Technical Issues’ Stall MLB’s Adoption of Robots to Call Balls and Strikes

Will Major League Baseball games use “automated” umpires next year to watch pitches from home plate and call balls and strikes?
“We still have some technical issues,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday. NBC News reports:

“We haven’t made as much progress in the minor leagues this year as we sort of hoped at this point. I think it’s becoming more and more likely that this will not be a go for ’25.”

Major League Baseball has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in minor leagues since 2019. It is being used at all Triple-A parks this year for the second straight season, the robot alone for the first three games of each series and a human with a [robot-assisted] challenge system in the final three.

In “challenge-system” games, robo-umpires are only used for quickly ruling on challenges to calls from human umpires. (As demonstrated in this 11-second video.)

CBS Sports explains:

Each team is given a limited number of “incorrect” challenges per game, which incentivizes judicious use of challenges… In some ways, the challenge system is a compromise between the traditional method of making ball-strike calls and the fully automated approach. That middle ground may make approval by the various stakeholders more likely to happen and may lay the foundation for full automation at some future point.

Manfred cites “a growing consensus in large part” from Major League players that that’s how they’d want to see robo-umpiring implemented, according to a post on from The Athletic’s Evan Drellich. (NBC notes one concern is eliminating the artful way catchers “frame” caught pitches to convince umpires a pitch passed through the strike zone.)

But umpires face greater challenges today, adds CBS Sports:

The strong trend, stretching across years, of increased pitch velocity in the big leagues has complicated the calling of balls and strikes, as has the emphasis on high-spin breaking pitches. Discerning balls from strikes has always been challenging, and the stuff of the contemporary major-league pitcher has made anything like perfect accuracy beyond the capabilities of the human eye. Big-league umpires are highly skilled, but the move toward ball-strike automation and thus a higher tier of accuracy is likely inevitable. Manfred’s Wednesday remarks reinforce that perception.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Boston Dynamics’ New Atlas Robot Is a Swiveling, Shape-Shifting Nightmare

Jess Weatherbed reports via The Verge: It’s alive! A day after announcing it was retiring Atlas, its hydraulic robot, Boston Dynamics has introduced a new, all-electric version of its humanoid machine. The next-generation Atlas robot is designed to offer a far greater range of movement than its predecessor. Boston Dynamics wanted the new version to show that Atlas can keep a humanoid form without limiting “how a bipedal robot can move.” The new version has been redesigned with swiveling joints that the company claims make it “uniquely capable of tackling dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks.”

The teaser showcasing the new robot’s capabilities is as unnerving as it is theatrical. The video starts with Atlas lying in a cadaver-like fashion on the floor before it swiftly folds its legs backward over its body and rises to a standing position in a manner befitting some kind of Cronenberg body-horror flick. Its curved, illuminated head does add some Pixar lamp-like charm, but the way Atlas then spins at the waist and marches toward the camera really feels rather jarring. The design itself is also a little more humanoid. Similar to bipedal robots like Tesla’s Optimus, the new Atlas now has longer limbs, a straighter back, and a distinct “head” that can swivel around as needed. There are no cables in sight, and its “face” includes a built-in ring light. It is a marked improvement on its predecessor and now features a bunch of Boston Dynamics’ new AI and machine learning tools. […] Boston Dynamics said the new Atlas will be tested with a small group of customers “over the next few years,” starting with Hyundai.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Tries Out Inventory Work, Gets Better At Lifting

In a new video released today, Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot is shown performing “kinetically challenging” work, like moving some medium-weight car parts and precisely picking stuff up. Ars Technica reports: In the latest video, we’re on to what looks like “phase 2” of picking stuff up — being more precise about it. The old clamp hands had a single pivot at the palm and seemed to just apply the maximum grip strength to anything the robot picked up. The most delicate thing Atlas picked up in the last video was a wooden plank, and it was absolutely destroying the wood. Atlas’ new hands look a lot more gentle than The Clamps, with each sporting a set of three fingers with two joints. All the fingers share one big pivot point at the palm of the hand, and there’s a knuckle joint halfway up the finger. The fingers are all very long and have 360 degrees of motion, so they can flex in both directions, which is probably effective but very creepy. Put two fingers on one side of an item and the “thumb” on the other, and Atlas can wrap its hands around objects instead of just crushing them.

