Robot, know thyself; machines get more self-aware

In this image made from a Feb. 1, 2019, video, Robert Kwiatkowski, a graduate student at Columbia University, demonstrates a robotic arm picking up a red ball and dropping it in a cup at the school in New York. (AP Photo)
Updated 05 February 2019

Robot, know thyself; machines get more self-aware

NEW YORK: Forget dreaming of electric sheep. Robots first need to figure out how to imagine themselves.
One New York robot has done just that. It’s learned that it’s a robotic arm using a process of self-simulation.
Columbia University engineers have given the robot the ability to model itself without prior knowledge of physics or its own shape.
The robot starts out moving randomly, but over time learns enough about itself to be able to perform tasks and even detect if it’s been damaged.
Columbia mechanical engineering professor Hod Lipson says “self-awareness is the Holy Grail” of autonomy. He says there are ethical risks in gifting robots with self-awareness but also many benefits, including adaptability and resilience.
The research was published last week in Science Robotics.



Virgin Galactic unveils supersonic jet design

Updated 05 August 2020

Virgin Galactic unveils supersonic jet design

  • The aircraft is capable of carrying 19 passengers while traveling at three times the speed of sound at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet

LONDON: Virgin Galactic this week unveiled the design of its supersonic jet, which it promises will “open up a new frontier in high-speed travel.”

The aircraft, capable of carrying 19 passengers while traveling at three times the speed of sound at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet, will be designed and developed in partnership with Rolls-Royce.

“We are excited to complete the Mission Concept Review and unveil this initial design concept of a high-speed aircraft, which we envision as blending safe and reliable commercial travel with an unrivaled customer experience,” said George Whitesides, chief space officer at Virgin Galactic.

“We are pleased to collaborate with the innovative team at Rolls-Royce as we strive to develop sustainable, cutting-edge propulsion systems for the aircraft, and we are pleased to be working with the FAA to ensure our designs can make a practical impact from the start.

“We have made great progress so far, and we look forward to opening up a new frontier in high-speed travel,” he added.

Richard Branson, the company’s founder, could travel into space as the first passenger as early as next year, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

The spaceflight venture has repeatedly pushed back the date it will take the first tourists outside Earth’s atmosphere and said 600 people have already paid $250,000 to reserve a seat.

Virgin Galactic said on Monday it “expects to advance to the next phase of its test flight program” in the autumn, with two manned flights.

“Assuming both flights demonstrate the expected results, Virgin Galactic anticipates Sir Richard Branson’s flight to occur in the first quarter of 2021,” the company said.

The groundbreaking flight by Branson would pave the way for future commercial space journeys, Virgin Galactic said.