Factory automation equipment maker Rockwell Automation has announced that it has will buy an 8.4% stake in PTC Inc for around $1 billion as it looks to build on its software capabilities to make smarter manufacturing processes for customers. Rockwell makes electronic motor starters, relays and timers for industries and has been strengthening its capabilities in the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), or technology that allows different devices and systems to communicate with each other over the internet. PTC is a well know software maker which is highly involved in the PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) space as well as 2D and 3D design tools. Leveraging Rockwell’s domain expertise with PTC’s technology will help companies to capitalize on the promise of industrial IoT according to PTC. Rockwell Automation’s chairman and Chief Executive Officer Blake Moret will join PTC’s board after the deal closes, which is expected within the next two months.
A small robot equipped with AI has been sent to the International Space Station, the first-ever AI-equipped machine to be flown into space. Designed to be an astronaut assistant, it is called ‘CIMON’ short for “Crew Interactive Mobile Companion”. Developed by the European aerospace company Airbus on behalf of the German Space Agency, the robot’s AI is IBM’s Watson system. CIMON can converse with people, and it also knows who it is talking to with facial-recognition software. ‘CIMON’ also has a face of its own — a simple cartoon one. This astronaut assistant is also mobile in space, as once aboard the ISS CIMON will be able to fly around by sucking in air and expelling it through special tubes. The objective of sending ‘CIMON’ to the ISS is to conduct a technology demonstration designed to show how humans and machines can interact and collaborate in a space environment. It will be a while before intelligent robots are ready to do any really heavy-lifting in space, but these initial steps are pointing in the right direction.
The Dutch city of Eindhoven is to be the first in the world to have habitable homes made by a 3D printer, in an innovation its backers believe will revolutionise the construction industry. Of the first five new houses to be put on the rental market next year, the smallest, with two bedrooms, has already attracted applications from 20 interested families just a week after images were made available. Known as Project Milestone, the development is said by the Dutch construction company Van Wijnen to offer a solution to a shortage of skilled bricklayers in the Netherlands. The method will also cut costs and environmental damage by reducing the amount of cement that is used. A specially formulated cement is being used in conjunction with a robotic arm to build the homes. The cement is “printed” according to design, adding layer upon layer to create a wall, and increase its strength. With this methodology there is no need for pre-made moulds and each house on the development can be a completely different if so desired. Currently the homes, which are designed to look like boulders (an artists impression of the development is above) are expected to go on sale in 2019.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have created a new electrically conductive material that can repair itself, which presents opportunities for soft robotics and wearable technologies. The material is said to a composite made of liquid metal droplets suspended in an elastic polymer. When the material is physically damaged by puncturing or by cutting, the currently nameless material responds by re-routing the electrical signals by making new connections with neighbouring droplets. Suggested application for this material include use by first-responder robots that perform rescues during emergencies in hazardous environments, health-monitoring wearables for athletes in training, and in space travel where robots can withstand extreme conditions such as on Mars. CMU are less concerned with creating robots that look cosmetically healed and are focused on creating one that can operationally heal itself.
General Motors originally acquired Cruise Automation, a US self-driving technology company, back in March 2016 for an estimated $1bn. In May 2018, the Softbank’s Vision Fund announced that it will take a 19.6% stake in the business for US$2.25bn, valuing the company at $11.5bn. An initial US$900m payment, followed by US$1.35bn once the technology is commercially deployed. GM will also invest an additional US$1.1bn once Softbank’s deal is closed, bringing the total for this round of financing to US$3.35bn. GM’s CEO Mary Barra commented that teaming up with Softbank added a strong partner to purse the goal of ‘zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion’. Cruise Automation is unique in the respect that it has an integrated hardware and software stack (as opposed to just one or the other), and currently operates as the exclusive self-driving solution provider for GM. Softbank has made investments in ride-hailing companies such as DiDi (Chinese and the world’s largest ride-share company), Uber, Grab (a key player in the South-Eastern Asian markets) and brings its relationships and eco-system into this mix. Commercialization of Cruise Automation’s technology is planned for a gradual roll-out from 2019.
A Swiss company called ecoRobotix has unveiled a novel solution to the issue of the excess use of herbicide in farming, a four-wheeled robot which looks more like a table than a sophisticated weeding machine. The system utilises targeted streams of herbicide which, the makers claim means that it uses 20x less herbicide than would be used in a standard treatment. As around $26 billion of herbicide are used in farming worldwide every year, the robot could be a huge money saver for farms. The solar-powered robot is completely autonomous in terms of energy, even when the weather is overcast. The device navigates itself down the rows in the fields with a built-in GPS and can run for up to 12 hours at a time thanks to the solar panel on its top. The company plan to start selling the robot towards the end of 2018.
Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce company, has unveiled a new unmanned logistics vehicle. The “G Plus” was built in co-operation with Alibaba’s logistics business unit, Cainiao, and RoboSense, a developer of robotic technology. The robot will help ship goods purchased online to customers more conveniently and utilises a storage locker with facial recognition that promises to keep food warm. The G Plus robot can carry multiple packages of different sizes, and it has extended stamina to travel longer distances compared to its predecessors. Perhaps more interestingly however is that the G Plus is the world’s first autonomous logistics vehicle to use solid-state light detection and ranging (lidar) technology. The Robosense MEMS LIDAR system utilises a MEMS (Microelectromechanical System) micro mirror scanning which requires only a few laser emitters and receivers to scan through the MEMS micro-mirror in both directions. Traditional systems have used hundreds of lasers to achieve the same effect. The two Chinese companies say that this new technology, combined with miniaturisation of the scanning units, means that material and human costs are greatly reduced while reliability and stability is increased. This means that units can be produced for as little as a few hundred dollars – good news for delivery vehicles as well as level 4 and above autonomous cars.
Boston Dynamics indicated that they will begin to sell their robots for the first time in their 26-year history with the announcement in May that they will sell the ‘SpotMini’ from 2019 onwards. According to their website the spot-mini is one of the quietest robots Boston Dynamics have ever built thanks to its all electric design. It will weigh around 25 to 30 kg (depending if you have the arm attached or not) and it will be able to keep going for up-to 90 minutes on one charge. SpotMini inherits all of the mobility of its bigger brother, Spot, while adding the ability to pick up and handle objects using its 5 degrees-of-freedom arm and perception sensors, which include stereo cameras, depth cameras and position/force sensors in the limbs. It will be able to climb up and down stairs as well as opening and closing doors amongst other things and as such could be deployed to conduct security patrols. A price tag has not been revealed for the robot but we imagine that it would be at least $10,000 and not be meant as a consumer product just yet. As of now, the company has 10 prototypes of the quadruped and is aiming to build 100 more this year. Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert said that they will be working with manufacturers to ramp up its production rate ahead of next year’s launch.
Microsoft announced that its artificial intelligence technology called Project Brainwave will be made available on its Azure cloud computing service, and in due course made available as a piece of hardware to be set up on the edge (in-house at the client site). Currently AI services are not in high demand, but being used for image recognition (labelling photos) and text analytics (reviewing legal contracts). However, demand is expected to increase primarily through image recognition services such as crop monitoring, medical scan processing, security footage analysis and self-driving cars.
Sony (6758 JP) announced that since the domestic launch of the new Aibo (exclusively through Sony’s online store or via a special raffle) on 11th January 2018, it has sold 11,111 units by mid-April 2018. The price point is US$1,944 for the hardware unit, and a monthly subscription (which is required to make Aibo function) at US$29 per month. Not exactly a cheap pastime! Production is being expanded to meet higher than expected demand, and new online services are currently in the pipeline. Currently sold out, the next sales raffles will be made available on May 15th 2018 in Japan, and overseas sales is being considered at a later date.
