Nvidia’s researchers teach a robot to perform simple tasks by observing a human

Nvidia’s researchers teach a robot to perform simple tasks by observing a human

Industrial robots are typically all about repeating a well-defined task over and over again. Usually, that means performing those tasks a safe distance away from the fragile humans that programmed them. More and more, however, researchers are now thinking about how robots and humans can work in close proximity to humans and even learn from them. In part, that’s what Nvidia’s new robotics lab in Seattle focuses on and the company’s research team today presented some of its most recent work around teaching robots by observing humans at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Brisbane, Australia.

Nvidia’s director of robotics research Dieter Fox.

As Dieter Fox, the senior director of robotics research at Nvidia (and a professor at the University of Washington), told me, the team wants to enable this next generation of robots that can safely work in close proximity to humans. But to do that, those robots need to be able to detect people, tracker their activities and learn how they can help people. That may be in small-scale industrial setting or in somebody’s home.

While it’s possible to train an algorithm to successfully play a video game by rote repetition and teaching it to learn from its mistakes, Fox argues that the decision space for training robots that way is far too large to do this efficiently. Instead, a team of Nvidia researchers led by Stan Birchfield and Jonathan Tremblay, developed a system that allows them to teach a robot to perform new tasks by simply observing a human.

The tasks in this example are pretty straightforward and involve nothing more than stacking a few colored cubes. But it’s also an important step in this overall journey to enable us to quickly teach a robot new tasks.

The researchers first trained a sequence of neural networks to detect objects, infer the relationship between them and then generate a program to repeat the steps it witnessed the human perform. The researchers say this new system allowed them to train their robot to perform this stacking task with a single demonstration in the real world.

One nifty aspect of this system is that it generates a human-readable description of the steps it’s performing. That way, it’s easier for the researchers to figure out what happened when things go wrong.

Nvidia’s Stan Birchfield tells me that the team aimed to make training the robot easy for a non-expert — and few things are easier to do than to demonstrate a basic task like stacking blocks. In the example the team presented in Brisbane, a camera watches the scene and the human simply walks up, picks up the blocks and stacks them. Then the robot repeats the task. Sounds easy enough, but it’s a massively difficult task for a robot.

To train the core models, the team mostly used synthetic data from a simulated environment. As both Birchfield and Fox stressed, it’s these simulations that allow for quickly training robots. Training in the real world would take far longer, after all, and can also be more far more dangerous. And for most of these tasks, there is no labeled training data available to begin with.

“We think using simulation is a powerful paradigm going forward to train robots do things that weren’t possible before,” Birchfield noted. Fox echoed this and noted that this need for simulations is one of the reasons why Nvidia thinks that its hardware and software is ideally suited for this kind of research. There is a very strong visual aspect to this training process, after all, and Nvidia’s background in graphics hardware surely helps.

Fox admitted that there’s still a lot of research left to do be done here (most of the simulations aren’t photorealistic yet, after all), but that the core foundations for this are now in place.

Going forward, the team plans to expand the range of tasks that the robots can learn and the vocabulary necessary to describe those tasks.


Source: Tech Crunch

Amazon gives 'Mrs. Maisel' third season just months after premiere

Amazon gives 'Mrs. Maisel' third season just months after premiere
If it wasn't already apparent that Amazon has a lot of confidence in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it is now. The internet giant has confirmed a third season of the 1950s comedy/drama before the second season has even premiered — and that's after ordering…
Source: Engadget

Orbital ATK is launching a cargo rocket for the ISS early tomorrow morning

Orbital ATK is launching a cargo rocket for the ISS early tomorrow morning

Wake up in the wee hours of the morning on the East Coast, and you might get a chance to watch a rocket launch more than three tons of cargo for the International Space Station. Set for a 4:39 ET liftoff from NASA’s facility on Wallops Island, West Virginia, if the weather holds, this will be Orbital ATK’s ninth cargo delivery to the ISS.

