Air Quality & HRI

Two notes in one. I just published a HuffPost article, The Right to Breathe Easy, about the global crisis in air quality. Technology has a very real potential to help; however, as we talk about in Robot Futures, the real challenge is, what will be the power relationship between air sensor technology, the information gathered, corporations and the public? Will the public be empowered by new technology to make the invisible visible, to close the loop and improve their circumstance with power, or will corporations tell us what to do, sell our behavioral analytics with respect to air also, and take away even more personal control authority from citizens?

Second note- I will be giving a talk on Human-Robot Interaction at HRI 2015 in Portland, Oregon on Monday. I hope to see some of you there!

Drone Backlash

The backlash against FAA drone rules is in full force. The Guardian’s article on this subject notes that several experts and several commercial drone companies are all quite disappointed by the FAA’s ‘restrictive’ rules. Take a read.

There is a typical set of responses concerning nighttime operation that are especially enlightening. Drones are fine to operate at night because:

1) we can light them up like Christmas trees.

2) they’re just as dumb during the day as they are at night. so we might as well use them at night, too.

I really enjoy these two arguments. The whole line-of-sight argument is not about seeing a drone that’s lit up; it’s about the fact that human eyes can see the drone (in the day) as well as the drone’s surroundings (in the day). So– we could constrain ourselves to early flights when the operator can see the drone and can see its surroundings. Oh- right- that’s called daytime. In fact the rules specify VFR applies- visual flight rules with visibility at 3 miles or better. So, just like many recreational aircraft today- the pilot needs to see in order to pilot safely. That means daylight and good visibility, to boot.

Stay tuned for ever more rhetoric as commercial operators work to carve out the largest possible working domain for drone monetization…

Luddite Redemption

Now just about all the C-level folks are weighing in on the question of underemployment, technology, A.I., and the singularity. Here is a brief report on Eric Schmidt’s most recent comments. As I have frequently seen, Schmidt makes reference to the loom, trying to argue about our future pathway, or how we should treat our possible futures, on the basis of the idea that the first industrial revolution worked out alright. I would love to remind the reader that history does indeed have lessons for us- if we care to really study history. Take that loom. There were at least 80 years of horrific poverty and unemployment. In fact, my university only exists because Andrew Carnegie’s father lost his job thanks to that loom, they couldn’t make ends meet, and left Scotland because there was nothing there, for generations. I suppose we might all just move to the moon and create institutions of higher learning there. But I am not sure that’s what Schmidt had in mind.

We must incorporate the short and the long view, sure. But remember that even the multigenerational long view has some quite stark lessons for us from the 1800’s.

Community Empowerment for Air Quality

The final chapter of Robot Futures talked of an alternate future where we use robotic technologies to empower communities, providing information and power in a more equitable way than the paths we appear to be on right now.  Air quality has been one issue on which we have been pushing hard on this respect, and many of you have tracked our Breathe Project BreatheCam contributions with Heinz Endowment foundation funding. We have also been developing a sensor that would enable everyone to measure their personal air quality at home, so they can improve their family’s air directly by providing direct feedback. I am happy to announce that our effort is scaling up! We are spinning the sensor, the Speck, out of Carnegie Mellon and will work hard to manufacture enough of these sensors to meet the community need we already seen around us. Follow us @SpeckSensor.  We will have many developments on this front over the next two months.