Under a supposed codename Project Vesta, Amazon’s R&D subsidiary company Lab 126 is said to be developing home robots for sales as early as 2019. Robotics is a high-profile agenda at Amazon – there are currently vacancies for 60 robotics roles at the company. With the investments made into Alexa and artificial intelligence, there is scope for a home robot to potentially have features such as companionship and empathic AI (emotion detection). Oh and it should be able to handle the vacuum cleaning…
New research from the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) suggests that the rapid spread of industrial robots has not made a dent in employment figures, instead, new tasks have been created for the workforce alongside ones performed by machines. At 309 units per 10,000 employees, the robot density in Germany’s manufacturing industry is the third highest worldwide. At the same time, the number of people employed in Germany reached 44 million in 2017, the highest figure since reunification. “The results of the ZEW study on the labour market confirm what we’re observing in leading industrial nations across the world,” comments Junji Tsuda, president of the International Federation of Robotics. “The modernisation of production shifts hazardous, unhealthy and monotonous work to the machines. In the vast majority of cases, only certain activities of a job are automated and not the entire spectrum of an employee´s work. However, if jobs are cut – the ZEW reports that 5% of employees were replaced within five years – these losses are compensated for by new jobs overall.
A prototype construction robot that can spray on coatings at more than twice the speed of humans has been unveiled in Tokyo adding to hopes such robots could help compensate for Japan’s shortage of construction manpower in the future. Osaka-based Daiwa House Industry Co. unveiled the robot at a construction site in Tokyo's Koto Ward in April. The robot which sprays a fireproof coating on the frame of the building in place of humans a task the company's technical headquarters describes as one of the toughest in construction. They estimate it could provide a labour cost saving of 30 percent compared with conventional human work. Officials envisage it being used indoors. It consists of an extendable robot arm placed on a movable trolley. Following inputted construction site data, it can spray on coatings at more than twice the speed of humans. The main task it is designed to perform is to spray fireproof coating on a building, something which is said to be one of the most difficult parts of construction. Daiwa House, plans to put it into operation sometime next year. Head of technology Kazuto Tsuchida said: “It is expected the construction industry will face a shortage of 1.12 million workers in 2025.”
E-mart, a South Korean discount chain operator, has unveiled an autonomous shopping cart. This comes three months after Chinese online retailer JD.com, one of the two major e-commerce platforms in China, unveiled a smart cart at its first high-tech supermarket in Beijing. E-mart said the cart dubbed “Eli” has smart sensors that can recognise human voices and avoid obstacles, so it can follow specific customers. It can also guide shoppers to find stock items at desired aisles by displaying the locations on the cart’s liquid-crystal display screen. Payment can be made via Eli as well, simply by using Eli’s sensor to scan the barcode of a product. A customer can then tap a credit card or an app to pay. The cart can tell whether items in it have been paid for by comparing the weight of items vs their cost. After the shopping is completed, Eli is able to automatically queue at a charging-station so the cart does not need to be manually returned. Other functions include searching for a car’s location inside a parking lot and checking shopping information, such as discount coupons, the benefits of a credit card and the duration spent shopping.
Driven by demand for automation and IoT, Mitsubishi Electric (6503 JP) announced that it will aim to increase production capacity at its Factory Automation (FA) division to ¥1 trillion by FY2025 – an estimated increase of 35% from current levels, and to generate the bulk of sales from overseas markets. Demand drivers are expected to be automation and IoT needs, and initial stages of capex will cover domestic facility expansion as well as plans to increase its footprint in India and China (a new plant in Jiangsu Province will open this year). These plans are not unique and would mirror what most of its FA peers are doing today (with the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative), but China demand visibility is currently firm from smart devices and EV (electronic vehicle) manufacturing needs. Asia ex-Japan makes up around a quarter of the company’s group FY OP, with the majority coming from China and Korea (with OLED production demand).
Chipmakers NVIDA and ARM have announced a partnership, whereby ARM will implement the open source NIVDIA Deep Learning Accelerator (NVDLA) code in its Project Trillium platform for chips. The Trillium chips are to be used in next generation mobile and IoT devices, and the goal is to be able to not just collect and track data, but to make smart decisions from them. It makes sense for the leaders in machine learning and IoT to be teaming up – we would expect to see leading IoT player Intel to be announcing similar tie-ups or offerings. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, IoT is estimated to have a total potential economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion a year by 2025. At the top end, that level of value, including the consumer surplus, would be equivalent to about 11% of the world economy.
Based on endoscopy technology, Auris Health has announced that its Monarch robotic system designed for diagnosing and treating lung cancer tumours has gained FDA approval. The competitive advantage of the Monarch system is computer-aided navigation, which should result in better clinical diagnosis as well as greater capacity to treat small and hard-to-reach lung nodules. Although lung cancer is the primary target, co-founder and CEO Frederic Moll (formerly of Intuitive Surgical) said in a prepared statement that the company would like to apply their technology to other endoscopic procedures in the future. The objective for robotic surgery is to offer more natural controls for surgeons whilst adopting less invasive procedures for patients to prevent trauma – Auris Health joins the line of other peers such as Titan Medical, Mazor Robotics and TransEnterix all with FDA clearance for their robots.
Toyota is establishing a new company to develop autonomous driving technologies with its current partners and between them they will invest almost $2.8 billion into it. It will be named “Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development” (TRI-AD) and will accelerate the company’s efforts in advanced development for automated driving. To enable the new efforts at TRI-AD, Toyota Motor Corporation, Aisin Seiki, and Denso have reached a provisional agreement on the joint development of fully-integrated, production-quality software for automated driving. Aisin Seiki and Denso will each own 5% of the new company with Toyota owning the remaining 90%. The new company is targeting a staff of approximately 1,000 employees, including external recruitment and staff from TMC, TRI, and Toyota Group Companies Aisin and Denso. The news come two years after Toyota announced that they were going to invest $1 billion into Autonomous car R&D, the formation of TRI-AD is seen by the company to be the next logical step to reach autonomous driving.
NATS, the UK’s leading air traffic services provider, and fast-growing UK-based drone traffic management solutions company Altitude Angel, have entered a strategic partnership that lays the foundation for a future whereby drones and manned aircraft could safely co-exist in the UK’s busy skies. The two organisations have entered a long-term partnership to develop unmanned traffic management solutions that can be integrated and interact with conventional air traffic control. Efforts to create an automated UK drone-tracking system pave the way for commercial operators to fly unmanned aircraft regularly over longer distances than is currently possible. At present, owners are required to keep drones within their own line of sight unless they have been given special permission to do otherwise. They aim to launch it in 2019 or 2020and want to keep the lower-level air space, to which drones would still be restricted, safe. The biggest and perhaps most lucrative of these cases would be the ability to use the drones to make Amazon style deliveries to UK homes.
California will allow fully autonomous cars without safety drivers to test on public roads for the first time. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles announced the change, which outlines a permitting process for companies wishing to deploy driverless vehicles without anyone behind the wheel. “This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.” Last October, the California DMV issued revised regulations governing the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Among their many provisions, the new rules would allow autonomous cars without steering wheels, foot pedals, mirrors and human drivers behind the wheel to be tested on its roads starting in 2018. There are currently 50 companies testing nearly 300 autonomous vehicles that are licensed with the DMV, officials said. Nearly 1,000 safety drivers are licensed to test those vehicles, but after the state’s rules go into effect, companies would be allowed to deploy cars without any human behind the wheel.
