The Hub Cool News

Robo Emotions

robot“People feel bad when bad things happen to robots,” reports James E. Young in The Wall Street Journal (6/3/15). It seems it doesn’t take long for humans to begin to look upon even the most basic sort of robot with empathy — “even a small disc robot moving around a factory floor, with intentions and goals of its own, quickly comes to be seen by the humans around it as a living thing.” Even those “who vehemently object to the idea of assigning emotions and personalities to robots start to do exactly that after minimal time.”

This reality has implications as humans and robots increasingly work side by side. It means that robots need to be programmed with social skills — to “use their eyes, where they look and how long they stare,” for example — to suggest intention and enable closer collaboration. “Working with a robot that always grins while criticizing you, stares at your feet while giving recommendations” or “sounds sarcastic while providing positive feedback” is not likely to engender trust or comfort.

The robots also must be careful not to pressure their human counterparts to continue working if they want to quit. Other studies show that soldiers do not like to put robots in harm’s way, and are known to demand that their robot partners be repaired, not replaced, if they are damaged. People also “attribute gender stereotypes to robots that are perceived as being male or female, and apply traditional gender roles to them, and men and women likewise interact differently with male or female robots.”

Airplane Windows

airbusThe airplane of the future will have no windows, reports The Economist (5/30/15). Instead, it will have exterior cameras that will project the scene from outside the airplane on a “thin-screen video display on either side of the passenger compartment.” If the scene is nothing but clouds or stars, the screens could be used to show movies. This “multiplex digital cabin” is expected to be available in 2020 in the S-512 via Spike Aerospace, which “could carry 12-18 passengers from, say, LA to Tokyo in just six hours, at Mach 1.6.

By 2050, Airbus envisions a “bionic cabin covered with … a ‘biopolymer membrane,’ a sort of tough plastic coating which can be electronically controlled to turn opaque or transparent on command, thus eliminating the need for conventional windows.” So, as the plane descends into New York, for instance, “the ceiling and walls turn transparent to provide a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline.” When opaque, the walls could mimic sunrises and sunsets to help passengers adjust as they change time zones.

Meanwhile, “rigid divisions into first, business and economy classes” will have disappeared, replaced with “transforming seats” constructed of “memory materials which can morph into different shapes,” adapting “to the size of an individual’s body — and their travel budget. The more you pay, the more space and comfort the seat will provide.” Of course, whether any of this actually ever happens “depends … as much on the unforgiving economics of air travel as on the imagination of designers.”

Supermarket Shelves

coopThe supermarket of the future will have no shelves, reports Alberto Mucci in Munch (5/28/15). Instead, the supermarket has “long, low wooden tables,” recalling a local market. That’s the vision put forward, anyway, by Coop, “Italy’s largest supermarket chain,” in a prototype store at Milan’s World Fair, in collaboration with Accenture and MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory. The idea is to make food shopping “a moment of exchange and interaction.” Or, as MIT’s Carl Ratti elaborates, “interactions between people and products and people and people.”

To that end, Accenture’s Alfredo Richelmi says it’s essential for people “to be able to see each other” and maybe even have a conversation. Unless, that is, they are too absorbed in the “series of black screens” hovering above. As shoppers pick up an item, “data pops up on the screen” with information on where it was grown, “its nutritional properties … and even its carbon footprint.” Because the tables offer less space than traditional shelves, a system of elevators ensure they remain fully stocked. Robots, meanwhile, package up products on the fly. (images)

Shoppers also have the option of specifying their diet via an app “and having an algorithm suggest the best products the supermarket has to offer that meets their preferences.” The store itself is organized to reflect “the natural production chain,” telling stories from fresh and raw (e.g., tomatoes and grapes) to packaged and processed (canned tomato sauces and bottled wine). Coop has no plans to turn its prototype into “an actual supermarket,” but does expect to “learn important lessons, some of which may be transferred to the real world.”

The Innovator’s Dilemma

megauploadA MoMa exhibit simultaneously parodies the pretense of technology and art, reports Ken Johnson in The New York Times (5/29/15). This is accomplished by an art installation based on “a high-tech trade fair” and is intended to get at “what’s causing the sociopathy infecting both industries.” The work of Simon Denny, “a Berlin-based artist,” The Innovator’s Dilemma, at MoMa PS1 through September 7, “takes down irrational exuberance about technology” while also jabbing at “the high-end art world’s inflationary mania.”