The Antares launch, which is the company’s first since November, was initially scheduled for today, but was ultimately pushed back in favor of inspections and better weather. The ship will carry supplies, parts, gear and a trio of CubeSats (mini-satellites), designed for ISS science studies. CBS notes one particular quantum physics study that “will attempt to cool atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.”

If you’re already up that early on the East Coast and have a decent vantage point, look up. Things will start off small and build to something potentially spectacular. Space.com describes it as akin to a shooting star at first, building to something more like a comet, with the sun catching the rocket’s smoky trail around four and a half minutes after liftoff.

The launch is one of 11 planned under a NASA contract, with potential to add six more supply missions for the ISS. SpaceX, for its part, is currently under contract for 20 such missions. 


Source: Tech Crunch

After tens of thousands of pre-orders, 3D audio headphones startup Ossic disappears

After tens of thousands of pre-orders, 3D audio headphones startup Ossic disappears

After taking tens of thousands of crowd-funding pre-orders for a high-end pair of “3D sound” headphones, audio startup Ossic announced this weekend that it is shutting down the company and backers will not be receiving refunds.

The company raised $2.7 million on Kickstarter and $3.2 million on Indiegogo for their Ossic X headphones which they pitched as a pair of high-end head-tracking headphones that would be perfect for listening to 3D audio, especially in a VR environment. While the company also raised a “substantial seed investment,” in a letter on the Ossic website, the company blamed the slow adoption of virtual reality alongside their crowdfunding campaign stretch goals which bogged down their R&D team.

“This was obviously not our desired outcome. The team worked exceptionally hard and created a production-ready product that is a technological and performance breakthrough. To fail at the 5 yard-line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities.”

We have reached out to the company for additional details.

Through January 2017, the San Diego company had received more than 22,000 pre-orders for their Ossic X headphones. This past January, Ossic announced that they had shipped out the first units to the 80 backers in their $999 developer tier headphones. In that same update, the company said they would enter “mass production” by late spring 2018.

In the end, after tens of thousands of pre-orders, Ossic only built 250 pairs of headphones and only shipped a few dozen to Kickstarter backers.

Crowdfunding campaign failures for hardware products are rarely shocking, but often the collapse comes from the company not being able to acquire additional funding from outside investors. Here, Ossic appears to have been misguided from the start and even with nearly $6 million in crowdfunding and seed funding, which they said nearly matched that number, they were left unable to begin large-scale manufacturing. The company said in their letter, that it would likely take more than $2 million in additional funding to deliver the existing backlog of pre-orders.

Backers are understandably quite upset about not receiving their headphones. A group of over 1,200 Facebook users have joined a recently-created page threatening a class action lawsuit against the team.


Source: Tech Crunch

AT&T launches its LTE-powered Amazon Dash-style button

AT&T launches its LTE-powered Amazon Dash-style button

When we first told you about AT&T’s LTE-M Button, the information was socked away in a deluge of AWS Re:Invent announcements. The telecom giant was a bit more upfront when announcing its availability earlier this week — but just a bit.

After all, it’s not a direct-to-consumer device. Unlike the product-branded hunk of plastic you can presently pick up from Amazon to refresh your supply of Goldfish crackers and Tide Pods, this one’s currently open to developers at companies looking to build their own. What it does have going for it, however, is LTE-M, a cheaper, lower cost version of 4G that’s set to power a future generation of IoT devices.

That means it can be used for your standard Dash-like activities — letting customers replenish items with a press — and it can also be implemented in some more interesting scenarios, out of the bounds of regular WiFi. AT&T offers up a couple of case uses, including customer feedback in public venues and use in places like construction sites where home/office Wifi isn’t an option.