Skydio, a California based autonomous drone start-up, has unveiled its R1 drone at Mobile World Conference 2018 after working on it for four years. The quadcopter drone capable of shooting in 4K resolution features artificial intelligence which allows it to move around in complex environments on its own. It features what Skydio calls an advanced obstacle avoidance system, the Skydio Autonomy Engine. With 12 cameras integrated into the frame of the drone, the R1 views its surrounding in real-time and flies on its own. In fact, Skydio does not even bundle a controller with the drone because of it being completely autonomous. DJI drones provide obstacle avoidance too, courtesy of what it likes to call FlightAutonomy 2.0. But, according to a report by 9to5Mac, DJI's technology can be termed as semi-autonomous as it still relies on the user to manoeuvre it around. The Skydio R1 is a step above when it comes to obstacle avoidance, as it is completely autonomous. The user does have the option of controlling the drone (via a smartphone app) manually, but the drone is essentially designed to take care of itself. Starting at around $2,500 the cost of this extra autonomy is, at least initially much more expensive than DJI’s most popular semi-professional drones such as the Phantom 4.
The rapid development of AI brings with it the potential for new types of security threat to not only humans but other AI’s and computer programs. Researchers from the University of Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Stanford, OpenAI and the Center for New American Security amongst others have recently published a paper on what they perceive that main types of threat will be and suggests ways in which these threats may be mitigated. As Artificial Intelligence improves the new threats it brings to cybersecurity can be classified into three buckets. The first is the expansion of the existing threats, as the cost of attacks may be lowered by using AI systems to complete tasks which humans would normally do. The second is that there may be new types of threats stemming from AI’s being used to conduct cyber-attacks which humans would be incapable of doing themselves. The last area of threat comes from the ability of an AI to change the character of the threat itself and to make more finely targeted attacks which are more difficult to attribute to any one source. AI’s can be used in this way to make attacks on Digital, Physical and Political security the report goes on with the ability to create fake news and videos.
A self-driving truck has completed a coast-to-coast journey across the US, a feat its developers called the first of its kind. Embark has been testing self-driving trucks since last year predominantly on a route between Los Angeles and Texas where the company’s technology controls the vehicle when on the Interstate, but with a driver taking over on smaller roads. Now, in a move to emphasise the capability of its technology, Embark’s truck has completed a journey between Jacksonville in Florida and Los Angeles a 2,400 mile route that was completed over five days. Embark said the truck handled the majority of the driving but there was a driver behind the wheel at all times ready to take over if needed. As a result, rest breaks were a legal requirement which is why the journey took five days. Embark says in the future a truly autonomous truck without a driver could complete the journey in two days by operating around the clock. For the coast-to-coast journey, Embark’s truck was empty but the company has already transported real cargo for refrigerator firm Frigidaire
Wal-Mart is rolling out shelf-scanning robots in more than 50 U.S. stores to replenish inventory faster and save employees time when products run out. The 2-foot (60 cm) robots come with a tower that is fitted with cameras that scan aisles to check stock and identify missing and misplaced items, incorrect prices and mislabelling. The robots pass that data to store employees, who then stock the shelves and fix errors. Out-of-stock items are a big problem for retailers since they miss out on sales every time a shopper cannot find a product on store shelves. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has been testing shelf-scanning robots in a handful of stores in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and California. Walmart stresses that the robots are there to supplement humans, not replace them -- to eliminate drudgery and the expenses that go with it. This helps workers get to the task of filling empty shelves, and that is a job that the company does not see ending any time soon.
Lufthansa Technik, an arm of Lufthansa Airlines, has filed patent applications for a new scarf joining robot that it says will significantly improve repair procedures for structures made of fibre-reinforced composites (FRCs). The robot, which was developed through LHT's Composite Adaptable Inspection and Repair (CAIRE) project, is mounted on an aircraft component using suction cups. The robot's specially developed software scans and diagnoses damage, identifies the surface and calculates the scarf joint's form and a milling path before cutting out the damaged material. Once this is complete, technicians can cut repair layers to size, insert them into the 3D scarfing surface the robot created and finish by gluing and curing the newly inserted part. The traditional process for diagnosing and repairing damage to FRC-based fuselage and wing structures requires more time and effort than the new automated process, so Lufthansa says targeted use of the robot will result in time and cost savings. The company also claims the robot will significantly increase quality by allowing for brand new repair geometries.
After more than a decade away, Sony has decided to resurrect its iconic robot pet with a brand new model simply called “Aibo” which has significant AI upgrades. The latest generation Aibo is now packed with an array of sensors, cameras, microphones and internet connectivity, as well as far more advanced AI backed by cloud computing to develop the dog's personality. Sony claims the new Aibo “can form an emotional bond with members of the household while providing them with love, affection, and the joy of nurturing and raising a companion.” It uses ultra-compact actuators that allow its body to move along 22 axes, and its eyes use two OLED panels to show a range of expressions. Battery life is rated at around two hours, with a three-hour recharge time. Sony says Aibo’s behaviour is adaptable, with the dog seeking out owners, learning what makes them happy, and gradually growing accustomed to wider environments. It uses deep learning technology to analyse the sounds and images coming through Aibo’s array of sensors, and uses cloud data to learn from the experiences of other Aibo units and owners.
Rockwell Automation has been the subject of numerous bids by fellow U.S. industrial powerhouse Emerson Electric, it emerged in late October. The latest and highest bid of $215 per share valued Rockwell at around $27.6 billion and at a Price to Earnings ratio of around 30x 2018 consensus full year earnings. Milwaukee-based Rockwell, which makes controls and automation software for factories, said Emerson made the $215 a share cash-and-stock offer on 10th
October. The approach came after it rejected a $200 a share offer from Emerson in August. The move by Emerson is an attempt to reshape the U.S. industrial equipment industry as it faces rapid change from new technologies including advanced robotics, 3D printing, connected devices and new techniques for processing and analysing data. Rockwell describes itself as provider of smart automation, offering equipment, software and services for industries including car manufacturing, food, oil and gas. Emerson is also a leader in industrial automation, serving a similar range of markets.
The autonomous ride-hailing race took another dramatic step recently as Waymo which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet announced that very soon its Uber-like ride hailing service won’t have a safety driver in the front seat. Waymo has a fleet of Chrysler Pacific minivans fitted with self-driving technology which members of the public can start using in a few months. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic car. The service will first be available to those who are already part of the company’s public trial already under way in Phoenix. The service marks a major step forward in the development and roll-out of fully autonomous vehicles. While self-driving car companies have routinely tested their vehicles on public roads, they usually have a human sitting behind the wheel ready to take over should the autonomous technology fail. Waymo has been testing the automated Chrysler Pacifica minivans without a human backup since 19 October in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona, which has no restrictions on self-driving cars.
Adidas’s new highly automated and very flexible manufacturing plant called the SpeedFactory has begun to produce trainers. The machines carrying out this work are highly automated and use processes such as computerised knitting, robotic cutting and additive manufacturing, which involves building up shapes layer by layer. These new techniques reduce the time and number of trainers required to manufacture a design, which may allow Adidas to sell more sneakers at full price. Typically, retailers must begin the design process about a year before production, and make the sneakers in batches of about 50,000 to 100,000 pairs. However, the SpeedFactory enables Adidas to shorten its manufacturing time from months to perhaps as little as one day, and reduce its batches to as little as 500 pairs. This helps ensure that Adidas can accurately meet demand, limiting excess stock that would end up being marked down. Currently the factory is set to manufacture a series of city specific running shoes designed for running in cities such as London, Paris and Los Angeles. Adidas is utilizing data from local customers to see how they use their shoes. For example, it rains more frequently in London, and customers often use their sneakers to run to or from work, so Adidas created shoes that are reflective and more waterproof than its typical designs.
