Category Archives: robots

10 gross reasons why fast food needs robot workers


The other day I wrote about how surprising it was that robot Zambonis aren’t yet widespread. Even more amazing is the fact that fast-food joints aren’t yet entirely staffed by robots.

It seems like a new tale of fast-food employee grossness emerges weekly, with the latest involving a KFC worker in Wales who claimed on Facebook to have inserted pubic hair into customers’ meals. KFC said it had investigated the incident and found it to be untrue, but the damage was already done.

Such incidents, many of which turn out to be real indeed, are almost a form of corporate terrorism. While it’s highly unlikely that the average customer will ever get a meal contaminated with pubes, boogers, spit or other bodily fluids, hearing about such isolated cases is enough to sour perceptions and put a person off fast food entirely.

With employees of such chains around the world expressing anger over their low wages, it’s also likely these incidents will continue and possibly even increase in frequency. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 4, 2014 in Burger King, domino's, food, mcdonald's, robots, taco bell, wendy's


Google will score big by entertaining in robot cars

Google self-driving car

If there was one takeaway from the video Google released last week of its self-driving cars – besides the fact that, you know, they drive themselves – it’s how boring the typical commute could soon be.

Sure, the people in the video are completely amazed at being chauffeured around by a machine, but of course they would be. It’s a freakin’ robot, after all. But what happens when the novelty wears off?

Google’s first effort is minimalistically sparse on bells and whistles – the cars only have a start/stop button and a screen that shows occupants the route they’re taking – and understandably so. The company wants to make sure the main functions work perfectly before adding accoutrements. In the meantime, there’s zilch for those passengers to do except stare out the window and ponder how increasingly useless they’re becoming.

It’s only when those extras are considered that it starts to become clearer just how big these cars are going to be for Google. After all, people are going to need to do something while they’re being driven around. We are an easily bored species, after all. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in apple, cars, Google, robots


Zamboni drivers: robots are coming for you


From the “What Took So Long?” department comes news that a robot Zamboni has been invented. Paul Van Eijl, a resident of Winona, Minnesota, has come up with a system called the Ice Jet, which uses GPS coordinates to control multiple machines. The robot system can clear an ice rink in about a minute or so, according to the Winona Daily News.

“It’s really doing the same thing,” Van Eijl said. “You’re just basically making it eight times as efficient.” His co-engineer Kevin Christ summarized the Ice Jet’s benefits succinctly: “Quicker, faster, cheaper.”

The fact that a robot zamboni exists isn’t surprising, and it’ll be equally logical when arenas each rush out to buy one. The only puzzling thing is why they aren’t already in mass circulation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 2, 2014 in robots


Apple set to transform the world… with headphones?


It has been a mostly inspirational week in technology, with a couple of tech titans showing off some truly amazing futuristic technology.

First up is Google, which on Tuesday took the wraps off its own self-built, self-driving car. While the search giant has been working on autonomous vehicles for some time, the difference with this one is that it isn’t a repurposed car with a bunch of tech strapped to it. Rather, it’s built from the ground up as a robot.

That means it has no steering wheels or pedals, just a start and stop button and a screen that shows its route.

Project director Chris Urmson outlined Google’s plans for the new vehicle in a blog post:

We’re planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls. If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years.

The company also released a vehicle showing seniors, children and even blind people going for test drives:

Not to be outdone, Microsoft also showed off some amazing technology on Tuesday evening at the inaugural Code Conference in California. The company is busy working instant translation into Skype, and appears to be having some success.

As shown during an on-stage demo, Skype vice-president Gurdeep Pall – speaking English – had a real-time conversation with another Microsoft employee, who was speaking German. The service itself translated their words into each others’ respective tongues, then read them aloud like a virtual translator.

The associated feature discusses how this sort of technology has been a long time in the making and the staggering challenges it has faced. It doesn’t work perfectly yet, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Check out the video – things get interesting around the three-minute mark.

And then there’s Apple. The company finally made its purchase of Beats official on Wednesday, announcing that it has acquired both Beats Music and Beats Electronics for a combined $3 billion.

“Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook in a statement. “That’s why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.”

To put the week in perspective: Google shows off cars that can drive blind people, Microsoft demos technology that allows people from disparate cultures to communicate with each other, and Apple buys some middling headphones and one of a logjam of music streaming services. Hmm. Okay.