The art world parallel may be imperfect, as the value of artwork may fluctuate but “usually doesn’t become worthless the way obsolete devices do.” That said, the exhibit is composed of four installations, starting with All You Need is Data, which showcases “the sort of breathless banter” typical of the tech sector. For example, “an actual invitation-only get-together where, as the conference website puts it, ‘scientists, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors came out to play’.”

The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom highlights Megaupload, as “an example of how enormous wealth can be accumulated” by bringing little or no value to the world. Disruptive Berlin makes the point that “slight modifications of existing technologies” can yield big profits. Finally, New Management re-creates a hotel room where Samsung’s chairman gave a three-day speech in 1993, known as the Frankfurt Declaration, which propelled the company to market leadership, and has “assumed quasi-religious status within Samsung culture.”

Joris Laarman

joris-chairA Dutch designer is collaborating with algorithms to create “beautiful pieces of furniture,” reports Ruth Bloomfield in The Wall Street Journal (5/15/15). Joris Laarman’s inspiration came from “a company that was using a computer algorithm to design car parts more efficiently.” He thought the concept could be applied to furniture, and his first project “was a side chair. He designed the seat and backrest; the computer then worked out the best way to support it.” Joris says he “had no idea what it would end up looking like.”

The result, however, “looked fantastic, with a complex lattice of curving branches. Once the design was set, the chair was built using a 3-D printer to create a ceramic mold, then cast in aluminum. (link) It is now in the collection of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. He named the collection Bone, because of the ability of bone to grow and repair itself.” Says Joris: “If Mother Nature made a chair this is what it would look like.” He’s since added “armchairs, rocking chairs, a chaise lounge, a bookshelf and a dining table,” with prices ranging from $25K to $500K.

If you don’t have that kind of scratch, you might also check out Joris’s Puzzle chair, which “slots together like a jigsaw puzzle. The design can be downloaded free (here) and created in plastic by anyone with access to a 3-D printer.” “We are part of a transition generation,” says Joris. “With digital fabrication tools you can create much more complicated shapes. An algorithm or a robot is just like a chisel or a saw. It is a new tool for designers to work with,” he continues, adding: “I like to find the balance between craft and technology.”

The Sync Project

sync-projectThe convergence of biometric trackers and music apps may prove therapeutic, reports Chau Tu in The Atlantic (5/7/15). “We have this super interesting moment where, in the last 10 years, major companies have put millions of songs in everyone’s pockets,” says Alexis Kopikis, co-founder of The Sync Project. “Then we have a bunch of technology companies trying to develop every possible sensor that you can put on your body to measure physiology.” The Sync Project hopes this will provide a pathway to music as medicine.

So date, The Sync Project is “an online and mobile platform that pairs users’ music-streaming services with their wearable body monitors — Fitbit and the like — to track how music might be interacting with their body. The collected data is then shared with scientists.” The hope is that it will be possible to “pinpoint the properties of music that were effective for different conditions” — identifying the relationship between things like blood pressure, sleep patterns or concentration and the music being played at the time.

While music has been shown to trigger certain responses in the brain, its ability to influence health remains uncertain. Jessica Grahn, a neuroscientist, says that music with a steady beat seems to improve “the gait of Parkinson’s patients, which is often jerky and unsteady.” At the very least, an music-biometric app could provide scientists with valuable data for further study. Jessica says “there’s a lot of hype about what music can do,” but at least “there are generally no bad side effects” and it gives “patients a sense of control over their treatment.”

Edison’s Dolls

edison-dollVoices of the “the world’s first recording artists” are being heard for the first time, reports Ron Cowen in The New York Times (5/5/15). Those would be the voices of “the young girls hired to recite” rhymes for use in Thomas Edison’s talking dolls. The dolls were introduced in 1890 and they “were a flop; production lasted only six weeks. Children found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly. The recordings inside,” etched on wax cylinders, “featured snippets of nursery rhymes” and “wore out quickly.”

Edison’s dolls are quite rare and, until now, the recordings couldn’t be played because to do so “might damage or destroy the grooves of the hollow, ring-shaped cylinder.” But now “a government laboratory” has “developed a method to play fragile records without touching them. The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.”