The International Federation of Robotics released their annual update on market trends in September, their key headline was that they expect the number of industrial robots in factories to increase by 1.7m units by the end of 2020. In the short-term they forecast the number of installations to rise by 21% in Asia, 16% in the US and 8% in Europe. The Federation believes the key drivers behind the rapid growth include faster business cycles, increasing desire for customization and the need to have more flexible manufacturing along with the usual arguments of rising cost of labour and a generally cheaper and more efficient manufacturing footprint. They believe that many of these drivers will lead to the increased usage and production of collaborative robots which are cheaper to buy and run. They can also work in tandem with humans without the need for safety cages. In terms of units, it is estimated that by 2020 the worldwide stock of operational industrial robots will increase from about 1,828,000 units at the end of 2016 to 3,053,000 units. This represents an average annual growth rate of 14 percent between 2018 and 2020. China is still leading the demand for industrial robots and Kuka announced it will double its production capacity there, following Fanuc and ABB plans.
Alibaba is reportedly planning to invest $15 billion over the next five years to “build up its global-logistics infrastructure and development of robots sorting and fulfilling merchandise”, according to the Wall Street Journal. Alibaba says the money will be used to increase research and development in logistics data technology, as well as for development of smart warehousing, smart delivery and global logistics infrastructure, all of which are core to building the global logistics network of the future. Alibaba is said to be the world’s largest e-commerce company, mainly concentrating on the business-to-business sector rather than retail, but until now, it has relied on external companies to provide its logistics. Now, the company has invested an additional $801 million to buy a controlling stake in Cainiao Smart Logistics. Cainiao had been Alibaba’s main logistics affiliate and Alibaba already had a 47% stake in the company. Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group, says: “Our goal with this investment is to provide comprehensive, first-class experience for consumers globally. Our commitment to Cainiao and additional investment in logistics demonstrate Alibaba’s commitment to building the most-efficient logistic network in China and around the world”.
Chowbotics is gearing up for a major marketing push to find space for its salad-making robot in every homes and catering companies around the world. A test prototype is currently located at Calafia Cafe & Market in Palo Alto and will soon expand to other restaurants. Sally is a rectangular box that has a touchscreen that displays ingredient options and an image of the salad as items are added. You pick your greens, then toppings and dressing. With 22 ingredient canisters, Sally can make more than 1,000 different combinations of salads and can serve up to 50 of them before she needs refilling. According to the CEO of Chow Deepak Sekar it's an ideal health food option, not only for restaurants but also hospitals, workplaces and cafeterias. Sally is the "smallest and most affordable cafeteria an office can have."
China’s chronic shortage of dentists may be answered by an unexpected source. A robot has carried out a dental operation without help from humans for the first time, carrying out implant surgery on a patient in China. Although medical staff were present during the one-hour surgery in Xian, Shaanxi province, they did not play an active role. Two new teeth, created by 3D printing, were successfully implanted into a woman’s mouth, the South China Morning Post reported. The robot was developed by Beihang University in Beijing and the Fourth Military Medical University’s Stomatological Hospital. Dr Zhao Yimin, who works at the hospital, told the newspaper the robot was designed to carry out dental procedures and avoid mistakes made by human error. According to the report, the robot followed a set of pre-programmed commands to install the dental implants but was also able to adjust for the woman’s movement. Experts said that the implants were fitted within a margin of error of 0.2-0.3 mm, matching the human standards required for this type of procedure.
Columbia University says it has developed a self-contained soft actuator that is three times stronger than natural muscle, without the need of external equipment. The research group in the Creative Machines lab led by Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering, says its actuator is a 3D-printable synthetic soft muscle, a “one-of-a-kind artificial active tissue” with intrinsic expansion ability that does not require an external compressor or high voltage equipment as previous muscles required. The new material has a strain density (expansion per gram) that is 15 times larger than natural muscle, and can lift 1000 times its own weight. Previously, no material has been capable of functioning as a soft muscle due to an inability to exhibit the desired properties of high actuation stress and high strain. Existing soft actuator technologies are typically based on pneumatic or hydraulic inflation of elastomer skins that expand when air or liquid is supplied to them. The external compressors and pressure-regulating equipment required for such technologies prevent miniaturization and the creation of robots that can move and work independently. Professor Lipson says: “We’ve been making great strides toward making robots minds, but robot bodies are still primitive. “This is a big piece of the puzzle and, like biology, the new actuator can be shaped and reshaped a thousand ways. Unlike rigid robots, soft robots can replicate natural motion such as grasping and manipulation to provide medical and other types of assistance, perform delicate tasks, or pick up soft objects.
Canvas Technology has launched what it claims is the world’s first self-driving industrial cart. The company says the logistics robot brings driverless vehicles to workplaces “long before self-driving vehicles hit street”. Canvas says its carts are also the first self-driving vehicles to use 3D vision to map and navigate dynamic indoor workplaces. Canvas’ autonomous carts are simple but highly sophisticated autonomous transport vehicles designed to automate one of the most cumbersome, wasteful, and prolific human tasks in the workplace, moving materials from one place to another. Canvas thinks its machine is the only commercial self-driving vehicle capable of hands-off operations in highly changing and unstructured environments. By using cameras to map, localize and plan, it sees its environment in rich 3D world enabling intelligent and safe behaviour both indoors and outside, as well as GPS-denied environments. A wide variety of companies from ecommerce to manufacturing are looking for solutions to improve efficiency, speed and transparency especially in logistics both within factories themselves and wider logistic applications. We believe this sort of technology will be commonplace in factories soon.
The “Self Drive Act” was unanimously approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July, before Congress left for August recess, and passed the full House on a voice vote in September. The bill creates a national framework for the development and testing of driverless cars. Until now, each individual state has dealt with automakers which want to develop and test cars in their area. The new bill allows automakers to acquire permits for up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year rising possibly to 100,000 cars per year later. Technically it is being called a “bill” and is not yet law, but it forms the basis for a law on driverless vehicles. Representative Doris Matsui says the bill puts the US “on a path towards innovation which, up until recently, seemed unimaginable”.
ABB’s dual-armed co-bot YuMi directed Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in a program of Verdi at a charity concert earlier. The performance was a world first by a robotic conductor. The robot was trained by Italian conductor Andrea Colombini consisting of two phases: first of programing via performance as the collaborative robot is learning by imitation and then the fine-tuning to synchronize the robot’s movements with the music. While Colombini said that the “gestural nuances of a conductor have been fully reproduced at a level that was previously unthinkable” insisted we could not do away with the need for humans to inject “spirit” and “soul” into orchestral performance. The aim of co-bots is to work alongside humans and we could imagine they could be used in the future for the first rehearsal before the maestro brings the artistic touch to the interpretation.
Ulrich Spiesshofer, who took over as CEO of ABB in 2013, said in an interview with Reuters that the company is planning to expand its industrial robot manufacturing facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan, which delivered its first robot in March 2017. ABB is counting on further growth in demand for industrial robots from automakers and other sectors, such as the food and beverage industry. According to Spiesshofer, U.S. automakers have caught up with Japanese and German rivals in the level of factory automation and the next phase is about portfolio differentiation and expansion as automakers build more electric cars. The new capacity addition comes after recent announcements by Japanese rivals FANUC and Yaskawa Electric who are both planning on adding more capacity in China to meet surging demand there. Yaskawa wants to raise global its monthly production to 5,000 units per month (from 3,000 today) by 2019. Fanuc targets an increase of 8,000 units of production a month in 3Q 2018.
