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Making the World Robot-Ready

Posted by Josh Rothman  August 10, 2011 12:27 PM

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Our manufactured world is saturated with machine-readable symbols. Some happen to be readable by human beings (serial numbers, say), while others are machine-only (barcodes, magnetic strips, RFID tags). According to Matt Jones, a designer and engineer at the consulting firm BERG, we're about to see those symbols get larger in scale. As robots become more commonplace, we'll need to build a robot-readable world to help them get around and understand what they're seeing.

Robots don't see the world the same way we do: Their vision systems often pick out different sorts of details, and even see in different wavelengths. In some ways, robot vision is more detailed than ours; in others, it's sketchier. It's full of "strange opportunities and constraints": infra-red on the one hand, problems with depth perception on the other.

So, as more and more robots make it out into the real world, it's inevitable that technologists will adopt a "deliberate design approach that makes use of the plasticity and adaptability of humans to meet computers (more than) half way." The result will be a built environment designed to communicate information to computers, in subtle and even aesthetic ways, often below the radar of human attention. See more images and read the rest of Jones' article at BERG's blog.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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