The method, “developed by the particle physicist Carl Haber and the engineer Earl Cornell at Lawrence Berkeley,” is known as Irene, which stands for “Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.” The technology, which was “recently acquired” by the National Document Conservation Center, has also been used to extract audio from “dirt-stained recordings” featuring Woody Guthrie, in which the legendary folksinger “tells jokes, offers some back story and makes the audience laugh,” revealing a performance otherwise lost to history.

PayPal Mafia

paypalA surprising number of today’s most valuable tech companies have their roots in PayPal, reports David Gelles in The New York Times (4/2/15). Uber, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Yelp, Square, YouTube and, yes, Tesla, all include PayPal people in their family tree. The phenomenon is all the more striking given that PayPal’s own success happened “against all odds,” notes co-founder Max Levchin. “Like veterans of an intense military campaign, we fall back on lessons learned, and relationships established in our early 20s,” says Max.

After eBay acquired PayPal in 2002, its founders “emerged as among the few willing to invest in new tech startups.” “We went from this bunch of misfits to the center of the ecosystem,” says Keith Rabois, now a partner in Khosla Ventures. “Entrepreneurs needed capital, and the only place to get the capital was from us.” Informally, the PayPal alumni are known as the PayPal Mafia, and are “all men, mostly white, and under the age of 50.” In many ways, their story underscores the old adage that “success begets success.”

“If you have a name that’s associated with success, people will seek you out,” says Jeremy Stoppelman, a former PayPal vp of engineering. “Why do smart people go to Harvard? Because previous smart people went to Harvard,” he says. Adds Scott Banister, a former PayPal board member: “We have a very good collective resume … It’s not just that you’re associated with the company, it’s that you’re associated with the other people associated with the company.”

Device Design

jawbone Big technology companies are snapping up small design firms, reports Molly Wood in The New York Times (3/19/15). “Google, Facebook, Adobe, Dropbox and Yahoo, for example, have all bought design-oriented startups since 2010,” according to a report by John Maeda, a venture capitalist. The primary reason is recognition that design — not just of products but of user experiences — is the crucial competitive advantage. “If you can make this amazing bracelet and the software is bad, you’re going to throw it away,” says John.

The primacy of function over form is spreading because really good apps are highlighting the potential of good user design in new categories. “Let’s say you’re a doctor and electronic medical records are really terribly done as an industry,” says Ben Blumenfeld, another venture capitalist. “Doctors are starting to use iPhones and they’re saying, ‘Wait a second, why doesn’t my electronic records system work like my iPhone apps?’” The potential has been particularly heightened by well-designed apps like Uber’s, which make a hard task easier.

However, “the real design victory is in carefully considering exactly how someone will want to navigate an app, communicate with another person or conduct a transaction. That’s a big shift for the tech industry, which has long prized engineering acumen and product management.” John Maeda says the traditional focus on product design alone is “just surface-driven thinking,” adding: “It isn’t that design is more important than technology or the business model. You need both.”


switchA new generation of technology is reinventing the phone call, reports Shira Ovide in The Wall Street Journal (3/13/15). The issue is that while email can be efficient, it also tends eliminate context and collaboration. “You’ve distilled all the waste out of the phone conversation and what’s left are these really important times when you need to talk to someone in real time, and get some emotion and back-and-forth,” says Craig Walker, founder of Switch, a technology platform that replaces traditional telephone hardware with a web-based, subscription service.

Switch enables users to “dial voice calls via computer, switch devices mid-call, and see documents exchanged with the person on the other end of the line.” It can also ring “conference participants automatically at the appointed time, making 800 numbers and PINS unnecessary.” In concept, this is not new, as Microsoft and others have provided similar capabilities. One difference is that offerings like Switch tend to provide greater functionality at lower cost, “and don’t rely on company technicians.”

The technology is similar to that used by Uber, the ridesharing service, which uses Twilio to power “automated text messages that let customers know a driver is waiting,” for example. At Weather Co., meanwhile, Switch is seen as being “less about cost than about maximizing productivity.” Chief Information and Technology Officer Bryson Koehler comments: “My goal for the organization has been to shift the way we work and really empower our company and our people to work in a mobile, agile, collaborative, next-generation way.”


slackGroup chat appears to be on track to replace email, reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (3/12/15). This transition may take a while, but “it’s possible to envision a future in which email — remarkably — is supplanted by new tools that allow people to collaborate in big groups and force upon companies the sort of radical transparency that many in the tech industry, at least, believe is essential.” Among this “new sort of communication system” is Slack, which takes direct aim at improving a company’s internal communications.