Kuka is expected to make its mobile collaborative robot available to more factories, partly as a result of its takeover by Midea, the Chinese home appliances manufacturer. Midea has large factories where a mobile robot which can also pick and place objects would be very useful. Kuka’s collaborative robot is called iiwa, and it’s already in use at various large companies, including automotive giant BMW. But in most locations, including BMW, the iiwa is used for tasks where it is required to stay fixed in only one location. The addition of an autonomous platform makes iiwa mobile so it can be used in many different settings, most likely logistics. Kuka says KMR, an acronym for Kuka Mobile Robotics, indicates the company’s expertise in freeing industrial robots from their traditionally permanent factory floor mounts in a safe and intelligent way, making them more flexible and functional than ever before. The KMR iiwa is a combination of Kuka’s lightweight, collaborative LBR iiwa robot with the KMR mobile platform featuring their mecanum (omnidirectional) wheels with nearly infinite degrees of 2D freedom.
Cambridge Medical Robotics (CMR), which is developing a surgical robot, has released the first photographs of the system called Versius. The system has been designed to be extremely versatile, with the capability to operate across all four surgical quadrants, allowing it to be used in gynaecology, urology, upper gastrointestinal and colorectal surgery. CMR aims to make minimal access surgery available to all the estimated 6 million people a year who could benefit and make it easier for laparoscopic surgeons to learn and perform the technique. Versius was designed to be lightweight and easy to set up. The robotic arms measure their position and force thousands of times a second, making them safe to be around and easy to manoeuvre even during surgery. The arms and wristed instruments give maximum flexibility to surgeons during a procedure. CMR says the design allows the arms to work in a way that reduces physical and mental effort for the surgeon whilst giving them the ability to undertake more procedures on patients.
Cartman, a budget priced robot from Australia triumphed in an annual contest to create a machine that can identify, pick up and stow warehouse goods commonly known as ‘pick and place’. The bot was designed from scratch to take part in 2017's Amazon Robotics Challenge and used a radically different design to past winners. Instead of building a robotic arm, the victors used a sliding mechanism that picked up products from above. The four-day event was held in Japan. The winning Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (ACRV) squad were engineers from Queensland University of Technology, the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University. They walked away with the $80,000 cash prize. The parts for the robot were cheap by the standards of typical industrial robots and it could be built for under 30,000 Australian dollars (USD $23,935) including its sensors, according to Prof Jonathan Roberts, robotics lab leader at Queensland University of Technology. Amazon already uses robots to move goods about its warehouses but relies on humans to pick up and pack them. Finding a cheap, universal solution to package the millions of items they sells on a daily basis is something of a “holy grail” in the robotics industry. It began hosting the competition in 2015 to ‘promote shared and open solutions’ to automating the tasks. A total of 16 teams from 10 countries took part in the latest challenge in the city of Nagoya.
British officials have announced plans to regulate drone use in a bid to prevent accidents and threats to commercial aviation. The new rules announced in late July will require drones that weigh eight ounces (226.79 grams) or more to be registered and users will have to pass a safety awareness exam during the registration process. The government acted because of concerns that a mid-air collision between a drone and an aircraft could cause a major catastrophe. The new rules will make it easier for the government to track drones that have been flown in a risky manner or infringed on protected airspace. Commercial planes pilots have been warning of near misses in recent years as more and more drones have taken to the sky. The rule follows similar legislation in the U.S. last year.
Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer and perhaps Apple’s most well-known supplier has announced a plan to build a factory in Wisconsin (U.S.) which has the potential to create up to 13,000 jobs there. The total investment in the plant which would be the first US based advanced LCD manufacturing plant could be as much as $10 billion. The entire campus may span across 15 buildings and 20 million square feet once complete. Foxconn which employs over a million people has had a clear strategy to automate a significant part of its production processes for some time. In 2011, the company announced a plan to replace 500,000 workers with 1 million robots in the long-term, at the end of 2016 the company had around 40,000 robots known as ‘Foxbots’ in their operations. What is clear is that this new U.S. factory, even though it could employ 10,000 people, would not be possible without high levels of automation. We would expect it to be one of the most efficient and most highly automated LCD manufacturing plants in the world.
The world’s first crewless, automated cargo ship will launch in 2018 according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The ship is expected to be fully autonomous by 2020 after a series of trials and tests. The Norwegian-built Yara Birkeland will use GPS, radar, cameras, and sensors to navigate itself around other boat traffic and dock on its own. It’s likely to cost around $25 million, which is about three times as much as a standard container ship of the same size. However, investors say without the need for fuel or crew, annual operating costs would be cut by up to 90 percent and reduces the risk of hijacking. The vessel will become autonomous in stages. The company said they believe that it will initially operate as a manned vessel, moving to remote operation in 2019. It is expected to be capable of performing fully autonomous operations from 2020. The 100-container Birkeland is being jointly developed by agriculture firm Yara International and technology company Kongsberg Gruppen. It’s been dubbed the “Tesla of the Seas,” and is scheduled to start delivering fertilizer from a production facility to the port of Larvik about 37 miles away in Q4 2018.
In preparation for 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, electronics giant LG is trialling new robots in the country’s largest airport. Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is now home to two of LG’s latest prototype bots, the Airport Guide Robot and the Airport Cleaning Robot. The bots were first unveiled at CES earlier this year, and both do exactly what their names suggest. The Guide Robot will roam the terminals, ready to provide travellers with directions and information about boarding times. It speaks four languages Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. Users can even get it to scan their boarding pass to be escorted to their correct departure gate. The Cleaning Robot, meanwhile, is essentially a beefed-up Roomba that looks a little like a mini-tank. According to LG, it “detects the areas that require the most frequent cleaning, stores those locations in its database and calculates the most efficient routes to get there.”
Elon Musk’s goal of producing a mass market electric car has come to fruition with the first deliveries of the new Model 3 at the end of July. The base price of the car starts at $35,000, but a model 3 with a fully autonomous driving package would cost around $8,000. The autonomous features come in two upgrade packages, the first called Enhanced Autopilot is a $5,000 extra which will enable traffic speed matching, lane guidance, automatic lane switching and self-parking abilities, including Tesla’s “summon”, which has the car drive out of a parking space or garage to your side by itself. The Full Self-Driving mode will cost an extra $3,000 on top of the price of Enhanced Autopilot. However, this fully autonomous mode isn’t ready yet and indeed needs regulatory approval before its use is allowed. Last year Musk claimed that all new Tesla’s would carry the hardware needed to be fully autonomous from 2018, suggesting that these autonomous driving extras just require a simple software update to turn them on. This also infers that even if the original owner decides not to pay for and use the feature subsequent owners can.
A Californian start-up called Miso Robotics has built ‘Flippy’ a robotic kitchen aid and/or replacement for the hard-working grill chef in fast food restaurants and diners. Miso has bought a series of off-the-shelf components to build Flippy which is based off a Universal Robotics Co-Bot platform and has advanced computer vision capabilities. The components combined with Miso’s own proprietary control software which has incorporated advanced machine learning, to track and perfectly cook patties on the grill in Caliburger’s Pasadena, Los Angeles branch in Q1 2018. Now, CaliBurger has committed to using Flippy in 50 of its restaurants, at least, over the next two years. It has already been testing Flippy in a Pasadena restaurant, the companies said. The Flippy robot takes the form of a relatively small, wheeled cart equipped with a 6-axis robotic arm and what Miso Robotics calls a “sensor bar.” It can be installed in front of or next to any standard grill or fryer. It takes in data from thermal sensors, 3D sensors and different cameras onboard to perceive its environment. Digital systems that send tickets from the counter back to the kitchen give Flippy its orders. Among other functions, Flippy grabs unwrapped burger patties, moves them into position on a hot grill, keeps track of each burger’s cook-time and temperature, then alerts human cooks when it’s time to apply cheese or other toppings.