Of course, without the direct retail feedback loop, it’s not really a Dash competitor — and besides, AWS is helping power the thing, so Amazon’s still getting a kickback here. Oh, and then there’s the price — the buttons start at $30 a piece, which amounts to a lot of Tide Pods. As such, we likely won’t see them take off too quickly, but they do provide an interesting usage as AT&T looks to LTE-M to push IoT outside of the home. 


Source: Tech Crunch

Finnish university's online AI course is open to everyone

Finnish university's online AI course is open to everyone
Helsinki University in Finland has launched a course on artificial intelligence — one that's completely free and open to everyone around the world. Unlike Carnegie Mellon's new undergrad degree in AI, which the institution created to train future ex…
Source: Engadget

With at least $1.3 billion invested globally in 2018, VC funding for blockchain blows past 2017 totals

With at least .3 billion invested globally in 2018, VC funding for blockchain blows past 2017 totals

Although bitcoin and blockchain technology may not take up quite as much mental bandwidth for the general public as it did just a few months ago, companies in the space continue to rake in capital from investors.

One of the latest to do so is Circle, which recently announced a $110 million Series E round led by bitcoin mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain. Other participating investors include Tusk VenturesPantera CapitalIDG Capital PartnersGeneral CatalystAccel PartnersDigital Currency GroupBlockchain Capital and Breyer Capital.

This round vaults Circle into an exclusive club of crypto companies that are valued, in U.S. dollars, at $1 billion or more in their most recent venture capital round. According to Crunchbase data, Circle was valued at $2.9 billion pre-money, up from a $420 million pre-money valuation in its Series D round, which closed in May 2016. According to Crunchbase data, only Coinbase and Robinhood — a mobile-first stock-trading platform which recently made a big push into cryptocurrency trading — were in the crypto-unicorn club, which Circle has now joined.

But that’s not the only milestone for the world of venture-backed cryptocurrency and blockchain startups.

Back in February, Crunchbase News predicted that the amount of money raised in old-school venture capital rounds by blockchain and blockchain-adjacent startups in 2018 would surpass the amount raised in 2017. Well, it’s only May, and it looks like the prediction panned out.

In the chart below, you’ll find worldwide venture deal and dollar volume for blockchain and blockchain-adjacent companies. We purposely excluded ICOs, including those that had traditional VCs participate, and instead focused on venture deals: angel, seed, convertible notes, Series A, Series B and so on. The data displayed below is based on reported data in Crunchbase, which may be subject to reporting delays, and is, in some cases, incomplete.

A little more than five months into 2018, reported dollar volume invested in VC rounds raised by blockchain companies surpassed 2017’s totals. Not just that, the nearly $1.3 billion in global dollar volume is greater than the reported funding totals for the 18 months between July 1, 2016 and New Year’s Eve in 2017.

And although Circle’s Series E round certainly helped to bump up funding totals year-to-date, there were many other large funding rounds throughout 2018:

There were, of course, many other large rounds over the past five months. After all, we had to get to $1.3 billion somehow.

All of this is to say that investor interest in the blockchain space shows no immediate signs of slowing down, even as the price of bitcoin, ethereum and other cryptocurrencies hover at less than half of their all-time highs. Considering that regulators are still figuring out how to treat most crypto assets, massive price volatility and dubious real-world utility of the technology, it may surprise some that investors at the riskiest end of the risk capital pool invest as much as they do in blockchain.

Notes on methodology

Like in our February analysis, we first created a list of companies in Crunchbase’s bitcoin, ethereum, blockchaincryptocurrency and virtual currency categories. We added to this list any companies that use those keywords, as well as “digital currency,” “utility token” and “security token” that weren’t previously included in the above categories. After de-duplicating this list, we merged this set of companies with funding rounds data in Crunchbase.

Please note that for some entries in Crunchbase’s round data, the amount of capital raised isn’t known. And, as previously noted, Crunchbase’s data is subject to reporting delays, especially for seed-stage companies. Accordingly, actual funding totals are likely higher than reported here.


Source: Tech Crunch