TechMan: Whippersnapper programmers get robotic honors

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Back in August, when Carnegie Mellon University's Robot Hall of Fame announced that for the first time the public could vote for inductees, TechMan wrote a column predicting the winners.

Last week, the winners were announced, so it is only right that we should see how prescient TechMan was.

In the education and consumer category the winner was NAO, an autonomous, programmable, humanoid robot used as an education platform and in the RoboCup robot soccer Standard Platform League. TechMan picked NAO because humans are always partial to humanoid robots.

In the industrial and service category, TechMan picked Packbot, which performs bomb disposal and other dangerous missions for troops and first responders. TechMan was right again -- but "Danger Will Robinson," trouble looms ahead.

In the research category, TechMan picked Robonaut, a humanoid robot designed and built by NASA to work alongside astronauts. But the winner was BigDog, a quadruped robot that can traverse difficult terrain and run at 4 miles an hour while carrying 340 pounds and climbing a 35-degree incline. TechMan dismissed BigDog as "just scary."

And finally in the entertainment category the winner was WALL-E, the lovable star of the 2008 movie of the same name. TechMan picked Rosie, the household robot from the animated show "The Jetsons" and based on the TV character Hazel, played by Shirley Booth. This was a particularly bitter loss for TechMan.

"More than any previous class of inductees, this group of robots selected by popular vote represents contemporary robotics -- robots at the cutting edge of technology -- rather than older robots of strictly historical importance," said Shirley Saldamarco, Robot Hall of Fame director and a faculty member at CMU's Entertainment Technology Center. "Two of our inductees, NAO and Packbot, are commercially available and BigDog is still the focus of active research. Even our fictional honoree, WALL-E, is from a movie that's just 4 years old."

In other words, TechMan's errant picks show him to be an old fuddy-duddy. I'll bet many of those young whippersnapper programmers and robot fans who voted were too young to remember "The Jetsons," much less Shirley Booth.

Oh well. Congratulations to the winners.

Another item that came across TechMan's transom recently was a release from Penn State University.

Its Libraries' Digitization and Preservation Department has received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant of $321,526 to begin the Pennsylvania Digital Newspaper Project, Phase III.

Penn State will use the money to digitize from microfilm approximately 100,000 pages from historic newspaper titles published between 1836 and 1922.

The items will be uploaded to Chronicling America, a free online repository of digitized newspapers from across the country maintained by the Library of Congress.

Previous phases of the program included digitizing 157,694 pages from 46 historic newspaper titles published between 1836 and 1922 representing 21 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties and 103,326 pages from four titles published between 1880 and 1922 in four counties.

The work stops at 1922 because current copyright law recognizes copyrights on newspapers back to 1923.

This news release pointed me to a valuable resource of which I was not fully aware.

At chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers, the Library of Congress maintains a digitized collection of America's newspapers from 1836 to 1922.

Newspapers are searchable by state, date and name and content within is searchable by keyword. There are more than 5 million pages available.

There is also a directory of American newspapers where you can find any newspaper published in the U.S. from 1690 to the present. It is searchable by city, county, state, date and several other criteria.

This is a fascinating and valuable resource, and you should explore it.

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Read TechMan's blog at post-gazette.com/techman. Watch or listen to TechTalk at multimedia.post-gazette.com.


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