British online supermarket and delivery company Ocada is working with Oxford based Oxbotic to trial sefl-driving delivery vans on the streets of London. The small vehicle, is spending 10 days delivering food and snacks to Ocado customers who live in the area, to test Ocado’s plans for its “Smart Platform”, a plug-and-play online shopping business that it wants to sell to grocery retailers around the world who hope to compete with the likes of Amazon and Walmart. The trial is the latest evolution of Greenwich’s GATEway project, which initially involved Oxbotica’s autonomous driving technology being tested with small passenger vehicles on the borough’s waterfront near the former Millennium Dome. Unlike Ocado’s current vans, which can store 80 grocery boxes, enough for 20 or more deliveries and which are staffed by a driver who delivers the groceries to customers’ doors and kitchens, the “CargoPod” only holds eight boxes, and requires recipients to leave the house to pick up their shopping themselves. But it is designed for a different market, according to David Sharp, who heads the company’s advanced research projects department. He likens it to the difference between self-checkouts and staffed tills at a supermarket: it may not be quite as convenient, but it’s quicker, cheaper, and possible to scale up much more quickly.
Start typing your update here... Amazon has filed for a patent for a potential new autonomous delivery solution involving drones. The patent involves a concept for a ‘beehive’ like tower which will act as a fulfilment centre and refuelling station for delivery drones in cities. The company has filed for a patent for “multi-level fulfilment centres” that would accommodate the landing and take-off of drones in dense urban settings, the latest example of Amazon’s futuristic vision of reshaping the way people receive packages. The application filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, which was written in 2015 and published last week, included a number of drawings of drones flying in and out of tall cylinder-shaped buildings that Amazon wants to locate in central metropolitan areas. The centres would allow Amazon to shift away from the traditional model of large single-story warehouses that temporarily store packages before they are shipped to customers. Those buildings are typically located on the outskirts of urban areas and are not convenient for deliveries into cities where populations continue to swell, the company noted. The centres could be used to fulfil hundreds of thousands of orders a day, in part relying on a large volume of drones that continually pick up deliveries and can recharge their batteries at the site. The drone centres could also have a “central command” to control flight operations, which would be similar to a flight controller at an airport according to the company.
Eight professors from ETF Zurich are collaborating with business partners to build the ‘DFAB House’ they believe it will be the first house in the world to be designed, planned and built primarily with digital processes. The team is using a two-metre-high construction robot mounted on caterpillar tracks to fabricate steel-wire mesh sections that function both as a formwork and reinforcement for concrete walls. When the concrete hardens, it forms a load-bearing wall that will be topped with a statically optimised and functionally integrated ceiling slab manufactured using a large-scale 3D sand printer. The in-situ fabricator is capable of producing double-curved shapes from a dense mesh which is then filled with a special concrete mix that remains inside the formwork without leaking out through the gaps.
.Canadian start-up Lyrebird has created a program that can emulate almost any human voice. It is able to generate thousands of spoken sentences per second that it has honed using artificial intelligence to match recordings of speech with transcripts. As well as mimicking the sounds it hears, Lyrebird's AI can also create new sentences with unique variations such as intonation and emotion. Introduced last week. On top of its sentence generating speed which, is significantly faster than existing method it can mimic just about any voice, an advancement that raises ethical questions about how the technology might be used and misused. It plans to work with developers to use it for personal assistants, audio book narration and aides for people with speech difficulties. Until now, a completely new audio file has been needed for voice assistants, such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant, to switch between different ways of talking.
Andrus Ansip, the EU Commissioner in charge of the push for streamlined digital regulations across Europe, including initiatives to equip workers with digital skills, discussed the robot tax at a conference in Vienna on June 1st. His opinion was clear. “No way, no way,” he said, according to CNBC, when asked whether he would support the robot tax.Ansip said that he didn’t think it was appropriate to “tax progress” and that doing so would discourage automation technologies from staying and innovating in Europe. “I fully agree that we have to tax bad habits, for example pollution, or smoking, or drinking alcoholic drinks, this I can understand,” he said. The EU considered and rejected a proposed robot tax in February. The robot tax idea has so far found few supporters, but a growing handful of outspoken detractors. The effort Ansip favours for addressing those losses is more familiar than the idea of a robot tax. As many generations have proposed when faced with the possibilities of machines taking their jobs, he’s betting on reskilling and education that prepares workforces for new jobs that may be created as others are eliminated.
Google-owner Alphabet Inc. has agreed to sell robotics firm Boston Dynamics to SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications and technology company. Terms of the deal remain undisclosed, but news of Alphabet’s intentions to sell Boston Dynamics first surfaced back in March 2016. That was roughly two years after Android co-founder Andy Rubin left Google, where he spearheaded a series of prominent robotics acquisitions, most prominently Boston Dynamics. That division, known internally as Replicant, was disbanded after Rubin’s departure, leaving the future of Boston Dynamics and the other robot companies in flux. Softbank also announced that it is going to buy bi-pedal robotics company Schaft. Softbank led by CEO Mayoshi Son has made no secret of its big bet on Robotics and AI and these acquisitions follow the $24 billion purchase of chip-maker ARM which many believe was led by it’s desire to be involved in AI.
Dubai is set to introduce the newest member of their police force, 165.1cm, 100.7 kg robot which will be equipped with facial recognition technology and which has the ability to broadcast live video feeds. The first model, which will begin patrolling the streets of the futuristic city today, will not be on the front lines making arrests, but will be interacting with the community. Residents of Dubai will be able to report crimes, pay fines, and ask the robot questions though what sort of questions that may be asked at launch are unclear. The head of Dubai’s Police Tech division told reporters at the Gulf Information Security Expo and Conference that “by 2030, Dubai is keen to make robots around 25% of the total police force.” This is not the first robot in use by a police force. Police departments in the United States use robots for training purposes and also uses bomb-diffusing robots that were first created for the American military. In 2016, the Cleveland Police used robots to patrol the Republican National Convention and South Korea has robot prison guard.
German sportswear manufacturer Adidas will begin to sell its first mass produced 3D printed trainer call ‘Futurecraft 4D’ later on this year. The company is using Carbon 3D’s CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) printers to make the mid-sole of the shoe. Adidas plans to sell 5,000 pairs by the end of the year with the aim of having sold a further 95,000 pairs by the end of 2018. One of the best features of 3D Printed shoes is that it allows for more efficient production of small batches of shoes and even individualization of the shoe to a wearer’s specific needs or design. Though the cost of production needs to come down further for this to be widespread this is definitely a direction in which the industry is headed.
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk is launching a new company called Neuralink with the intention of connecting computers directly to human brains, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. Musk is exploring “neural lace” technology – the implanting of tiny electrodes into the brain that could be used to give direct computing capabilities. Musk has not officially announced the new company but after the Journal’s report he tweeted confirming more news of Neuralink would come out next week. He has previously talked about neural laces as something that “somebody’s got to do”, adding: “If somebody doesn’t do it, then I think I should do it.” Neuralink was registered in California as a “medical research” company last July, and the Journal reported Musk plans on funding the company mostly by himself.
