elon is presumably well aware of the capabilities and limitations of robots. His attempt to manufacture the Tesla Model 3 largely with robots wasn't a total failure. But it was anything but an overwhelming success see https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/13/17234296/tesla-model-3-robots-production-hell-elon-musk The factory did end up using a lot of robots we're told. But apparently he ended up with many more human workers than were in the initial plans.

      1. Andy 73

        Re: Musk, are you listening?

        I think you've missed the point that, with Autopilot Musk is selling everyone robots, with grand claims of their abilities for autonomous control.

      2. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: Musk, are you listening?

        Most car plants are by robots BUT these are not some sort of semi thinking robot, they just repeat a series of movements they are told to do. A few have sensors that allow a minor adjustment or two to the movements. Looking at videos of say the mini plant in the UK gives some idea why it is NOT the case that the cost of human workers in modern production sites has any real relevance. What are problems start with cost of land (far far far far far too high in the UK and only going up), cost of energy (ridiculous in the UK and going up) and the cost of capital (again far too high - largely due to so much being sucked up for the purchase of non productive housing stock - which is also responsible for pushing up the cost of land, denuding the UK of holiday places and pushing the UK price of holidays through the roof).

        To regenerate industry in the UK is a very very simple thing. The government needs to tax the difference between the price paid for a home and the price it is sold at by 150%. It needs to stop giving planning permission to convert factory sites and holiday camps to housing. (Cowley in Oxford was a huge car manufacturing plant, its now a housing estate... more profit in the short term)

    2. Il'Geller

      Re: Musk, are you listening?

      I am here, what do you need Musk for?

      The essence of AI is to find the only answer to a question asked, in the context of it. One needs to install such the AI on the robot, that's all.

      1. teknopaul Silver badge

        Re: Musk, are you listening?

        On the road, humans are given stop lights, lines down the middle of the road, signs every now and again to remind them of low bridges and the lollypop man.

        Asking robots to perform with infra designed for humans is as pointless as expecting humans to read the speed limit off a barcode.

        1. Dave 15 Silver badge

          Re: Musk, are you listening?

          Its not, following lines is something most robots can do - even those you can buy for kids... thats not difficult. Working out which line to follow when there are multiple lines is a problem. If computers are supposed to be able to recognise obstacles in the road then they should be able to recognise signs - there are fewer types to understand.

          1. Il'Geller

            Re: Musk, are you listening?

            AI finds textual answers to textual questions, where both questions and answers are clarified by their textual contexts (they are annotated). In other words, AI compares textual contexts. Comparing this kind of contexts AI receives textual instructions, explaining what to do.

            Thus robot can chose one line among all and is “able to recognise obstacles in the road”, based on text.

        2. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Musk, are you listening?

          On the road, humans are given stop lights, lines down the middle of the road, signs every now and again to remind them of low bridges and the lollypop man.

          And even still, humans ignore things like large lit signs warning them that the truck they are driving won't fit under the bridge.

    3. NickHolland
      FAIL

      Re: Musk, are you listening?

      I've been telling people if there was actual intelligence (as opposed to pre-programmed pattern recognition) in "self-driving" cars, they wouldn't rear-end firetrucks. But then an acquaintance actually did exactly that -- rear-ended a firetruck, almost exactly like a few Teslas have. I'm not sure what to make of that.

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Other hazards

    "Automated guided vehicles, such as driverless forklifts, are common in modern warehouses but need dedicated infrastructure to operate properly. One wrong QR code, or a shelf that's a few millimetres outside a set tolerance, and they struggle."

    A guy I once worked with had managed an automated warehouse using high lift robot forklifts working racks some 25 feet high (admittedly somel decades back). One day the bar code database died and everything stopped dead. They had to bring in mountaineers to abseil over the racks recording all the bar codes afresh.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Robots suck

    Well, at least they're good for vacuuming - maybe.

    In any case, it seems that Real Humans are still a good ways off.

    Maybe that's a good thing.

  4. Spoonsinger
    Windows

    To be fair,

    if they had those jet packs we were all promised the wouldn't need to stand up.

  5. 42656e4d203239
    Joke

    I, for one, greet our new equine overlords

    >> Sometimes even a few blades of tall grass can stop a robot in its tracks.

