Taking a high-resolution photo of the moon is a surprisingly difficult task. Not only is a long enough lens required, but the camera typically needs to be mounted on a tracking system of some kind, as the moon moves too fast for the long exposure times needed. That’s why plenty were skeptical of Samsung’s claims that their latest smart phone cameras could actually photograph this celestial body with any degree of detail. It turns out that this skepticism might be warranted.
Samsung’s marketing department is claiming that this phone is using artificial intelligence to improve photos, which should quickly raise a red flag for anyone technically minded. [ibreakphotos] wanted to put this to the test rather than speculate, so a high-resolution image of the moon was modified in such a way that most of the fine detail of the image was lost. Displaying this image on a monitor, standing across the room, and using the smartphone in question reveals details in the image that can’t possibly be there.
We’ve said many times that while woodworking is a bit outside our wheelhouse, we have immense respect for those with the skill and patience to turn dead trees into practical objects. Among such artisans, few are better known than the legendary Norm Abram — host of The New Yankee Workshop from 1989 to 2009 on PBS.
So we were pleased when the official YouTube channel for The New Yankee Workshop started uploading full episodes of the classic DIY show a few months back for a whole new generation to enjoy. The online availability of this valuable resource is noteworthy enough, but we were particularly impressed to see the channel start experimenting with AI enhanced versions of the program recently.
Originally broadcast in January of 1992, the “Child’s Wagon” episode of Yankee Workshop was previously only available in standard definition. Further, as it was a relatively low-budget PBS production, it would have been taped rather than filmed — meaning there’s no negative to go back and digitize at a higher resolution. But thanks to modern image enhancement techniques, the original video could be sharpened and scaled up to 1080p with fairly impressive results.
That said, the technology isn’t perfect, and the new HD release isn’t without a few “uncanny valley” moments. It’s particularly noticeable with human faces, but as the camera almost exclusively focuses on the work, this doesn’t come up often. There’s also a tendency for surfaces to look smoother and more uniform than they should, and reflective objects can exhibit some unusual visual artifacts.
Even with these quirks, this version makes for a far more comfortable viewing experience on today’s devices. It’s worth noting that so far only a couple episodes have been enhanced, each with an “AI HD” icon on the thumbnail image to denote them as such. Given the computational demands of this kind of enhancement, we expect it will be used only on a case-by-case basis for now. Still, it’s exciting to see this technology enter the mainstream, especially when its used on such culturally valuable content. Continue reading “Norm Abram Is Back, And Thanks To AI, Now In HD”→
The media got their collective knickers in a twist this week with the news that Wyoming is banning the sale of electric vehicles in the state. Headlines like that certainly raise eyebrows, which is the intention, of course, but even a quick glance at the proposed legislation might have revealed that the “ban” was nothing more than a non-binding resolution, making this little more than a political stunt. The bill, which would only “encourage” the phase-out of EV sales in the state by 2035, is essentially meaningless, especially since it died in committee before ever coming close to a vote. But it does present a somewhat lengthy list of the authors’ beefs with EVs, which mainly focus on the importance of the fossil fuel industry in Wyoming. It’s all pretty boneheaded, but then again, outright bans on ICE vehicle sales by some arbitrary and unrealistically soon deadline don’t seem too smart either. Couldn’t people just decide what car works best for them?
Speaking of which, a man in neighboring Colorado might have some buyer’s regret when he learned that it would take five days to fully charge his brand-new electric Hummer at home. Granted, he bought the biggest battery pack possible — 250 kWh — and is using a standard 120-volt wall outlet and the stock Hummer charging dongle, which adds one mile (1.6 km) to the vehicle’s range every hour. The owner doesn’t actually seem all that surprised by the results, nor does he seem particularly upset by it; he appears to know enough about the realities of EVs to recognize the need for a Level 2 charger. That entails extra expense, of course, both to procure the charger and to run the 240-volt circuit needed to power it, not to mention paying for the electricity. It’s a problem that will only get worse as more chargers are added to our creaky grid; we’re not sure what the solution is, but we’re pretty sure it’ll be found closer to the engineering end of the spectrum than the political end.