Atlas is picking up a set of car struts — an object with extremely complicated topography that weighs around 30 pounds — so there’s a lot to calculate. Atlas does a heavy two-handed lift of a strut from a vertical position on a pallet, walks the strut over to a shelf, and carefully slides it into place. This is all in Boston Dynamics’ lab, but it’s close to repetitive factory or shipping work. Everything here seems designed to give the robot a manipulation challenge. The complicated shape of the strut means there are a million ways you could grip it incorrectly. The strut box has tall metal poles around it, so the robot needs to not bang the strut into the obstacle. The shelf is a tight fit, so the strut has to be placed on the edge of the shelf and slid into place, all while making sure the strut’s many protrusions won’t crash into the shelf.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

BMW Will Employ Figure’s Humanoid Robot At South Carolina Plant

Figure’s first humanoid robot will be coming to a BMW manufacturing facility in South Carolina. TechCrunch reports: BMW has not disclosed how many Figure 01 models it will deploy initially. Nor do we know precisely what jobs the robot will be tasked with when it starts work. Figure did, however, confirm with TechCrunch that it is beginning with an initial five tasks, which will be rolled out one at a time. While folks in the space have been cavalierly tossing out the term “general purpose” to describe these sorts of systems, it’s important to temper expectations and point out that they will all arrive as single- or multi-purpose systems, growing their skillset over time. Figure CEO Brett Adcock likens the approach to an app store — something that Boston Dynamics currently offers with its Spot robot via SDK.

Likely initial applications include standard manufacturing tasks such as box moving, pick and place and pallet unloading and loading — basically the sort of repetitive tasks for which factory owners claim to have difficulty retaining human workers. Adcock says that Figure expects to ship its first commercial robot within a year, an ambitious timeline even for a company that prides itself on quick turnaround times. The initial batch of applications will be largely determined by Figure’s early partners like BMW. The system will, for instance, likely be working with sheet metal to start. Adcock adds that the company has signed up additional clients, but declined to disclose their names. It seems likely Figure will instead opt to announce each individually to keep the news cycle spinning in the intervening 12 months.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Automation Caused More than Half America’s Income Inequality Since 1980, Study Claims

A newly published study co-authored by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu “quantifies the extent to which automation has contributed to income inequality in the U.S.,” reports SciTechDaily, “simply by replacing workers with technology — whether self-checkout machines, call-center systems, assembly-line technology, or other devices.”

Over the last four decades, the income gap between more- and less-educated workers has grown significantly; the study finds that automation accounts for more than half of that increase. “This single one variable … explains 50 to 70 percent of the changes or variation between group inequality from 1980 to about 2016,” Acemoglu says….

Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, an assistant professor of economics at Boston University, used U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics on the extent to which human labor was used in 49 industries from 1987 to 2016, as well as data on machinery and software adopted in that time. The scholars also used data they had previously compiled about the adoption of robots in the U.S. from 1993 to 2014. In previous studies, Acemoglu and Restrepo have found that robots have by themselves replaced a substantial number of workers in the U.S., helped some firms dominate their industries, and contributed to inequality.

At the same time, the scholars used U.S. Census Bureau metrics, including its American Community Survey data, to track worker outcomes during this time for roughly 500 demographic subgroups… By examining the links between changes in business practices alongside changes in labor market outcomes, the study can estimate what impact automation has had on workers.

Ultimately, Acemoglu and Restrepo conclude that the effects have been profound. Since 1980, for instance, they estimate that automation has reduced the wages of men without a high school degree by 8.8 percent and women without a high school degree by 2.3 percent, adjusted for inflation.

Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 for sharing the article.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Boston Dynamics’ Latest Atlas Video Demos a Robot That Can Run, Jump and Now Grab and Throw

Boston Dynamics released a demo of its humanoid robot Atlas, showing it pick up and deliver a bag of tools to a construction worker. While Atlas could already run and jump over complex terrain, the new hands, or rudimentary grippers, “give the robot new life,” reports TechCrunch. From the report: The claw-like gripper consists of one fixed finger and one moving finger. Boston Dynamics says the grippers were designed for heavy lifting tasks and were first demonstrated in a Super Bowl commercial where Atlas held a keg over its head. The videos released today show the grippers picking up construction lumber and a nylon tool bag. Next, the Atlas picks up a 2×8 and places it between two boxes to form a bridge. The Atlas then picks up a bag of tools and dashes over the bridge and through construction scaffolding. But the tool bag needs to go to the second level of the structure — something Atlas apparently realized and quickly throws the bag a considerable distance. Boston Dynamics describes this final maneuver: ‘Atlas’ concluding move, an inverted 540-degree, multi-axis flip, adds asymmetry to the robot’s movement, making it a much more difficult skill than previously performed parkour.” A behind the scenes video describing how Atlas is able to recognize and interact with objects is also available on YouTube.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Bipedal Robot Sets Guinness World Record For Robotic 100-Meter Sprint

A droid named Cassie has set a Guinness World Record for the 100-meter dash by a bipedal robot, “an impressive demonstration of robotics and engineering,” reports New Atlas. From the report: Cassie is the brainchild of Agility Robotics, a spin-off company from Oregon State University, and was introduced in 2017 as a type of developmental platform for robotics research. And Cassie has continued to come along in leaps and bounds since then, in 2021 demonstrating some impressive progress by completing a 5-km (3.1-mile) jog in just over 53 minutes. This achievement involved the use of machine learning algorithms to equip the robot with an ability to run, overcoming its unique biomechanics and knees that bend like an ostrich to remain upright. With this capability, Cassie joined a group of running bipedal robots that include the Atlas humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics and Mabel, billed as the world’s fastest knee-equipped bipedal robot. But in optimizing Cassie for the 100-meter sprint, the researchers had to head back to the drawing board.