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference is next week. After being shown up in the innovation department by its two biggest rivals, the pressure cooker of expectations just got a whole lot more intense.

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Posted by on May 29, 2014 in apple, Google, microsoft, music, robots, skype


Why I love R2D2 (and why you probably do too)

r2d2I had the good-timing fortune of being at Disney World in Florida a few days ago for a “Star Wars weekend,” the now-annual month-long celebration of the movies held at the Hollywood Studios park. Part of the festivities included a parade of characters from the movies and some of the actors who voiced them. While it was nice to see the likes of Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and Warwick Davis (Wicket) in the flesh, my favourite moment was when R2D2 wheeled down the parade route making his trademark beeps and bloops.

He was obviously being controlled remotely by someone nearby, but I didn’t care – seeing “him” made me giddy and even a little misty-eyed. It activated some sort of child memories in me.

Then I remembered that it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. I had the same reaction the first time I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace back in 1999. I couldn’t help but squeal with joy when R2 made his debut in the prequel, saving the day as usual.

Fans of the original trilogy had been waiting a very long time for more Star Wars, me included, and it turned out the thing I had missed most was that plucky little droid. Watching the parade at Disney World years later, I had an odd epiphany: I love R2D2. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in movies, robots, Star Wars


Entrepreneurs taking advantage of new pot laws


The marijuana laws in Canada are changing and the entrepreneurs are already lining up to take advantage. And many of them are using technology – some old and some new – to peddle their wares.

In British Columbia, the B.C. Pain Society opened up a pot vending machine just a few weeks ago. For $50, buyers can get a half-ounce baggie dispensed in just a few seconds, much like they would a chocolate bar or bag of chips. Besides the convenience, at least one aficionado says the prices are a steal.

The machine is technically illegal, according to Health Canada, because the B.C. Pain Society doesn’t keep tabs on who’s buying or how much. New pot laws that came into force on April 1 allow for people with official prescriptions to buy marijuana from approved suppliers. The machine apparently skirts or contravenes several requirements.

On the more straight-and-narrow front, there’s Canvas RX, a new website that seeks to connect prescription holders with official suppliers. All you do is select your symptom and the site returns a list of suppliers and strains that might be right for you.

Selecting “stress,” for example, turns up 17 different types of weed from four different suppliers, such as Afghani Bull Rider from the Whistler Medical Marijuana Company.

“CanvasRX operates much like an online marijuana pharmacy,” says co-founder Ronan Levy in a release heralding the site’s launch. “Because pharmacies in Canada cannot carry marijuana and the dispensary model is prohibited by the regulations, we step into fill the knowledge gap by providing patients and doctors with the information and resources they need to best utilize this treatment option.”

Meanwhile, the federal government is leaning toward decriminalizing weed while some opposition parties are pushing for full legalization, much like what has happened in U.S. states such as Colorado and Washington. One can only imagine what new types of businesses will arise should further steps be taken.

Colorado’s legal dispensaries raked in a whopping $14 million in sales in their first month alone – what happens when some enterprising individuals start applying things like mobile apps and robots to the business?

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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in law, robots


Humans still in the loop with Netflix suggestions

Soon, robots won't just be in movies - they'll be telling us which ones to watch.

Soon, robots won’t just be in movies – they’ll also be telling us which ones to watch.

On the universal list of dream jobs, being paid to sit around and watch TV and movies all day would almost certainly be near the top of the list. You may have heard a while back that a few lucky people do just that for Netflix. The streaming company employs about 40 individuals around the world to create metadata tags for its content. In effect, they watch TV shows and movies and enter information about them into a spreadsheet – how much violence is there, the gender of the main characters, tone and mood, is there nudity or cursing, and so on.

I had the chance to chat with Mike Hastings, who as the director of enhanced content team runs this program, during my visit to Netflix’s headquarters in Los Gatos., Calif. last week. I was curious as to why the company still uses humans for this particular task. Image recognition and machine learning has come a long way, with company’s such as Israel’s Anyclip effectively doing the same job, but without people.

“We’ve been doing this for about six years and humans were definitely the way at first,” says Hastings (no relation to chief executive Reed Hastings). “We’re still using humans today because it’s been the most reliable, trustworthy way of getting some of this data.” Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 19, 2014 in netflix, robots