Slack’s features include “automatic archiving of all your interactions, a good search engine and the ability to work across just about every device you use.” The premise is “that solo work is on the wane and that as all of our jobs become more complex, more and more creative and technical feats will be accomplished by teams rather than lone practitioners … Though it is possible to speak privately in Slack, by default everything you say is visible to everyone else at your company, even people in different departments.”

Such transparency carries a lack of privacy, but according to Slack founder Stewart Butterfield, you also “get a whole bunch of ‘soft knowledge’ about how the company operates — how people relate to one another … who really makes decisions.” Hoarding information and hierarchies give way to an organization that looks and behaves more like a web, notes Aaron Levie of Box, a Slack competitor. James O’Toole, a USC professor, adds that the more knowledge is shared, the more workers are likely to be “invested in the work.”


achates-engineThe future of electric cars may be more unevenly distributed than we think, reports Steve Levine in The Wall Street Journal (2/1/15). That’s largely because of "the internal combustion chamber — the workhorse of the industrial age — is proving to be much more than a stubborn technological incumbent." It is "challenging ostensibly more advanced electric vehicles," and the US Energy Information Administration predicts that in 2040, "cars with gas- and diesel-powered engines will still represent some 95% of the international car market."

One explanation is that "US government standards require cars to average 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025, up from 25.1 mpg last year." As of 2014, "16.5 million light vehicles were sold in the US" and "the top three were combustion pickups. Just 119,710 pure electrics and plug-in vehicles were sold, 0.7% of the total." This doesn’t include fourth-quarter sales of the Tesla S, but most "observers don’t expect these proportions to shift much over the next two decades." Meanwhile, new "diesel-fuel technology" is in the works.

Among them is the Achates, which "features opposed pistons, which face each other in a single cylinder rather than sitting side-by-side." Its developer "says that it gets 30% better mileage per gallon than current diesel engines — and double the mileage of gasoline engines." Because such engines burn less gas, worldwide consumption could drop from 90 to about 70 million barrels a day, driving down fuel costs. Given the relatively high price tags of electrics, it seems unlikely that combustion-powered cars will "feel real market pressure anytime soon."

Navigate Jacket

navigate-jacketAn Australian designer has created a jacket that helps people navigate, reports Jim Dwyer in The New York Times (2/4/15). The Navigate Jacket, as Billie Whitehouse calls it, "provides haptic feedback — basically, an electronic device in the garment that gives a light tap on one shoulder or the other to steer a person, not unlike a phone vibrating to announce a call." Billie got the idea after watching New Yorkers "step blindly off sidewalks" with their eyes glued to the navigation apps on their cellphones.

The Navigate Jacket was featured in a show called Cloud Couture at Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator. Some of the apparel says more about form than function, such as "dresses with cascades of petals … made possible by laser-cutting machines." "It’s very couture, but very easy to manufacture," says Debera Johnson, the Accelerator’s executive director. "You get a tremendous amount of style for a much lower price." The real play, however, seems to be the "new layer of monitoring and tracking" technology enables.

For example, a "Hexoskin smart shirt … monitors breathing, heart rate and other vital signs … Every article of clothing has the potential to be a membrane that harvests data signals from our bodies — pulse, breathing, temperature, blood pressure, pheromones — and send them to … the cloud." Debera thinks "big brands" would "love to" use such technology "to track where you are in time and space, and understand who you’re talking with and what they’re wearing." She suggests that in exchange for such "intrusion … the customer might get a $10 discount."


dipjarTechnology is changing America’s culture of tipping, reports Hilary Stout in The New York Times (2/1/15). As a custom, tipping in America dates back at least to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who tipped their slaves (especially Jefferson). In the 1940s, a 10 percent tip was common, but today 20 percent is more typical and iPad checkouts are pushing tips even higher. Some establishments present buyers of low-ticket items like coffee with touch-screen tip options that amount to as much as 25, 50 or even 75 percent of the total.

