robots

Tim Bradshaw

While Silicon Valley races ahead into a future filled with drones, robots and wearable technology, the rest of the US watches on with a mixture of hope and anxiety.

Americans are optimistic about the long-term prospects for the next 50 years of technological and scientific advances, according to a survey of 1,001 people by the Pew Research Center in February, but more nervous about the immediate future. 

As Japan strives to remain at the technological forefront, why is it that its companies are so averse to the idea of merging? Too many make the same thing yet do not get around to pooling their resources. The FT’s Special Report on Japan’s technology and innovation investigates this phenomenon, while looking at some of the latest in Japanese design, writes Peter Chapman

Illustration by Toby Leigh of a robot babysitter©Toby Leigh

If ever you start to fret about being replaced by a robot in some Terminator-style apocalypse, look up a YouTube video entitled “PR2 Autonomously Pairing Socks”. The two-minute clip from a University of California, Berkeley research project in 2011 shows a robot identifying the two matching pairs from five socks. After carefully flattening the socks to inspect their shape and pattern, it checks they’re not inside out, then couples them.

It’s an impressive feat of robot engineering, of course. But for some it will be quite comforting that this task, dispatched in seconds by us humans, takes the $280,000 Willow Garage PR2 robot fully half an hour.