Up to one-third of British jobs could face the risk of automation in the next 15 years, but the technology will improve productivity and create new roles elsewhere, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The transportation and storage industry and manufacturing have the most roles at risk, the report published in March 2017 showed. Education, health and social work are least likely to be affected due to the relatively high proportion of tasks that are difficult to automated. However, the report stressed that automation won't result in rocketing unemployment. "The UK employment rate is at its highest level now since comparable records began in 1971, despite advances in digital and other labour-saving technologies," said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC. Mr Hawksworth anticipates that manual and routine tasks will be susceptible to automation, with social skills and creative roles being more protected. "That said, no industry is entirely immune from future advances in robotics and AI," he said. However, in many cases the nature of jobs will change rather than the roles completely disappearing.In particular, AI is expected to boost productivity and create additional jobs in new sectors of the economy. "By boosting productivity - a key UK weakness over the past decade - and so generating wealth, advances in robotics and AI should also create additional jobs in less automatable parts of the economy as this extra wealth is spent or invested," said Mr Hawksworth. A link to the report can be found here.
French company Groupe Gorge plans subject to market conditions to IPO it’s 3D printing unit Prodways later on this year. Prodways is a manufacturer of industrial 3D printing solutions based on its DLP MOVINGLight technology, saw its revenue rise from €0.1 million in 2013 to more than €25 million in 2016. The group credits the vigorous growth to “a strategy combining organic growth, sustained by substantial capital expenditure, and targeted acquisitions in the B2B 3D printing segment”. Since its inception, the company has launched two major machine lines including its MOVINGLight ProMaker series and ProMaker P laser sintering series in partnership with Hunan Farsoon. It has also established several partnerships with key industry figures including DSM Somos and Arkema, and setup its own dedicated Aerospace Division for additive manufacturing. If Prodways was to IPO at the average valuation multiples for 3D printing peers such as 3D Systems, Stratasys and SLM Solutions the IPO could value it at more than 100 million euros.
U.S. chipmaker Intel Corp has offered around $15.3 billion for Israeli autonomous vehicle technology company Mobileye. The potential deal solidifies the relationship between the two firms who have collaborated along with BMW on self-driving cars already. The self-driving cars of tomorrow will crunch immense amounts of data (Intel estimates as much as 4 terabytes per day) to safely navigate the streets. The combination of the two will allow Mobileye’s advanced autonomous driving vision and sensing technology to be paired with Intel’s high performance processing chips to produce a one stop technology solution to self-driving. Intel’s interest in the space is nothing new they acquired 15% of mapping technology company HERE in Jan 2017 and a company called Windriver in 2009 who are rumoured to be developing a full autonomous driving operating system.
Virginia Governor Terry McAullife recently signed a law permitting the use of Starship Technologies' Personal Delivery Devices, or PDDs in the U.S. state. The six-wheeled robots, are designed to deliver parcels, groceries and food within a two-mile radius in 15-30 minutes. The PDDs weigh about 18 kg and can carry a load of up to around 9k and travel at 4 mph. They must obey all traffic and pedestrian control devices and signs. They must also display a plate or marker identifying their owner's name and contact information, as well as a unique identifier number. Transport of hazardous materials, substances or waste is not permitted under the new law. While the PDDs can travel autonomously, Virginia requires that a human operator actively control or monitor their navigation and operation. Starship's PDDs are controlled remotely through a fleet management app. Virginia's law is the first in the United States to govern autonomous delivery robots.
A new type of 3D-printed lens created by researchers from the University of Stuttgart in Germany. made from plastic and no bigger than a grain of salt may be used in robotics. Their size is only one aspect of their break through technology, the real innovation is that the lenses mimic the action of the “fovea,” a key physiological feature of the eyes of humans and eagles, that allows for speedier image processing. By re-creating this setup in tiny lenses using 3D-printed plastic, scientists hope they’ll be able to make cameras that can process images more quickly and efficiently. Plus, as the individual lenses are so small, they can be used for technology like tiny flying drones (like flying drone insects) or surgical tools that need to operate inside the body.
Ford has invested $1 billion in a joint venture with Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based company with ties to Carnegie Mellon. The goal is to completely outfit Ford vehicles with self-driving technology. Interestingly, this isn’t a case of a large company simply hiring talent but the creation of an entirely separate company with an independent equity structure. Although Argo is just 2 months old Ford’s investment brings with it a team that has extensive experience in building autonomous vehicles for Caterpillar amongst other companies. This seems to be the fastest way for Ford to access self-driving talent in what is turning out to be a highly competitive market. Ford's plans closely mirror Toyota Motor Corp.'s $1 billion investment over five years toward creating its own robotics and artificial intelligence research division. Toyota Research Institute was established more than a year ago and is being led by Gill Pratt, the former top robotics engineer for a US military agency. In March 2016 General Motors spent $1 billion purchasing Cruise Automation to help them fulfil the same goal.
The Emirate’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) announced that Dubai could be the first city to see passenger-carrying drones – the service could launch by July 2017. The announcement, made at the World Government Summit on Feb 13th, comes from a partnership with Chinese company EHang. Riders will simply sit down, chose a destination via touchscreen, sit back and enjoy the ride. The drone can carry a person up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and a small bag. The company calls the EHang 184 “the safest, smartest and eco-friendly low altitude autonomous aerial vehicle” around. Dubai officials will remotely monitor the drones, and pilot them from a centralized command centre, and the city says it’s already started test flying the vehicle in Dubai skies, so this isn’t just pure bluster.
Designed to handle objects (hence the name), the robot is bipedal like the company's Atlas robot, but has wheels for feet, which enables it to move more efficiently while shifting its weight to balance and stay upright. The video, which was leaked by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson on YouTube, shows Handle's capabilities being put to the test – including the ability jump objects and spin on the spot like an ice skater. Raibert says the robot can "carry a reasonably heavy load on a small footprint" and is essentially an exercise to test the potential for developing a humanoid robot that has less degrees of freedom than a walking robot, and is therefore cheaper to produce, while still retaining comparable mobility capabilities.
Made by Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF) – a start-up within the main company the 26-inch tall robo-ball called ‘Gita’ is designed to run continuously for eight hours and can travel at speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. The contraption is “designed to match the full range of human mobility, with speeds that extend from a crawl to a sprint and a zero turning radius,” according to the designers. Gita links up to sensors on a belt worn by its human master, enabling it to follow them around, mapping and remembering new routes along the way. It is equipped with various scanners and cameras with an ultrasonic range-finding system enabling it to avoid obstacles. The built-in cargo bay requires a fingerprint scan and a security code to open it. Gita will be tested in a series of trials in U.S. towns and college campuses over the next six months. The round robot could eventually be used to help carry luggage or to assist workers with carrying around heavy tools and other industrial equipment.
MIT researchers have been able to design a lightweight graphene material through a process that compressed and fused graphene flakes into a porous, sponge-like 3D form that boasts 5% of the density of steel but 10x it’s strength. The discovery has the potential to enable lightweight products for airplanes, cars, buildings and even filtration devices because of the printed objects' porous designs. Using a combination of heat and pressure, the MIT research team created a 3D structure similar to corals and microscopic creatures called diatoms, the researchers said. The shapes turn out to have a large surface area in proportion to their volume—a design decision that resulted in a structure that delivers the strength and stability that was so elusive with straight up 2D graphene. he strength targets achieved had less to do with the use of graphene and more to do with the unusual geometric configuration, which opens the door to using a similar process to create other lightweight, strong materials, researchers said.
Researchers from Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital have developed a "soft robot" that might improve your odds of surviving a heart attack. Unlike mechanical devices inserted into heart valves, it's wrapped externally around the heart, where it pumps and twists to assist cardiovascular function. "Most people with heart failure do still have some function left; one day the robotic sleeve may help their heart work well enough that their quality of life can be restored," says co-author and cardiothoracic surgeon Frank Pigula. The device was inspired by the heart itself and made possible by recent advancements in soft robots. Like other recent bots, the thin, adjustable silicon sleeve is powered pneumatically by actuators placed around it. Driven by an air pump, one set of actuators expands and contracts in a pumping motion, while another layer moves helically to twist it. The result is a motion that' close to a real heart’s.