Usually there’s an option to write-in a tip manually, but this can be awkward. Tip expectations are growing so much that it may get "to a point where they can no longer be counted as ‘add-ons,’ leading employers to rethink pricing and salary structures." Uber, for instance doesn’t allow tips, and Public Option, a new pub set to open in Washington DC "will not allow tipping; its owner plans to pay his workers $15 an hour." Others, like Nick Sullivan, founder and CEO of ChangeTip, envisions a tip system that will "disrupt the advertising model" online.

ChangeTip is "a platform that allows people to send small Bitcoin payments through social media, email, Skype or text to show their appreciation for content creators (or anyone) on the Internet." Most payments are around $1, but this has so far generated $250,000 in tips. Nick thinks this kind of tip has potential to go viral. Another concept, DipJar, lets patrons of counter-service eateries swipe their card to give a preset $1 tip, as a less intrusive alternative to including a tip line on a receipt. The hope is that this will generate more tips.

Meta Portraits

data-portraitOur shopping habits can provide a portal into our personal information, reports Robert Lee Hotz in The Wall Street Journal (1/30/15). A study conducted by MIT researchers used "a new analytic formula" that "needed only four bits of information — metadata such as location or timing — to identify the unique individual purchasing patterns of 90 percent of the people involved, even when the data were scrubbed of any names, account numbers or other obvious identifiers."

"We are introducing a way to find what you need to identify an individual — how much data makes you stand out in a crowd," says MIT’s Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye. "This touches on the fundamental limit of anonymizing data." That limit turned out to be very low. "After isolating a purchasing pattern … an analyst could find the name of the person … by matching their activity against other publicly available information, such as profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter … and social-media ‘check-in’ apps like Foursquare."

Joseph Hall of the Center for Democracy & Technology, says the MIT study demonstrates "it is very, very difficult to remove any ability to identify people in these data sets, especially financial data." Adds Susan Landau of Worcester Polytechnic Institute: "We think of metadata as being not as important as content, but it turns out to be remarkably revelatory … Little bits of data combined with the data we shed in other places really create portraits." The MIT report was published in Science, an academic journal (link).

Beyond Verbal

beyondverbalAn Israeli startup is offering an app designed to deduce your emotional state, reports The Economist (1/3/15). The startup is called Beyond Verbal, and the app is called Moodies. It applies "emotions analytics" based on "hundreds of thousands of voice samples in more than 40 languages." Moodies "analyzes such things as the loudness and pitch of the speech, and then runs the results through an algorithm to match them with patterns from its database." The thought is such analysis "could be useful in phones, fitness gadgets and cars."

"For instance, a vehicle that senses a driver is in a heightened state, perhaps because he has been drinking, could flash up a warning before he takes to the road." However, "some experts in the voice-recognition field are skeptical that the technology touted is reliable enough for mass deployment. Then there is the thorny issue of privacy. People are bound to be repelled by the prospect of companies and devices tracking their emotions." Yuval Mor, CEO of Beyond Verbal, counters that "the upside … can more than compensate for the downside."

However, "signs of resistance to emotion-tracking software" is already evident: "The Samaritans, a British suicide-prevention group, recently disabled a free web app … that alerted people whenever someone they were following on Twitter used a phrase" suggesting "a fragile emotional state." Among other things, critics said the app could be used "to prey on vulnerable people." For now, Beyond Verbal has focused "on narrow areas such as market research and security rather than mass-market consumer electronics."


thinkupA "year-old subscription service" is designed to help improve your online behavior, reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (12/31/14). Called ThinkUp, the service "analyzes how people comport themselves on Twitter and Facebook, with the goal of helping them become more thoughtful, less reflexive, more empathetic and more professional — overall, better behaved." "The goal," says co-founder Gina Trapani, "is to make you act like less of a jerk online … create mindfulness and awareness, and also behavioral change."

ThinkUp reports the users "most-used words" as well as "how often they thank and congratulate people, how frequently they swear, whose voices they tend to amplify and which posts get the biggest reaction and from whom." It helps address "the false sense of intimacy" that tends "to lower people’s self-control," in a world where "every mundane observation becomes grist for a 140-character quip, and every interaction a potential springboard into an all-consuming, emotionally wrenching flame battle."

