The Girl with Robot Arms

Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old. Due to that disease, the doctors had to amputate both her arms and toes to give her a chance to survive. Since then, her mom has been fighting to ensure that she can do everything that children with hands can do. In the past years, they tried various myoelectric prosthesis, which Tilly describes as “very basic” as these were only capable of opening and closing. In January 2019 Tilly was surprised with Open Bionic Hero Arms for the Alita: Battle Angel film premiere. This medically certified prosthesis is custom 3D-printed and detects muscle movement thanks to special sensors. It works fully intuitively and provides its user with feedback through vibrations, lights and sounds. Thanks to 3D printing, an arm can be made within 40 hours and is quite affordable compared to other bionic hands (launching price of £5,000). The Hero Arms allow Tilly to be a “normal” teenager. She says she feels “more like everyone else”. Which is apparent in simple things such as doing thumbs up on a selfie or playing the Wii. Intelligent prostheses like the Hero Arms have a great impact on the quality of life for people like Tilly. It is that kind of transhuman achievements that increase independence and self-confidence tremendously for individuals. Here you can find more Hero Arm success stories (image source: Open Bionics Press Images).

A Handbook on Machine Ethics

After three years, an ambitious project has come to its preliminary end: The “Handbuch Maschinenethik” (“Handbook Machine Ethics”) (edited by Oliver Bendel) was published by Springer in mid-October 2019. It brings together contributions from leading experts in the fields of machine ethics, robot ethics, technology ethics, technology philosophy and robot law. At the moment it can be downloaded here: link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-658-17483-5 … It has become an extensive, a remarkable, a unique book. In a way, it is a counterpart to American research, which dominates the discipline: Most authors come from Europe and Asia. The editor, who has been involved with information ethics, robotics and machine ethics for 20 years and has been researching machine ethics intensively for eight years, is full of hope that the book will find its place in the standard literature on machine ethics, such as “Moral Machines” (2009) by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen and “Machine Ethics” (2011) by Michael and Susan Leigh Anderson, and “Programming Machine Ethics” (2016) by Luís Moniz Pereira (with Ari Saptawijaya) and “Grundfragen der Maschinenethik” (2018) by Catrin Misselhorn – both have contributed significantly to the “Handbuch Maschinenethik”. Over the next few days, the book with its 23 chapters and 469 pages will be made available for sale on the Springer website and also in print.

An Autonomous Ship at Sea

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) could be the first vessel to cross the Atlantic that is able to navigate around obstacles and hazards by itself. It will depart from Plymouth, UK on the fourth centenary of the original Mayflower voyage, on 6 September 2020, and will reach Plymouth, USA after an ecxiting tour, dedicated to science. “The project was put together by marine research and exploration company ProMare in an effort to expand the scope of marine research. The boat will carry three research pods equipped with scientific instruments to measure various phenomena such as ocean plastics, mammal behaviour or sea level changes.” (ZDnet, 16 October 2019) According to ZDnet, IBM has now joined the initiative to supply technical support for all navigation operations. It is important that the futuristic ship is not only careful with things, but also with animals. In this context, insights of animal-machine interaction and machine ethics might be useful. Ultimately, the excursion will help the marine mammals by obtaining data on their behaviour.

The Sleep Robot by your Side

A Guardian journalist just tested the Somnox Sleep Robot that aims to banish insomnia, aiding natural rest and reducing stress. According to him, it could be revolutionary in the field because many overnight devices merely track sleep rather than promoting it. Somnox describes its robot as a “sleep companion”. “The kidney-shaped, possibly sentient cushion breathes softly in and out, and plays calming noises. The idea is that users hold it close to them in bed, building up an emotional bond over time. Every night, you breathe together in time until you fall sleep, perchance to dream of electric sheep.” (Guardian, 15 October 2019) The journalist was not satisfied with the device at all. But an advanced sleeping robot could be of help to certain groups. Maybe some people are mainly interested in the feeling of having something next to them. One should give the sleep robot a second chance.

A Markup Language for Moral Machines

A markup language is a machine-readable language for structuring and formatting texts and other data. The best known is the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Other well-known artifacts are SSML (for the adaptation of synthetic voices) and AIML (for artificial intelligence applications). We use markup languages to describe properties, affiliations and forms of representation of sections of a text or set of data. This is usually done by marking them with tags. In addition to tags, attributes and values can also be important. A student paper at the School of Business FHNW will describe and compare known markup languages. It will examine whether there is room for further artifacts of this kind. A markup language, which would be suitable for the morality in the written and spoken as well as the morally adequate display of pictures, videos and animations and the playing of sounds, could be called MOML (Morality Markup Language). Is such a language possible and helpful? Can it be used for moral machines? The paper will also deal with this. The supervisor of the project, which will last until the end of the year, is Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel. Since 2012, he and his teams have created formulas and annotated decision trees for moral machines and a number of moral machines themselves, such as GOODBOT, LIEBOT, BESTBOT, and LADYBIRD.

Towards Robots with Artificial Skin

“Sensitive synthetic skin enables robots to sense their own bodies and surroundings – a crucial capability if they are to be in close contact with people. Inspired by human skin, a team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed a system combining artificial skin with control algorithms and used it to create the first autonomous humanoid robot with full-body artificial skin.” (Press Release TUM, 10 October 2019) The robot skin consists of hexagonal cells which are about the size of a two-euro coin. Each of them is equipped with a microprocessor and sensors to detect contact, acceleration, proximity, and temperature. “Such artificial skin enables robots to perceive their surroundings in much greater detail and with more sensitivity. This not only helps them to move safely. It also makes them safer when operating near people and gives them the ability to anticipate and actively avoid accidents.” (Press Release TUM, 10 October 2019) The artificial skin could become important for service robots of all kinds, but also for certain industrial robots (Photo: Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Astrid Eckert).