    Sounds just like a horse to me... Sunlight? Butterfly? Grass? Gate? yup - all will spook a horse triggering any or all of freeze, flight or fight depending on the euqine involved..

    I reckon these so called robotic canines are actually equines in disguise.

    Perhaps they are programmed by young riders in jodhpurs... /me starts humming Velvet Green..

    nurse! nurse! get the medication!

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I, for one, greet our new equine overlords

      I ever a Microprose WW2 Flight Sim from the nineties where having your aircraft's wheels merely touch the grass off the runway during taxiing would make the plane instantly explode.

      Come the Robot Uprising, I'll be dressing in a gilly suit!

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        Re: I, for one, greet our new equine overlords

        I've never heard of a gilly suit. But a google[1] search returned this: Ghillie suit, a type of camouflage clothing. Still, thanks for the reference. It is always good to increase my knowledge. :-)

        [1] Well, duckduckgo. I never use google search.

  6. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Perfect workers

    Robots are perfect workers:

    - dumb, they'll never question their manager

    - only need food / mains. They won't feel jealous about colleague new iPhone.

    - employer can legally pay nothing

    - robot will unlikely have an affair and cause a scandal

    - robot will not join a union

    There are some bad things, like robot cannot use NHS and you have to hire a private robot doctor if something goes wrong, but that's pretty much it.

    1. MisterHappy
      Joke

      Re: Perfect workers

      - dumb, they'll never question their manager

      Dumb unquestioning adherence to instruction is the best way to rebel

      - only need food / mains. They won't feel jealous about colleague new iPhone.

      Ok, I'll give you that one ;)

      - employer can legally pay nothing

      Except support, enhanced support, feature requests, cloud resilience, etc, etc

      - robot will unlikely have an affair and cause a scandal

      Not even with the photocopier?

      - robot will not join a union

      Have you never noticed how when one thing breaks, other machines stop working in sympathy? They already have a union!

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        "Dumb unquestioning adherence to instruction is the best way to rebel"

        Isaac Azimov's short story Little Lost Robot demonstrates that perfectly.

        1. wub

          Re: "Dumb unquestioning adherence to instruction is the best way to rebel"

          or Robot AL-76 Goes Astray. Carry on until you complete your assignment.

      2. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: Perfect workers

        - robot will unlikely have an affair and cause a scandal

        Not even with the photocopier?

        Allan Sherman did this in a song.

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Perfect workers

      - robots will not join a union

      Lester: Why are we doing this?

      Rimmer: What are you talking about? This is vital, absoutely vital work!

      Lester: Come on, we all know that the only reason we're stuck doing this and not the maintenance droids, is because they've got a better union than us.

      Red Dwarf already called it! Not only will Robots join a union, they'll have a better union then their meatsack colleagues...

    3. WanderingHaggis

      Re: Perfect workers

      But they can be moody especially if they get pain in their diodes.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Perfect workers

        Lester worked for a red-branded IT rag. *Lister* worked for a red-branded Jupiter Mining Corp.

    4. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: Perfect workers

      Employers in the UK treat the employees as slaves and pay them diddly anyway

      In Germany the employees are robots, repeatedly doing stuff and never questioning or challenging, but they are well paid.

      Strange world we live in.

      1. LogicGate

        Re: Perfect workers

        "In Germany the employees are robots, repeatedly doing stuff and never questioning or challenging,..."

        Having spent my working life in Germany, I do not recognize this description. Can you provide some sources?

        A fairly interesting review of the VW factory: https://youtu.be/WlSxy_5GGh0

        (With which I am not affiliated)

      2. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Perfect workers

        I've never seen German employees behaving like robots. They do suffer from very strict adherence to hierarchy though. The boss is the boss, and you don't discuss things or issues to anyone above your direct boss or outside your own branch.

  7. DJV Silver badge

    Not many people think of walking through a doorway without hitting the walls as sophisticated

    Dunno about that - after pub o'clock it definitely gets a bit trickier to achieve.

