Stanford University announced that it would cancel in-person classes for the final two weeks of the winter quarter in response to the expanding outbreak of COVID-19. Even before that, the school had set its sights on larger events. These included the AAAI Spring Symposium Series, a legendary conference on artificial intelligence, which in recent years has also had a major impact on machine ethics and robot ethics or roboethics. The AAAI organization announced by email: “It is with regret that we must notify you of the cancellation of the physical meeting of the AAAI Spring Symposium at Stanford, March 23-25, due to the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. Stanford has issued the following letter at news.stanford.edu/2020/03/03/message-campus-community-covid-19/, which strongly discourages and likely results in cancellation of any meeting with more than 150 participants.” What happens with the papers and talks is still unclear. Possibly they will be part of the AAAI Fall Symposium in Washington. The symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”, one of eight events, had to be cancelled as well – among other things, innovative approaches and technologies that are also relevant for crises and disasters such as COVID-19 would have been discussed there.
COVID-19 demonstrates that digitization and technologization can be helpful in crises and disasters. In China, service robots deliver medicine and food in hospitals and quarantine stations, and drones track people without breathing masks. Those who has to stay at home can continue to perform their tasks and receive further training via a computer workstation and e-learning applications. Globalisation is a problem in the spread of the virus, but also a solution in combating it: research was immediately carried out worldwide on a drug against SARS-CoV-2. The use of robots and drones in China has been criticised for the loss of privacy. There was also criticism of the fact that the communist party and the media market the use of robots as a chinese success story, but that some of them originate from abroad. Well-known transport robots are, for example, from Starship Technologies and Savioke. Both companies are based in California.
The paper “Co-Robots as Care Robots” by Oliver Bendel, Alina Gasser and Joel Siebenmann was accepted at the AAAI 2020 Spring Symposia. From the abstract: “Cooperation and collaboration robots, co-robots or cobots for short, are an integral part of factories. For example, they work closely with the fitters in the automotive sector, and everyone does what they do best. However, the novel robots are not only relevant in production and logistics, but also in the service sector, especially where proximity between them and the users is desired or unavoidable. For decades, individual solutions of a very different kind have been developed in care. Now experts are increasingly relying on co-robots and teaching them the special tasks that are involved in care or therapy. This article presents the advantages, but also the disadvantages of co-robots in care and support, and provides information with regard to human-robot interaction and communication. The article is based on a model that has already been tested in various nursing and retirement homes, namely Lio from F&P Robotics, and uses results from accompanying studies. The authors can show that co-robots are ideal for care and support in many ways. Of course, it is also important to consider a few points in order to guarantee functionality and acceptance.” The paper had been submitted to the symposium “Applied AI in Healthcare: Safety, Community, and the Environment”. Oliver Bendel will present the results at Stanford University between 23 and 25 March 2020.
According to The Robot Report, Anki’s little robots might be making a comeback. Digital Dream Labs in Pittsburgh acquired the patents, trademarks, and domain. The start-up company “is planning to revive and manufacture more units of each product in the following order: Overdrive, Cozmo, Vector” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Digital Dream Labs founder H. Jacob Hanchar told The Robot Report “the goal is to have all three products available for purchase for Christmas 2020” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). The small robots belong to the best that the industry has produced. What is special about Cozmo is the many emotions it can show (but of course doesn’t have). It also has face recognition and a night vision device. The future of it and its siblings is not yet clear, as Digital Dream Labs has not purchased “physical assets and inventory” (The Robot Report, 26 December 2019). Fans are waiting and hoping.
According to Tages-Anzeiger (9 December 2019), a consortium led by a Swiss start-up named Clearspace has won a ESA competition and was awarded the contract for a waste disposal mission in orbit. The so-called “chaser” of the EPFL spin-off has four robotic arms with which a remnant of the ESA launch vehicle Vega is to be captured and drawn. Chaser and the part of Vespa will then burn up together in the atmosphere. Later, the company wants to look for new targets. According to Luc Piguet, the issue of space debris is more urgent than ever. The founder and CEO of Clearspace says that there are currently almost 2,000 active and 3,000 inactive satellites. The problem is likely to worsen over the next few years. Where people roam, the mountains of rubbish grow and space fills with rubbish. This may sound literary, but above all, it’s terrible. Robots could be a solution both on Earth and in orbit.