Well folks, we made it through another one. While it would be a stretch to call 2022 a good year for those of us in the hacking and making community, the light at the end of the tunnel does seem decidedly brighter now than it did this time 365 days ago. It might even be safe to show some legitimate optimism for the year ahead, but then again I was counting on my Tesla stocks to be a long-term investment, so what the hell do I know about predicting the future.
Thankfully hindsight always affords us a bit of wisdom, deservedly or otherwise. Now that 2022 is officially in the rearview mirror, it’s a good time to look back on the highs (and lows) of the last twelve months. Good or bad, these are the stories that will stick out in our collective minds when we think back on this period of our lives.
Oh sure, some might wish they could take the Men in Black route and forget these last few years ever happened, but it doesn’t work that way. In fact, given the tumultuous times we’re currently living in, it seems more likely than not that at some point we’ll find ourselves having to explain the whole thing to some future generation as they stare up at us wide-eyed around a roaring fire. Though with the way this timeline is going, the source of said fire might be the smoldering remains of an overturned urban assault robot that you just destroyed.
So while it’s still fresh in our minds, and before 2023 has a chance to impose any new disasters on us, let’s take a trip back through some of the biggest stories and themes of the last year.
The up-and-coming Wonder of the World in software and information circles , and particularly in those circles who talk about them, is AI. Give a magic machine a lot of stuff, ask it a question, and it will give you a meaningful and useful answer. It will create art, write books, compose music, and generally Change The World As We Know It. All this is genuinely impressive stuff, as anyone who has played with DALL-E will tell you. But it’s important to think about what the technology can and can’t do that’s new so as to not become caught up in the hype, and in doing that I’m immediately drawn to a previous career of mine. Continue reading “Love AI, But Don’t Love It Too Much”→
[Thomas Bitmatta] and two other champion drone pilots visited the Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich. The human pilots accepting the challenge to race drones against Artificial Intelligence “pilots” from the UZH research group.
The human pilots took on two different types of AI challengers. The first type leverages 36 tracking cameras positioned above the flight arena. Each camera captures 400 frames per second of video. The AI-piloted drone is fitted with at least four tracking markers that can be identified in the captured video frames. The captured video is fed into a computer vision and navigation system that analyzes the video to compute flight commands. The flight commands are then transmitted to the drone over the same wireless control channel that would be used by a human pilot’s remote controller.
The second type of AI pilot utilizes an onboard camera and autonomous machine vision processing. The “vision drone” is designed to leverage visual perception from the camera with little or no assistance from external computational power.
Ultimately, the human pilots were victorious over both types AI pilots. The AI systems do not (yet) robustly accommodate unexpected deviation from optimal conditions. Small variations in operating conditions often lead to mistakes and fatal crashes for the AI pilots.
Both of the AI pilot systems utilize some of the latest research in machine learning and neural networking to learn how to fly a given track. The systems train for a track using a combination of simulated environments and real-world flight deployments. In their final hours together, the university research team invited the human pilots to set up a new course for a final race. In less than two hours, the AI system trained to fly the new course. In the resulting real-world flight of the AI drone, its performance was quite impressive and shows great promise for the future of autonomous flight. We’re betting on the bots before long.
Science has affirmatively answered a lot of questions that, looking back, could be seen as bizarre to have asked in the first place. Questions like “can this moldy cheese cure disease” or “can this rock perform math if we give it some electricity.” Among the more recent of this list is the question of whether or not the video game Factorio, in which the player constructs an elaborate factory, can be used as the basis for other academic work. As [Kenneth Reid] discusses in this talk, it most certainly can.
If you haven’t played the game, it’s a sort of real-time strategy (RTS) game where the player gathers materials to construct a factory while defending it from enemies. On the surface it might seem similar to Age of Empires or Starcraft, but its complexity is taken to extremes not found in other RTS games. The complexity hides nuance, and [Kenneth] points out that it’s an excellent simulator to study real-world problems such as vehicle routing problems, decision making, artificial intelligence, bin packing problems, and production planning, among a whole slew of other interesting areas of potential research.
[Kenneth] and his partners on this project also developed some software tools with interacting with a Factorio game without having to actually play it directly. The game includes an API which the team used to develop tools so that other researchers can use it as a basis for simulations and studies. There was a research paper published as well for more in-depth reading on the topic. We shouldn’t be too surprised that a game can be used in incredibly productive ways like this, either. Here’s another example of a toy being used to train engineers working in industrial automation.