Introduced "in the fall of 2013" and priced at "$5 a month for each social network you connect to it," ThinkUp so far has signed up only "a few thousand" users. Its founders say "it has been difficult to explain to people why they might need ThinkUp," but hope this will change "as more people falter on social networks, either by posting unthinking comments that end up damaging their careers, or simply by annoying people." Unlike "services like HootSuite," whose customer base is companies, ThinkUp’s primary target is individuals.

Beer Bots

irb7600An antique German brewery is now using robots to improve its profits, reports John Revill in The Wall Street Journal (12/27/14). Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus was "established in the 1790s" but found itself "struggling with production bottlenecks … Workers couldn’t package and crate the company’s beer quickly enough to stock bars and supermarkets, prompting customers to buy other brands." Nine years ago, the brewery began using an IRB 7600 robot, made by ABB Ltd., to do "the heavy lifting," allowing employees to focus on other tasks.

"The brewery, which hasn’t changed its recipe in more than two centuries," is one of a growing number of smaller businesses that are automating "dirty and repetitious tasks that were typically handled with good old-fashioned elbow grease." A bakery in Switzerland "is using robots to bag pretzels," for instance, and in the UK "a Yorkshire brickworks has robots removing fired blocks from the kiln. In a New York hotel, robots have begun serving as porters, delivering luggage to guest rooms."

To encourage the trend, "Zurich-based ABB is working on a robot that customers can program by moving the arms to perform a desired action, the same way a parent might guide a child assembling blocks. The company, which expects to bring the new robot to market in April 2015, wants to eventually build one that doesn’t require an instruction manual." "The vision is for us to make robots as simple to use as a smartphone," says Per Vegard Nerseth of ABB. Smaller companies, may have great craftspeople, he says, but "not lots of robot technicians."

Counter Intelligence

google-glassCosmetics counters are getting a Google-inspired facelift in the e-commerce age, reports Bee Shapiro in The New York Times (10/9/14). At Bloomingdale’s, the "latest counter program" employs Google Glass to help customers learn how to use the products they buy. "A YSL makeup artist wears the gadget while applying the client’s makeup. The video, which also includes shots of the products used, is emailed to the customer." This appeals to shoppers like Carol Koehli, who says she’s "hopeless with makeup."

Carol says she might even post her makeup session on social media. "I’m on Twitter and I have Instagram," she says. "My friends are on Facebook. We send each other pictures already. I might well do this video, too." YSL’s Google Glass initiative underscores how "the lines between department store beauty shopping and e-commerce are blurring." "A customer might notice something on a website first and then go to a store," says YSL’s Alexandra Papazian. "Or they’ll go to counter and then go home and do more research online."

Other department stores are banking on more in the way of high-touch. At Bergdorf Goodman, for instance Clif de Raita, is a star attraction at the Tom Ford counter, where he "has developed something of a cultish following. Clients report that his gentle guidance (more instructive than old-fashioned hard sell) is worth the trip to the store." Arriana Marion says Clif gives her advice on things she’s too busy to research herself. According to Tom Ford Beauty, "the company sells double the items per transaction at the beauty counter as it does online."

Vincent & Nancy

aldebaranFar from rendering public libraries irrelevant, "technology and digitized information has had the opposite effect," reports Loretta Waldman in The Wall Street Journal (9/30/14). Nowhere is this more true than at the Westport, Connecticut Public Library, which recently acquired a pair of "humanoid" robots that will "teach the kind of coding and computer-programming skills required to animate such machines." The Westport Library was also among the first in Connecticut "to acquire a 3-D printer and to create a ‘maker’ space."

The robots, named Vincent and Nancy, were "made by the French robotics firm Aldebaran," cost about $8,000 each and were privately funded. Among other things, the robots "have blinking eyes and an unnerving way of looking quizzically in the direction of whoever is speaking." They "can recognize faces" and have a "’fall manager,’ that helps them right themselves after a tumble … grunts and all. They can even ‘touch’ and ‘feel’ with the help of tactile and pressure sensors."

Maxine Bleiweis, the library’s executive director, says Vincent and Nancy are about more than just novelty, however. "Robotics is the next disruptive technology … and we felt it was important to make it available to people so they could learn about it," she says. "From an economic development perspective and job- and career-development perspective, it’s so important." The robots will also help "patrons locate books" and greet "elementary-school groups that visit the library." Vincent and Nancy will make their library debut on Oct. 11.