The team spent a week fast-tracking Cassie through a year’s worth of simulated training designed to determine the most effective gait. But it wasn’t simply a matter of speed. For the Guinness World Record to stand, Cassie had to start in a standing pose, and then return to that pose after crossing the finish line rather than simply tumble over. This meant Cassie had to use two neural networks, one for running fast and one for standing still, and gracefully transition between the two. Ultimately, Cassie completed the 100-meter sprint in 24.73 seconds, establishing a Guinness World Record for a bipedal robot. This is a great deal slower than the sub-10-second times run by the world’s best sprinters, but the researchers believe progress will only accelerate from here. You can watch Cassie’s record-setting dash here.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Almost Half of Industrial Robots Are In China

According to a new report from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), China now has almost half of all the world’s robot installations and that it is increasing its lead rapidly. reports: The IFR, which exists to “promote research, development, use and international co-operation in the entire field of robotics,” has been reporting that China has been the world leader in implementing industrial robots for the last 8 years. We have not been paying attention. In 3 years, China has almost doubled the number of industrial robot installations. With its 243,000 robot installations in 2020, China has almost half of all the industrial robots in the world, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A majority of new industrial robots are used in electronics manufacture (for circuit boards, consumer electronics, etc.) and in automobile assembly, particularly in the surging production of electric vehicles (EVs).One must wonder why China, a country with so much cheap manual labor available, would opt for expensive robots with their special demands for tech support. China may have a giant population (1.4 billion people), but its workforce is actually decreasing, says the IFR, due to an increasing segment of its population aging and a growing competition for service jobs. China also expects a leveling off of its rural-to-urban migration. China’s government is determined not to let a declining workforce cause a drop in manufacturing, and as only a centralized, authoritarian government can, it has made robotizing a national priority and has mobilized its forces.

China’s latest five-year plan for the robotics industry, released in December 2021 by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), aims for nothing less than making China a world leader in robot technology and industrial automation. And it appears to be working. China went from 10 robots per ten thousand employees 10 years ago to 246 robots per ten thousand employees in 2020, the ninth best ranking in the world. To keep the robots state of the art and operational, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security introduced 18 new occupational titles in June, including “robotics engineering technician.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

San Francisco Restaurant Claims To Be First To Run Entirely By Robots

Mezli isn’t the first automated restaurant to roll out in San Francisco, but, at least according to its three co-founders, it’s the first to remove humans entirely from the on-site operation equation. Eater SF reports: About two years and a few million dollars later, Mezli co-founders Alex Kolchinski, Alex Gruebele, and Max Perham are days away from firing up the touch screens at what they believe to be the world’s first fully robotic restaurant. To be clear, Mezli isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense. As in, you won’t be able to pull up a seat and have a friendly server — human, robot, or otherwise — take your order and deliver your food. Instead, Mezli works more like if a vending machine and a restaurant had a robot baby, Kolchinski describes. It’s a way to get fresh food to a lot of people, really fast (the box can pump out about 75 meals an hour), and, importantly, at a lower price; the cheapest Mezli bowl starts at $6.99.

On its face, the concept actually sounds pretty simple. The co-founders built what’s essentially a big, refrigerated shipping container and stuffed it with machines capable of portioning out ingredients, putting those ingredients into bowls, heating the food up, and then moving it to a place where diners can get to it. But in a technical sense, the co-founders say it was quite difficult to work out. Most automated restaurants still require humans in some capacity; maybe people take orders while robots make the food or, vice versa, with automated ordering and humans prepping food behind the scenes. But Mezli can run on its own, serving hundreds of meals without any human staff.

The food does get prepped and pre-cooked off-site by good old-fashioned carbon-based beings. Mezli founding chef Eric Minnich, who previously worked at Traci Des Jardins’s the Commissary and at Michelin-starred Madera at Rosewood Sand Hill hotel, says he and a lean team of just two other people can handle all the chopping, mixing, cooking, and portioning at a commissary kitchen. Then, once a day, they load all the menu components into the big blue-and-white Mezli box. Inside the box, there’s an oven that either brings the ingredients up to temp or finishes up the last of the cooking. Cutting down on labor marks a key cost-saving measure in the Mezli business model; with just a fraction of the staff, as in less than a half dozen workers, Mezli can serve hundreds of meals. “The fully robot-run restaurant begins taking orders and sliding out Mediterranean grain bowls by the end of this week with plans to celebrate a grand opening on August 28 at Spark Social,” notes Eater.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.