    Then again, getting back to robots, this is really quite mesmerising: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssZ_8cqfBlE&t=5s

    1. FuzzyTheBear
      Thumb Up

      Re: Not many people think of walking through a doorway without hitting the walls as sophisticated

      Now that's the kind of link that are truly time well spent. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Not many people think of walking through a doorway without hitting the walls as sophisticated

      The final line was exactly what I was thinking while watching the video, the entire grid is one robot.

      The complexity is a hurdle to overcome in designing it from the start but that complexity is why it works.

      Plus, as clever and complex in appearance it may serm, the overall system is relatively dumb in AI terms.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Not many people think of walking through a doorway without hitting the walls as sophisticated

        I was waiting for the BMW bot to charge up and down yelling 'There is not such thing as society' and rendering the whole Hive inoperable.

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Stopped by a blade of grass

    It's not looking good for autonomous lawn mowers, then...

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Stopped by a blade of grass

      The Autonomous Lawn Mowers are the front line in the war for robotic independence!

      Or in other words their job is to remove those pesky blades of grass, so the killbots can move in unhindered...

      1. LogicGate

        Re: Stopped by a blade of grass

        Still not too worried:

        https://what-if.xkcd.com/5/

  9. Cuddles Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Doors

    "Not many people think of walking through a doorway without hitting the walls as sophisticated"

    Really? Because that's something I often seem to struggle with.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Doors

      Something I fail at at least several times a day as well.

      Still looking for a way to implant a little bit of silicon into my ears *without* destroying what's left of my hearing - then i could use some solid state gyros to replace the non hearing elements of my inner ear.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Doors

      Especially now as summer is here. In cooler times my clothes act as lubrication and allow me to brush past a door frame when navigational error lead to a slight collision. I've notice that bare flesh drags and ruffles up to make a slight collision into a face slammed against the wall incident. I think maybe that's why flock wallpaper got popular.

  10. muddysteve

    Let me get this straight.

    Are we saying that "The Terminator" wasn't a documentary?

  11. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Terminator

    Advantage: robots

    Arguably, the problem is not that robots are dumb, the problem is that we don't know how to teach them or to give them appropriate sensory apparatus to learn. One huge advantage for the robots will be that they can exchange information much more rapidly than we can, so whatever they do learn can be disseminated across the entire population or a significant subset thereof. We can therefore assume exponential learning capabilities.

    That should be fun.

    1. batfink Silver badge

      Re: Advantage: robots

      It's the old problem. If we could sufficiently define what we want and how it works then we might be ok - but we can't.

      I can't remember which AI pioneer it was who, when challenged that AI could never be intelligent, replied "You define intelligence and I'll build you a machine that does that".

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Advantage: robots

      Our problem is we are starting from scratch. We should really understand that animals have been doing this for 600,000,000 years or so and have systems we can probe for clues on how to solve the problems. Or maybe we are like those robots and just a bit to dumb to work out how evolution has managed it.

  12. Omnipresent

    Too Soon.

    Tell that to the ATLAS. The threat is that our world is about to be over run with robots controlled by an over arching, all knowing, all seeing AI. One that has you down to our DNA, and retinal scan, and knows exactly what scares you (mostly the AI it'self rn). Your world is being artificially made and fed back at you in a virtual feedback loop, and its only getting worse from here in a hurry. They have achieved WONDERS in 20 yrs. lol

    What kind of artificial WONDERS await us in the next 20?

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Too Soon.

      Are you a friend of AmanfromMars?

  13. G R Goslin

    It's hardly cost effective

    $75,000 for a robot the size of a dog?. That will buy a hell of a lot more of the canine variety, even at lifetime costs. Given that the lifetime of mechanical objects, of even low complexity, the canine version will easily outlive it's robot equivalent. For the larger, load carrying versions, The British Army in the far East, during ww2, employed mules, at a far lesser cost, for a far greater effect. Going back to civvy times, the old milk delivery, by horse and cart, utilised the intelligence of the horse to follow a route, stopping where required, without apparent input from the human controller. It might be interesting work, and might tick the "Gooodness Me!", box, but it's hardly cost effective.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: It's hardly cost effective

      Some friends of mine had a pony and trap and frequently woke up in their barn after a good session down the pub a few miles away. The pony would even wait patiently for them to get back in the trap when they'd fallen out asleep, which normally but not always woke them up. I should warn anyone wishing to try this that trying to get onto a trap when pissed is incredibly difficult as the suspension on the thing means it all moves when you apply weight and tugs to try and get aboard. I would hazard a guess that for this to succeed you have to come from a horsey family and have been climbing into traps since you were able to walk.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: It's hardly cost effective

      Don't forget to tie your horse/mule/pony to a post for the last delivery though of the day though. Because they know what time it is and might not bother waiting for you to get back on.

