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