Starship Technologies is a private company which has been testing land based (wheeled) robotic delivery drones in over 50 cities globally. The Daimler investment was part of a $17.2 million seed funding round. Daimler is clearly thinking about a future with automated delivery systems following this investment which follows the unveiling of a concept delivery van which will use a series of aerial drones to make short range deliveries using the van as a base.
Apple has announced that it will invest around $1 billion into SoftBank’s Vision fund whose aim is to make investments in the global technology sector. The investment from Apple follows a $45 billion pledge from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and investments from Qualcomm, Foxconn and Qualcomm. Softbank itself said it intends to invest around $28 billion into the fund. While SoftBank intends to invest a significant portion of the funds into promising tech start-ups, the company will use a portion of the funds to advance its own initiatives, which include Son’s vision to have SoftBank be a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence.
The Norwegian government announced that it intends to pass a law in Spring 2017 to allow the testing of self-driving cars on roads. It should help Norwegian technology companies to get a competitive edge while the technology will be gradually introduced. Norway is already an important market for electric cars thanks to its generous government subsidies. (Source: Reuters)
7-Eleven announced that it has made in total 77 drone deliveries in the state of Nevada. The first delivery was in July this year but they started making regular weekend deliveries in November. Customers used an application to place orders and be informed of the imminent deliveries. Due to the legislation in the U.S., without special permission from the FAA, one is not allowed to fly a drone beyond the line of sight of the operator. Full Story
On 7th December, Amazon made its first consumer drone delivery as a part of the testing for Amazon Air service to a farmhouse near Cambridgeshire, England. A package filled with popcorn and a Fire TV video-streaming device was delivered. The whole process took only 13 minutes, from the order being placed to the delivery being made. Amazon states that it will expand its tests in the coming months, by making drone deliveries in the Cambridge test area during daylight hours seven days a week if the weather allows for it. At present only the items that weigh less than 5 pounds and fulfil the size limit are qualified for the drone delivery service. The drone deliveries will provide a huge shipping cost reduction opportunity for Amazon, with an estimated 80% cost savings, according to a Deutsche Bank.
In November, Apple wrote a letter to the U.S regulator (NHTSA), to offer its feedback on the proposed guidelines for the autonomous vehicle technology. In the letter, the tech leader claims that it is “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.” Apple also emphasises the needs for data sharing in the industry, opposing the lobbying group representing some of the main players in the self-driving car space, like Google, Uber, Ford and Volvo which against the idea of data sharing among companies. Besides, Apple encourages the regulator to allow for “regulatory flexibility” in order to boost innovation in the industry. Given the fact that Apple has been working on project “Titan", its electric car secret name for several years, the letter without doubt shows the keen ambition of Apple moving into the autonomous vehicle industry. Full Story
Cowarobot R1 is a fully autonomous smart suitcase: it follows its user while avoiding any obstacles in its path. The core technology of R1 is the Co Move system which works by sensing the environment, with a multi sensor fusion technology, mainly based on a set of sonars, a depth sensor Co Eye and Cliff Detect sensors, which allows it to avoid stairs and dangerous drop offs. A customized bracelet comes with every R1, to ensure that R1 rolls along within an arm’s length distance to the bracelet on the users, following him at a maximum speed of 4.5 MPH (7 km/h). R1 is equipped with the “find me” function, allowing the suitcase to plan a route to make its way back to the users. On top of these, R1 also has the functions of Co Smart intelligent lock, proximity alarm and embedded GPS for the price of $519. Detail
Professor Conor Walsh’s laboratory at Harvard University has been working on revolutionising the science of soft robotics by making clothing that assist mobility impairment sufferers to move with power. The soft exosuit works through a band of cloth wrapped around a person’s calf muscles. Pulleys, made from bicycle brake cables, are attached to these calf wraps with the other ends tied to a power pack worn on a patient’s back. The power pack pulls the cables when the wearer starts to lift his foot to take a step, helping the wearer to lift their leg. The exosuit will help to get patients to engage more in social events and prevent them from withdrawing from the world. Tests of the exosuit have already proved to be successful. Professor Walsh expects to get the prototypes on the market in about three years. Full Story
In the CBI’S annual conference, the UK Prime Minister will suggest an increase in government investments in research and development worth £2bn a year by 2020 and a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to back priority technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. May will also announce a review of current research and development tax incentives to ensure the global competitiveness of the UK as a home for scientists, innovators and tech investors. The International Monetary Fund has highlighted that UK spending on R&D is below many of its G7 peers, including France, Germany and the US. This funding should help the UK to get long term investment into innovative firms and turn the UK into a front runner in global innovation. Full Story
Israeli firm Tactical Robotics is planning to take self-piloting tech to the air. Their autonomous vehicle, has just demonstrated its first fully untethered autonomous flight along a pre-planned route. The unmanned aerial vehicle is known as Comorant, is an autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype capable of carrying people and supplies. It uses internal rotor blades and rear horizontal thrust ducted fans to take off. The flight decisions are made from an array of sensors, including a combination of two laser altimeters, a radar altimeter, inertial sensors and an electro-optic payload camera. The initial idea for the Cormorant is to make a vehicle that is able to traverse urban centres, dense forest and combat zones where helicopters can't. A single Cormorant is capable of ferrying in excess of 500 Kilograms of useful cargo for 50 kilometers with a top speed 50 mph, compared to EHang 184 AAV, which can only carry of 100kg weight but which has a higher cruising speed of 100 kph, the two drones serve very different purposes. Full Story
Dominos announced that it delivered its first pizzas to actual customers using drones, after testing the drone delivery system for some time during the summer. The drones have a delivery radius of 1.5 km from the Whangaparaoa store in New Zealand. Currently the drones can travel at 30 km/h but Dominos is aiming at providing 10-minute delivery service for homes up to 10 km away which means that that may eventually reach speeds of over 60 km/h. The drone technology behind Domino’s deliveries was created by Flirtey, a company which has been delivering goods in New Zealand for years. Flirtey are currently loading the drones and managing the flights for Dominos. At the moment, only customers with enough space in the backyard are able to enjoyed the drone delivery service but Flirtey is working on an update which will allow customers with smaller backyards to also enjoy the service. Full Story
According to Nikkei Asian Review, Foxconn a key supplier to Apple for their iPhones and iPads has started to consider the possibility of moving iPhone production to the U.S. after the Curpotino CA based technology behemoth asked them to look into the idea back in June. Pegatron, another supplier and competitor to Foxconn was also asked to make a similar consideration but declined due to cost concerns. The timing of Apple’s original request means that it wasn’t a knee jerk reaction to Trumps election and more likely part of Apple’s long-term strategy. Never-the-less Trumps desire to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and impose stiff import tariffs will only lend support to the idea that Apple should bring some or all of its manufacturing to the States. However even if production were to be bought back we feel that all this may do is further increase the penetration of robotics and automation within the supply chain, a process that is already going on in Asia. Full Story
Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo has started testing its drone shipping operation in the south western city of Fukuoka on Tuesday. The drone has a maximum speed of 50kph and has so far carried everyday consumables such as detergent and tissues during test flights. Amongst its many potential uses the service could help the elderly to shop by transporting their purchases directly to their homes. The high number of elderly citizens in Japan and just how to look after them has been a long standing social issue which robotics and automation may help address. Currently, the company has gained permission and licenses from the Japanese government to fly the drone and to allow it to connect to mobile phone network. The drone service is expected to develop a new revenue stream as Docomo’s main mobile phone business continues to decline. Full Story