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This annual Christmas spectacular gets a high-tech upgrade

Future Tech: Featuring robot janitors & augmented nature.

100 drones join the Rockettes onstage at Radio City Music Hall

From Vox:

Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular, a holiday tradition since 1933, is getting a high-tech upgrade: 100 of Intel’s Shooting Star Mini drones will now join the Rockettes onstage.

The tiny robots will come together for a new finale number themed around the North Star. Director Sam Buntrock, best known for his 2005 revival of Sondheim’s elegantly tacky ’80s classic Sunday in the Park With George (which also centers on a light show), explained the purpose of the drones’ musical sequence to Variety, saying, “It traces the North Star through time, and fragments that into points of light that then get carried forth into the world, in the tiny points of light on a Christmas tree or on a candle. It has this sense that the Christmas lights have an origin story — like Batman.”

Also like Batman, this musical number will be high-tech and expensive in more ways than one: It will reportedly feature one of the biggest 8K LED displays ever made, along with digital projections designed by San Francisco “interactive art and creative studio” Obscura Digital, which was acquired by the Madison Square Garden Company’s MSG Ventures “technology group” in November 2017.

This is the first time that the Shooting Star Minis have been used in an indoor performance, but it is not the first time Intel has done something complicated or attention-grabbing with drones: You may have seen 1,218 full-size Shooting Stars at the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, or 300 at Lady Gaga’s 2017 Super Bowl halftime show. This is also not the first time the Madison Square Garden Company–owned Radio City has made a questionable investment in novelty technology: Elements requiring the wearing of 3D glasses have been a part of the show since 2011.

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Walmart’s newest workers are robot cleaners

From CNBC:

Walmart’s newest janitors are robots. The world’s largest retailer by revenue will soon have autonomous robots scrubbing the floors of hundreds of Walmart stores across the U.S. Walmart will deploy 360 floor-scrubbing robots armed with computer vision and AI capabilities in hundreds of its stores by the end of January 2019, the company said in a joint press release with San Diego-based AI company Brain Corporation.

Brain Corp. makes the robot floor scrubbers, called the Auto-C, powered by the company’s BrainOS technology platform, which includes autonomous navigation that uses multiple sensors to scan the robots’ surroundings for obstacles, like people. (That means the autonomous robots could even be used when customers are in the store.)

“BrainOS technology allows robots to effectively and safely function in complex, crowded environments, ensuring increased productivity and efficiency across applications,” Brain Corp. CEO Dr. Eugene Izhikevich said in a statement. The BrainOS-powered robots also use artificial intelligence to collect information about their environment and adapt to those surroundings.

Walmart employees will be able to map out cleaning routes for the AI-supported robot scrubbers and then send them off on unmanned cleaning missions “with the press of a single button,” the companies said in the press release.

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Augmented nature on the move

From Popular Mechanics:

Augmenting nature is an ancient idea that dates back to the earliest hominids and the dawn of agriculture. Here in 2018, the kind of augmentation Harpreet Sareen and Pattie Maes are exhibiting in a project from MIT is a little more high-tech, harnessing the power of naturally occurring circuits in plants.

While plants at first glance look like static things, they are in fact very busy transmitting bio-electrochemical signals between tissues and organs. These signals are triggered when the plant experiences a change in its environment — a shift in temperature, for example, exposure to light, or damage to its stem, roots, leaves or buds. When you touch a plant, the plant “knows” it’s being touched.

Sareen, assistant professor at the Parsons School of Design and an affiliate researcher at the MIT Media Lab, affixed silver electrodes to a Pink Flamingo Peace Lily and routed them to a robotic planter on wheels. When the lily detects light nearby, it signals the robot to move closer. Set between two desk lamps (which have a kinetic life of their own, thanks to the Pixar Animation Studios opening sequence starring Luxo), the researchers show how quickly the plant responds by switching them on and off again. As Sareen puts it, “The agency of such movements rests with the plant.”

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The Editors

The Editorial Team develops articles, company profiles and resources for the Business Hub to bring IT, tech and innovation stories to the Manitoba business community.

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