It’s Time To Cut The Cord

The recent breaking news story on The Robot Report was, unfortunately, the demise of Helen Greiner’s company, CyPhy Works (d/b/a Aria Insights).

The recent breaking news story on The Robot Report was, unfortunately, the demise of Helen Greiner’s company, CyPhy Works (d/b/a Aria Insights). The high-flying startup raised close to $40 million since its creation in 2008, making it the second business founded by an iRobot alum that has shuttered within five months. While it is not immediately clear why the tethered-drone company went bust, it does raise important questions about the long-term market opportunities for leashed robots.

The tether concept is not exclusive to Greiner’s company, there are a handful of drone companies that vie for market share including FotoKite, Elistair, and HoverFly. The primary driver towards chaining an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is bypassing the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ban on beyond line of sight operations. Therefore the only legal way to truly fly autonomously, without a FAA waiver, is attaching a cord to the machine. There are a host of other advantages such as continuous power and data links. In the words of Elistair customer Alexandre Auger of Adéole, “We flew 2 hours 45 minutes before the concert and 1 hour after with Elistair’s system. This innovation allowed us to significantly increase our flight time! During our previous missions, we did not have this system and the pressure related to battery life was huge.”

Most of the millions of robots installed around the world are stationary and, thus, tethered. The question of binding an unmanned system to a power supply and data uplink is really only relevant for units that require mobility. In a paper written in 2014 Dr. Jamshed Iqbal stated, “Over the last few years, mobile robot systems have demonstrated the ability to operate in constrained and hazardous environments and perform many difficult tasks. Many of these tasks demand tethered robot systems. Tether provides the locomotion and navigation so that robot can move on steep slopes.” Most robotic companies employed leashes five years ago, even mobility leader Boston Dynamics. However, today Marc Raibert’s company has literally cut the cord on its fleet, proving once and for all that greater locomotion and agility await on the other side of the tether.

Recently, Boston Dynamics unveiled its latest breakthrough for commercializing unhitched robots – freewheeling warehouse-bots. In a video on YouTube! that has already garnered close to a million views, a bipedal wheeled robot named Handle is shown seamlessly palletizing boxes and unloading cartons onto a working conveyor belt. Since SoftBank’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics in 2017, the mechatronic innovator has pivoted from contractor of defense concepts to a purveyor of real-world robo-business solutions. Earlier this year, Raibert exclaimed that his latest creations are “motivated by thinking about what could go in an office — in a space more accessible for business applications — and then, the home eventually.” The online clip of Handle as the latest “mobile manipulation robot designed for logistics” is part of a wider marketing campaign leading up to ProMat 2019*, the largest trade show for supply chain automation held in Chicago later this month.

According to the company’s updated website, Handle, the six foot two-hundred pound mechanical beast, is “A robot that combines the rough-terrain capability of legs with the efficiency of wheels. It uses many of the same principles for dynamics, balance, and mobile manipulation found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are fast and efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs, Handle has the best of both worlds.” The video is already creating lots of buzz on social media with Evan Ackerman of IEEE Spectrum tweeting, “Nice to see progress, although I’ve still got questions about cost-effectiveness, reliability, and safety.”

To many in the retail market palletizing is the holy grail for automating logistics. In a study released earlier this month by Future Market Insights (FMI) the market for such technologies could climb to over $1.5 billion by 2022 worldwide. FMI estimated that the driving force behind this huge spike is that “Most of the production units are opting for palletizing robots in order to achieve higher production rates. The factors that are driving the palletizing robots market include improved functionality of such robots along with a simplified user interface.” It further provided a vision of the types of innovations that would be most successful in this arena, “Due to the changing requirements of the packaging industry, hybrid palletizing robots have been developed that possess the flexibility and advantages of a robotic palletizer and can handle complex work tasks with the simplicity of a conventional high speed palletizer. Such kind of palletizing robots can even handle delicate products and perform heavy-duty functions as well, apart from being simple to use and cost effective in operations.” Almost prophetic in its description, FMI described Handle’s free-wheeling demonstration weeks before the public release by Boston Dynamics.

The mantra for successful robot applications is “dull, dirty and dangerous.” While advances like Handle continue to push the limits of mobility for the “dull” tedious tasks of inventory management, “dirty and dangerous” use cases require more continuous power than ninety minutes. By example, tethered machines have been deployed in the cleanup efforts of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant since the tsunami in March 2011. The latest invention released is a Toshiba robot packed with cameras and sensors that include “fingers” for directly interacting the deposits of the environment enabling deeper study of radioactive residue. In explaining the latest invention, Jun Suzuki of Toshiba said, “Until now we have only seen those deposits, and we need to know whether they will break off and can be picked up and taken out. Touching the deposits is important so we can make plans to sample the deposits, which is a next key step.”

