OK Google, get me a Coke: AI giant demos soda-fetching robots

Google research scientist Fei Xia accepts a Coca-Cola can from a robot during a demonstration of AI technology at a company micro-kitchen in Mountain View, California, U.S. August 11, 2022. (REUTERS)
Google research scientist Fei Xia accepts a Coca-Cola can from a robot during a demonstration of AI technology at a company micro-kitchen in Mountain View, California, U.S. August 11, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 17 August 2022

OK Google, get me a Coke: AI giant demos soda-fetching robots

OK Google, get me a Coke: AI giant demos soda-fetching robots

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California: Alphabet Inc’s Google is combining the eyes and arms of physical robots with the knowledge and conversation skills of virtual chatbots to help its employees fetch soda and chips from breakrooms with ease.
The mechanical waiters, shown in action to reporters last week, embody an artificial intelligence breakthrough that paves the way for multipurpose robots as easy to control as ones that perform single, structured tasks such as vacuuming or standing guard.
Google robots are not ready for sale. They perform only a few dozen simple actions, and the company has not yet embedded them with the “OK, Google” summoning feature familiar to consumers.




A Google robot moves while carrying a bag of chips during a demonstration for members of the media at a micro-kitchen in Google’s robotics research space in Mountain View, California, U.S. August 11, 2022. (REUTERS)

While Google says it is pursuing development responsibly, adoption could ultimately stall over concerns such as robots becoming surveillance machines, or being equipped with chat technology that can give offensive responses, as Meta Platforms Inc. and others have experienced in recent years.
Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. are pursuing comparable research on robots.
“It’s going to take a while before we can really have a firm grasp on the direct commercial impact,” said Vincent Vanhoucke, senior director for Google’s robotics research.
When asked to help clean a spill, Google’s robot recognizes that grabbing a sponge is a doable and more sensible response than apologizing for creating the mess.
The robots interpret naturally spoken commands, weigh possible actions against their capabilities and plan smaller steps to achieve the ask.
The chain is made possible by infusing the robots with language technology that draws understanding of the world from Wikipedia, social media and other webpages. Similar AI underlies chatbots or virtual assistants, but has not been applied to robots this expansively before, Google said.
It unveiled the effort in a research paper in April. Incorporating more sophisticated language AI since then boosted the robots’ success on commands to 74 percent from 61 percent, according a company blog post on Tuesday.
Fellow Alphabet subsidiary Everyday Robots designs the robots, which for now will stay confined to grabbing snacks for employees.

 


Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle
Updated 23 September 2022

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle

Google celebrates Saudi National Day with Doodle
  • Doodle marks the Kingdom’s 92nd national day

LONDON: Google has joined Saudi Arabia in the celebrating of its national day with one of its famous Google Doodles, with an image of the Kingdom’s flag on the search engine’s homepage on Friday.

Only visible in Saudi Arabia, the doodle marks the Kingdom’s 92nd national day – known in Arabic as Al-Yaom-ul-Watany.

It was in 1932 that a royal decree was signed calling for the unification of the dual Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz under the name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Google doodle features the Kingdom’s green flag which was adopted in 1973.


Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration
Updated 23 September 2022

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration
  • Han Lay has been held at Bangkok's main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam
  • In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport

BANGKOK: A Myanmar beauty queen who spoke out against the military coup in her homeland appealed Friday for help after being refused entry to Thailand by immigration officials.
Thaw Nandar Aung, better known by her professional moniker Han Lay, has been held at Bangkok’s main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam.
She made headlines in March 2021 when she urged the world to “save” the people of Myanmar from the military, which had seized power a month earlier.
Thai immigration officials said she was denied entry to the kingdom because of a problem with her passport.
In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport.
“I request to Thai authority from here please help for me,” she wrote in English, adding that she had contacted the UN refugee agency.
A Thai official told AFP that Myanmar police had not spoken to her and said it was up to her to decide where to fly to from Bangkok.
While in Bangkok competing in the Miss Grand International contest, the former psychology student spoke out against the coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I want to say from here to the world: please support the Myanmar people,” she told Thailand’s Khaosod English news outlet.
“So many people die in Myanmar by the guns of the military... Please save us.”
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the junta struggling to quell resistance to its rule.
A military crackdown on dissent has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta puts the civilian death toll at almost 3,900.


Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery
Updated 20 September 2022

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery
  • The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012
  • Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers dating back to the 14th century BC

YEHUD, Israel: Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday they had discovered opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery pieces, providing evidence to support the theory that the hallucinogenic drug was used in ancient burial rituals.
The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012 when excavations in the central Israeli town of Yehud revealed a series of Late Bronze Age graves.
Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers — from which opium is derived — dating back to the 14th century BC.
They then examined whether they had served as containers for the drug, which earlier writing had suggested was used in burial rituals in Canaan, and found “opium residue in eight vessels,” the researchers said in a statement.
These were likely “placed in graves for ceremonial meals, rites and rituals performed by the living for their deceased family members,” said Ron Be’eri, an archaeologist with the antiquities authority.
During these ceremonies, “family members or a priest on their behalf” would “attempt to summon the spirit of their dead relatives... and enter an ecstatic state by using opium,” Be’eri said.
But he acknowledged that much remained unknown about its use in ancient times. “We can only speculate what was done with opium,” he said.