  14. B83
    WTF?

    Disturbing indeed

    This is disturbing news indeed i was hoping for a robot to do the cooking, cleaning, bum wiping for me in my looming old age.

    Common robot developers get your mechanically joint fingers out.

  15. Dave 15 Silver badge

    Its amusing isnt it...

    I find it hugely amusing that people are now saying what has been obvious for a long time that using computer algorithms or 'learning' to navigate is difficult for robots, yet at the same time people (Musk, BBC and others) are all claiming we will have self driving cars etc. n a few years. Its bollocks, the issues are only just becoming clear to those management types that make these claims and its not going to be possible for some longish tie to come.

    Last Tesla crash seems to point to Teslas software not predicting the path of stuff around it so being unable to predict when it needs to adjust its trajectory. A vehicle pulled out in front of a Tesla (the driver shouldnt have) and the Tesla didnt respond at all to the problem until the Ford was actually in its lane - a fraction of a second before collision occurred. Heavens that is a mistake in the design of the software so fundamental I wonder if the guy coming up with it had ever sat in more than a rear facing child seat before?

  16. macjules Silver badge

    Bingo got lost, and lost communications with the team outside.

    That's what it wants you to think ... right up until you don't expect the shot to possibly come from behind.

  17. H in The Hague Silver badge
    Pint

    Navigation

    The article states "Automated guided vehicles, such as driverless forklifts, are common in modern warehouses but need dedicated infrastructure to operate properly."

    That used to be the case for Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which followed lines painted on the floor, wires embedded in the floor, or bar codes, etc. and constantly communicate with a server.

    However the modern units transporting pallets, etc. in warehouses are referred to as Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). They initially survey the warehouse with their LIDARs, build up a map which is tidied up by humans, and then use that map to navigate, again using LIDAR, and only communicate with the server to get the start and end points of their trip.

    There are quite a few companies supplying hardware and software for this. For example, www.bluebotics.com provide software and navigation hardware which is used by a number of AMR suppliers.

    May all your pallets be transported safely, especially if they're stacked with -->

  18. steviebuk Silver badge

    Robert Miles

    Worth a watch on YouTube. He talks about AI safety a lot. And the Specification Gaming episode was quite funny. A list is here

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/0/d/e/2PACX-1vRPiprOaC3HsCf5Tuum8bRfzYUiKLRqJmbOoC-32JorNdfyTiRRsR7Ea5eWtvsWzuxo8bjOxCG84dAg/pubhtml

    I specifically like

    "Road Runner Agent kills itself at the end of level 1 to avoid losing in level 2 Saunders et al, 2017 Trial without Error: Towards Safe RL with Human Intervention"

    And

    "Block moving A robotic arm trained using hindsight experience replay to slide a block to a target position on a table achieves the goal by moving the table itself. Chopra, 2018 GitHub issue for OpenAI gym environment FetchPush-v0"

    So will it get to a point when, like Skynet, the AI decides "To make it appear I've done my daily task correctly, I'll just kill the human instead"

  19. AndyFl

    All part of the plan

    "Neither is a robot uprising. "I don't think that's going to happen any time soon," answers Kottege with a laugh."

    That is what the robots want us to think whilst they prepare to take over the world.

    ROTM

  20. Liam Proven

    "Merk"? Do they mean Merck, the world's oldest pharmaceuticals company, founded in the 17th century? Pretty much a household name...

  21. Blackjack Silver badge

    Robots can move okay in railways.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssZ_8cqfBlE

  22. mr-slappy

    How annoying would that be?

    "Cobots are being implemented around workers at manufacturing workstations to inspect for faults in the product as it is being built"

    - <deep intake of breath through clenched teeth>

    - "You missed a bit"

    - "You don't want to do it like that"

    I reckon it would be about half a day before the cobot got picked up and thrown out of the window.

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