The work of Suzuki and his team in creating leashed robots in disaster recovery has already spilled over to new strides for underwater and space exploration. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency announced a partnership with GITAI to build devices for the International Space Station. In the words of GITAI’s CEO, Sho Nakanose, “GITAI aims to replace astronauts with robots that can work for a long time while being remotely controlled from Earth while in low Earth orbit space stations to reduce the burden on astronauts, shorten the time it takes to perform work in space, and reduce costs.”


Reprinted by permission.

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Brain Corp. debuts an autonomous delivery robot for factories and retail

Admittedly, Brain Corp. sounds a bit like an evil corporation in some superhero comic, but the San Diego-based startup has generated some serious …

Admittedly, Brain Corp. sounds a bit like an evil corporation in some superhero comic, but the San Diego-based startup has generated some serious funding in recent years, including a $114 million Series C, led by SoftBank back in 2017.

The company’s been putting that money to work, announcing today the launch of an in-store autonomous delivery robot. AutoDelivery, which is currently still “proof of concept,” is built on the startup’s own BrainOS navigation platform, which is currently powering products from a number of companies, including Tennant, Minuteman, ICE, Nilfisk and SoftBank Robotics.

Brain Corp.’s system is an interesting one designed to fulfill a fairly wide range of case uses, from stores to factories to warehouses. That could mean everything from inventory stocking to delivery fulfillment. It’s a massive business and one positioned to get even larger in coming years, with products from Amazon Robotics and Fetch to Playground Ventures-supported Canvas, which offers up a similarly autonomous robot for factory settings.

Heck, even Boston Dynamics is getting in on the space these days, with its recent acquisition of Kinema Systems.

The Brain Corp. system appears to have some of the competition beat with its ability to tow carts, which could make it useful in a retail setting like the one in the above video. It also sports a touchscreen, so employees can input directions directly, forming a different relationship with human employees than products like Bossa Nova’s inventory-checking robot.

The robot is still in its early stages, making its debut at next week’s ProMat show in Chicago. The company expects a commercial launch early next year.

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Global Military Robots Market 2019 Dynamics – Northrop Grumman Corporation, Irobot, Elbit …

The global “Military Robots” market report describes a systematic image of the Military Robots market by utilizing various strategies, methods, and raw …

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Boston Dynamics newest robot is a massive, bird-like machine that works in a warehouse

In recent years, the tech company, owned by Japan’s SoftBank Group, has released videos showing dog-like robots unloading dishwashers and …

March 29 at 3:51 PM

In its quest to develop functional — and sometimes terrifying — robots, Boston Dynamics has unleashed a veritable petting zoo of futuristic-looking machines.

In recent years, the tech company, owned by Japan’s SoftBank Group, has released videos showing dog-like robots unloading dishwashers and climbing stairs, galloping Bovidae-like creatures that can run move faster than Usain Bolt, and a mesmerizing humanoid robot that leaves some YouTube viewers convinced that a robot takeover is imminent.

In its latest video, the first to surface in about five months, a Boston Dynamics robot has acquired a new form, one that resembles an emu. Despite its large size — it’s six feet tall and weighs 231 pounds — the wheeled machine glides across a warehouse floor with ease, demonstrating its ability to pick up and move large boxes using what appear to be suction cups at the end of a long neck. It’s referred to as “Handle” and, according to the company, was designed to carry up to 33 pounds while maneuvering in tight spaces. The robot first appeared online, though in a different form, about two years ago.

[The jogging humanoid robot video that is ‘terrifying’ the Internet]

“Handle is a robot that combines the rough-terrain capability of legs with the efficiency of wheels,” a description of the machine on the company’s website says. “It uses many of the same principles for dynamics, balance, and mobile manipulation​ found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex.

“Wheels are fast and efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs, Handle has the best of both worlds,” the description adds.

On Twitter, Boston Dynamics said the robot was an example of the company’s “efforts in logistics.”

