Giant Avatar-style robot takes first steps in Korea

29-Dec-2016 Intellasia | Telegraph | 6:00 AM Print This Post

A giant South Korean-built manned robot that walks like a human but makes the ground shake under its weight has taken its first baby steps.

Designed by a veteran of science fiction blockbusters, the four-metre-tall (13-foot), 1.5 tonne Method-2 towers over a room on the outskirts of Seoul.

The hulking human-like creation bears a striking resemblance to the military robots starring in the movie “Avatar”.

It is claimed as a world first by its creators at Hankook Mirae Technology, a South Korean robotics company, where about 30 engineers were hard at work conducting initial tests Tuesday afternoon.

“Our robot is the world’s first manned bipedal robot and is built to work in extreme hazardous areas where humans cannot go (unprotected),” said company chair Yang Jin-Ho.

While its enormous size has grabbed media attention, the creators of Method-2 say the project’s core achievement is the technology they developed and enhanced along the way.

“Everything we have been learning so far on this robot can be applied to solve real-world problems,” said designer Vitaly Bulgarov on his Facebook page.

He has previously worked on film series such as Transformers, Robocop and Terminator.

A pilot sitting inside the robot’s torso makes limb movements which are mimicked by Method-2, whose metal arms each weigh 130 kilograms (286 pounds).

The robot, more than twice the size of a tall man, is so heavy that it shakes the ground when it takes a step with a loud whirring of motors.

Yang, who dreamed as a child of building his own robot, said he has invested 242 billion won ($200 million) in the project since 2014 to “bring to life what only seemed possible in movies and cartoons”.

Building the giant robot was a challenge for the engineers – most of them in their mid and late 30s – as its unprecedented scale meant they had nothing to refer to, said one who declined to be named.

So far, it remains unclear how the robot will be used. Method-2 is seen more as a test-bed for various technologies that will allow the creators to build any type and size of robot in future.

Yang said they have already received inquiries from industries ranging from manufacturing and construction to entertainment.

There have even been questions about its possible deployment along the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone with North Korea.

But the robot, tethered by a power cable and still a bit wobbly on its feet, is far from finished. More work is needed on its balance and power systems, according to its creators.

“The robot is one year old so it is taking baby steps,” Yang said.

“Just like humans, it will be able to move more freely in the next couple of years.”

He said the robot will be ready for sale by the end of 2017 at a price of around 10 billion won ($8.3 million).

Here’s N Korea’s Totalitarian Android Tablet

29/Dec/2016 Intellasia | Motherboard

When you think of North Korea, the first thing that springs to mind is probably not a well-featured tablet PC. But that’s just what researchers at the Chaos Communication Congress hacking festival revealed on Tuesday.

Called Woolim, this tablet is designed to limit the distribution of contraband media, track its users, and generally act as a propaganda platform for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“It’s pretty locked down,” researcher Florian Grunow told Motherboard in an interview on Tuesday. Grunow presented the research along with co-researchers Niklaus Schiess and Manuel Lubetzki.

Woolim is a small, white Android device that looks like a fairly standard tablet. The hardware itself is made by Chinese manufacturer Hoozo, but the North Korean government has removed some components such as those for wi-fi and bluetooth, and put its own bespoke software on top.

After the researchers presented work covering RedStar OS, North Korea’s Linux-based operating system, a South Korean INGO offered the tablet to the group. Woolim is just one of several tablets designed for North Korea, but Woolim appears to be the most recent, likely dating from 2015.

The tablet has PDFs on how to use it; various propaganda texts for users to read as well as the capability to play local TV and connect to the country’s own internet, and it also comes with a slew of educational apps, such as French, Russian, and Chinese dictionaries. There’s even an app for kids which teaches them how to type with a keyboard, and video games such as Angry Birds that have been lightly customised.

But don’t try to push Woolim much further than that: it won’t let you.

The tablet only allows specific files to be used or played: users cannot just load whatever they want onto the device.

“This goes for all of the files; it even goes for HTML files and for text files,” Grunow said. When a user tries to open a file, the tablet will check the file’s cryptographic signature; unless it was a file generated by the tablet itself – such as a photograph the user took – or a file sanctioned by the government, it simply won’t open. Grunow demonstrated this for Motherboard by trying to open a third-party.APK file on the device, with no success.

“For a normal user in DPRK I would say it’s nearly impossible to get around the signature algorithm,” Grunow said.

Woolim also constantly keeps tabs on what its users are up to. Whenever a user opens an app, the tablet takes a screenshot. These screenshots are then available for viewing in another app, but they can’t be deleted.

“This is the clear message: we see what you’re doing right here,” Grunow said.

It’s not totally clear who in North Korea would have access to this sort of tablet, however. Grunow said that the hardware itself would cost around 160-200 Euros from the Chinese manufacturer, so presumably it might be a bit more expensive in North Korea itself.

“The target audience is definitely someone with money, so it’s not the normal working class I would suppose,” he added.


Category: Korea

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