(www.plasticpals.com) In 2008 the BBC aired a three-part miniseries hosted by the affable Captain Slow (or James May, as he's known outside of his duties on Top Gear). Each episode is a guided tour of new technologies; the first deals with flying vehicles, the second on robots, and the third on alternative energy.
Over the course of an hour, he visits labs (half of which are Japanese) to interact with a cog of robots to establish the state of the art and its limitations. May provides some food for thought with his own take on things and where he believes it's all headed. He spares us the oft repeated doomsday scenarios we've heard in similar shows, presenting the topic more from the standpoint of genuine curiosity.
Most of the robots that are featured will be familiar to you. At the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute, there's a cursory interview with Prof. Ishiguro (and his Geminoid), and a demonstration of the SARCOS CBI batting a ball. A run of the mill demonstration of Honda's ASIMO at Disney Land ends dramatically when it accidentally collides with a closed door. ASIMO makes up for this embarrassing performance at an unspecified university in Frankfurt, Germany, where it performs some object learning and recognition tasks.
Sadly that's where the real robots end, but the related stuff is still pretty entertaining. There's a retinal implant, a power assist exoskeleton developed at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology, and May drives a mind-controlled wheelchair (badly). There's a discussion on the limits of artificial intelligence and whether computers will ever match human creativity. The episode ends with a look at life logging with a "sense cam" and virtual reality.
Unlike the previous shows we've covered which recycle the same footage in some parts, this is entirely new stuff. The interaction with ASIMO is particularly enjoyable, and if you're a fan of Top Gear (protip: you should be) it's fun to take the trip with James May.
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