Boston Dynamics is starting to unveil our efforts in logistics. Find us at Promat (8 – 11 April) in Chicago to learn more – Booth S3347a @poweredbymhi#logistics#bostondynamics#ProMatShowhttps://t.co/SSK5du578V

— Boston Dynamics (@BostonDynamics) March 28, 2019

On YouTube, where the video has already garnered about 800,000 views, reaction to the robot was focused on its ability to replace human workers and unleash violent chaos.

“The economy revolution is starting and we should be looking for new incentives for the human race, work = money doesn’t work anymore,” Georgi Kirilov wrote.

“Great idea,” another observer from the account “Sir Piglet” wrote. “Put more people out of work due to automation to save money. Pretty soon there will be more people out of work than there is in the workforce.”

“Imagine this thing picking you up by the bare skin on your stomach with its triple layered suction cups and swinging you around like a centrifuge until all the blood that is inside your body is outside of your body,” Colin Furman wrote. “That is how we are all going to die.”

[Baristas beware: A robot that makes gourmet cups of coffee has arrived]

Boston Dynamics has become known for creating robots whose movements mimic humans and animals with a degree of accuracy that many find unnerving. The videos, which appear online every few months, generate millions of views and lively discussion full of predictions of catastrophe.

Last year, Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert told an audience in Germany that his team is testing the company’s awkward four-legged doglike robot, SpotMini, for use in multiple industries, including security, delivery, construction and home assistance. The company says the 66-pound machine is 2 feet, 9 inches tall and is the quietest of the company’s robots. It runs on electricity, has 17 joints and can operate for 90 minutes on a single charge.

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Scientists develop shape-shifting ‘particle robots’ with a children’s toy

Inspirational author and activist Helen Keller once said “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” but she likely never have imagined that …
unorobotomrariagato
Massachusetts Institute of Technology via YouTube

Inspirational author and activist Helen Keller once said “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” but she likely never have imagined that humble quote would be the perfect summation of a new “particle robotics system” developed by US researchers.

A team of engineers from MIT, Columbia University, Harvard University and Cornell University, looked to biological organisms and human cells for inspiration, developing a “particle robot” made up of smaller, individual robots that can perform complex functions together as a whole — such as being able to push and pull each other in a particular direction.

The research, published in Nature on March 20, details these individual “particles” that alone are unable to move around, but can be coupled together to perform more complex functions.

“We have small robot cells that are not so capable as individuals but can accomplish a lot as a group,” said Daniela Rus, an author on the new paper, in a press release.

Each robot is made up of rudimentary parts: a battery, a motor, light sensors, a microcontroller and a component that allows it to send and receive signals. That technical machinery is topped by a “Hoberman Flight Ring” — a children’s toy that can expand and contract.

The rhythm of expansion and contraction helps the robot move in a certain direction — and the research team showed that their system could respond to a light source and move through obstacles. Each particle can detect light intensity, which in turn corresponds to a pre-computed timing that tells the robot when to expand and contract. Eventually, the pulsating locomotion drags the entire unit toward the light.

“The particles closer to the light source experience brighter light and thus start their cycle earlier,” said Shuguang Li, co-first author of the paper, in a release.

The expanding and contracting robots are able to move around by coordinating their individual movements (10x speed).

Massachusetts Institute of Technology via YouTube

If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Big Hero 6, you’ll be familiar with the idea of the microbots — swarming, tiny robots that can link together in any arrangement you desire — built by the film’s protagonist, Hiro (if you’re not familiar with Big Hero 6, then stop reading, watch it and come back). The fluorescent green and yellow robots built here resemble a really (really!) early version of that same concept — and without the mind control, of course.

You can see the machines in action below:

When you look at the types of robots being developed by Boston Dynamics, you can see they are made up of hundreds of individually complex parts that come together to perform their function. Spot Mini, Boston Dynamics’ robo-dog, is one of its most advanced robots and can even twerk — but its not quite adaptable if something goes wrong. If a leg were to malfunction, that would render Spot Mini immobile.

The design here is like the antithesis to Boston Dynamics’ robot manufacturing. Each piece is rather simple on its own, but by running tests with a up to 24 interconnecting particles, the team demonstrated these simple robots were able to fluidly navigate toward a light source and push objects around.

In addition, with virtual simulations of up to 100,000 particles moving together, the team showed that the system would continue to work even if it lost up to 20 percent of the individual robot particles.

Such a system may one day be able to be built from even smaller robot particles down to the nano-scale, which would sharply bring the idea of the Big Hero 6 microbots into focus. For now, the team will continue to explore at the centimeter-scale, and also see if different types of particle robots may perform better.

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