NASA’s InSight lander detects space rocks as they slam into Mars

NASA’s InSight lander detects space rocks as they slam into Mars
Updated 20 September 2022

NASA’s InSight lander detects space rocks as they slam into Mars

NASA’s InSight lander detects space rocks as they slam into Mars

WASHINGTON: Mars, by virtue of its tenuous atmosphere and proximity to our solar system’s asteroid belt, is far more vulnerable than Earth to being struck by space rocks — one of the many differences between the two planetary neighbors.
Scientists are now gaining a fuller understanding of this Martian trait, with help from NASA’s robotic InSight lander. Researchers on Monday described how InSight detected seismic and acoustic waves from the impact of four meteorites and then calculated the location of the craters they left — the first such measurements anywhere other than Earth.
The researchers used observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in space to confirm the crater locations.
“These seismic measurements give us a completely new tool for investigating Mars, or any other planet we can land a seismometer on,” said planetary geophysicist Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the InSight mission’s principal investigator.
The space rocks InSight tracked — one landing in 2020 and the other three in 2021 — were relatively modest in size, estimated to weigh up to about 440 pounds (200 kg), with diameters of up to about 20 inches (50 cm) and leaving craters of up to about 24 feet (7.2 meters) wide. They landed between 53 miles (85 km) and 180 miles (290 km) from InSight’s location. One exploded into at least three pieces that each gouged their own craters.
“We can connect a known source type, location and size to what the seismic signal looks like. We can apply this information to better understand InSight’s entire catalog of seismic events, and use the results on other planets and moons, too,” said Brown University planetary scientist Ingrid Daubar, a co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-022-01014-0.
The researchers believe that now the seismic signature of such impacts has been discovered they expect to find more contained in InSight’s data, going back to 2018.
The three-legged InSight — its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — landed in 2018 in a vast and relatively flat plain just north of the Martian equator called Elysium Planitia.
“The moon is also a target for future meteor impact detection,” said planetary scientist and study lead author Raphael Garcia of the University of Toulouse’s ISAE-SUPAERO institute of aeronautics and space.
“And it may be the same sensors will do it, because the spare sensors of InSight are currently integrated in the Farside Seismic Suite instrument for a flight to the moon in 2025,” Garcia added, referring to an instrument due to be placed near the lunar south pole on the side of the moon permanently facing away from Earth.
Mars is about twice as likely as Earth to have its atmosphere hit by a meteoroid — the name for a space rock before it strikes the surface. However, Earth has a much thicker atmosphere that protects the planet.
“So meteoroids usually break up and disintegrate in the Earth’s atmosphere, forming fireballs that only rarely reach the surface to form a crater. In comparison on Mars, hundreds of impact craters are forming somewhere on the planet’s surface every year,” Daubar said.
The Martian atmosphere is only about 1 percent as thick as Earth’s. The asteroid belt, an abundant source of space rocks, is located between Mars and Jupiter.
The scientific goals set for InSight ahead of the mission were to investigate the internal structure and processes of Mars, as well as studying seismic activity and meteorite impacts.
InSight’s seismometer instrument established that Mars is seismically active, detecting more than 1,300 marsquakes. In research published last year, seismic waves detected by InSight helped decipher the internal structure of Mars, including the first estimates of the size of its large liquid metal core, thickness of its crust, and nature of its mantle.

 


Jordanian history buff revives ancient dialect of the Nabataeans

Jordanian history buff revives ancient dialect of the Nabataeans
Updated 19 September 2022

Jordanian history buff revives ancient dialect of the Nabataeans

Jordanian history buff revives ancient dialect of the Nabataeans
  • Raggad posted a 50-second video on Facebook in which he speaks in the language

AMMAN: A Jordanian history enthusiast, is attempting to revive the Arabic dialect of the Nabataeans. This ancient Arab tribe who left behind the legacy of the historical site at Petra, which was chosen as one of the seven new wonders of the world in a vote of 100 million people in 2007.

Bakr Raggad, a graduate of the University of Jordan, told the Jordan News Agency that he began his attempt to learn the nearly extinct Nabataean dialect three years ago.

He was able to extract 2,500 words from a dialect that he said largely has been lost to the pages of academia, as he concentrated on researching unexplored eras of Jordan’s history.

“There is no clear dictionary or grammar for this dialect,” said Raggad. “I have taken it upon myself to revive it.”

After delving into the intricacies of the Nabataean dialect, he said he is able to hold a conversation using it and even create simple forms of poetry and literature. On Saturday, he posted a 50-second video on Facebook in which he speaks in the dialect.

The Nabataeans, from the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, emerged during the 6th century B.C. Initially they were nomads but by the second century B.C. had evolved into an organized society.