Robotics, Trump and Brexit turn up the heat amid the snow of Davos

Graeme Wearden for The Guardian:  The “fourth industrial revolution” will once again be a key theme at this year’s Davos, where the focus will be on the problems created by technologies such as smart robots and driverless cars. The WEF will examine whether the loss to these innovations of millions of jobs is undermining social cohesion and contributing to the rise of populist parties.

Davos will also consider whether increased use of artificial intelligence and the “internet of things” are laying firms open to a new wave of cyberthreats and security beaches. This area of technology has until now been only lightly regulated; is the world ready to hand more decision-making powers to machines?  Full article:

Robots: Legal Affairs Committee calls for EU-wide rules

EU Parliament News:  EU rules for the fast-evolving field of robotics, to settle issues such as compliance with ethical standards and liability for accidents involving driverless cars, should be put forward by the EU Commission, urged the Legal Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Rapporteur Mady Delvaux (S&D, LU) said: “A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics. In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework”. Her report, approved by 17 votes to 2, with 2 abstentions, looks at robotics-related issues such as liability, safety and changes in the labour market.

MEPs stress that EU-wide rules are needed to fully exploit the economic potential of robotics and artificial intelligence and guarantee a standard level of safety and security. The EU needs to take the lead on regulatory standards, so as not to be forced to follow those set by third states, argues the report.  Full Release:

The 'intelligent' robot companion that plays chess as a hobby, serves coffee and learns from its own experiences

The Daily Mail:  A robot developed by engineers in Taiwan can pour coffee and move chess pieces on a board against an opponent - but he's looking for a real job.

The robot spent last week playing games against opponents at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  It was displaying what developers call an 'intelligent vision system' which can see its environment and act with greater precision than its peers.

With this enhanced vision, the robot can perform variety of tasks for service and manufacturing, and can also learn on the job with artificial intelligence.  Playing chess is just a hobby showcasing the robot's visual acuity - such as the ability to distinguish between different chessmen- and dexterity in gripping and moving objects.  Cont'd...

Google Tasks Robots with Learning Skills from One Another via Cloud Robotics

Steve Arar for All About Circuits:  Humans use language to tap into the knowledge of others and learn skills faster. This helps us hone our intuition and go through our daily activities more efficiently. Inspired by this, Google Research, DeepMind (its UK artificial intelligence lab), and Google X have decided to allow their robots share their experiences. Sharing the learning process among multiple robots, the research team has considerably expedited general-purpose skill acquisition of robots. 

Using an artificial neural network, we can teach a robot to achieve a goal by analyzing the result of its previous experiences. At first, the robot may seem to act randomly simply working based on trial and error. However, it examines the result of each trial and, if satisfactory, focuses on similar experiments during the next trials. Making a connection between each experience and the obtained result, the robot would be able to gradually make better choices.  Cont'd...

Japan's Rust Belt Counting on Robonomics to Run Assembly Lines

Yoshiaki Nohara, Toru Fujioka, and Daniel Moss for Bloomberg:  A withering factory town in Japan’s Rust Belt is looking for revival through a dose of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s "robot revolution."

Kadoma’s population has declined 13 percent as the nation ages, prompting mergers among elementary schools and emergency services departments. Factories can’t find enough people to run assembly lines, further threatening an industrial base that includes titan Panasonic Corp. and smaller businesses like Izumo Co., a maker of industrial rubber.

Yet Izumo President Tsutomu Otsubo doesn’t believe the solution involves finding more people. He’d rather find more machines to do the work so his company can capitalize on Abe’s plan to quadruple Japan’s robotics sector into a 2.4 trillion yen ($20 billion) industry by 2020.  Cont'd...

A Robotics ETF Tries to Find its Way

Brenton Garen for ETF Trends:  This year has seen another crowded field of new exchange traded funds come to market and within that group are plenty of niche funds, indicating that ETF issuers continue to slice and dice investment ideas into increasingly fine fund packages.

The Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: BOTZ) is one of those niche funds. BOTZ provides exposure to companies involved in the adoption and utilization of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), including those involved with industrial manufacturing, medicine, autonomous vehicles, and other applications.

BOTZ follows the Indxx Global Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic Index. The ETF, which debuted in September with the Global X FinTech Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: FINX) and the Global X Internet of Things Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: SNSR), holds 28 stocks with an average market cap of $8.8 billion, putting the ETF in mid-cap territory.  Cont'd...

BERNSTEIN: China's insane spending on robotics is fundamentally changing capitalism

Oscar Williams-Grut for Business Insider:  Analysts at global investment manager Bernstein believe the "age of industrialization is coming to an end," with robots set to destroy manufacturing jobs globally.

That may not sound seismic. After all, the industrial revolution happened hundreds of years ago and manufacturing jobs have been the minority of all jobs in the West for decades. But Bernstein is arguing that the nature of capitalism is undergoing a fundamental change.

Analysts Michael W. Parker and Alberto Moel argue that Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, the foundational textbooks of economics, is becoming redundant because of two trends: the rise of robotics and China's modernising economy.  Cont'd...

Robots won't kill the workforce. They'll save the global economy.

Ruchir Sharma for The Washington Post:  The United Nations forecasts that the global population will rise from 7.3 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, a big number that often prompts warnings about overpopulation. Some have come from neo-Malthusians, who fear that population growth will outstrip the food supply, leaving a hungry planet. Others appear in the tirades of anti-immigrant populists, invoking the specter of a rising tide of humanity as cause to slam borders shut. Still others inspire a chorus of neo-Luddites, who fear that the “rise of the robots” is rapidly making human workers obsolete, a threat all the more alarming if the human population is exploding.

Before long, though, we’re more likely to treasure robots than to revile them. They may be the one thing that can protect the global economy from the dangers that lie ahead.  Cont'd...

Robotics startup Exotec raises $3.5 million to help warehouses pack and dispatch goods using mini robots

Paul Sawers for Venture Beat:  A French robotics startup has raised €3.3 million ($3.5 million) to build and grow a fleet of mobile robots that help warehouses prepare orders for delivery.

The company was founded in 2015 by former GE Healthcare software architect Renaud Heitz and BA Systèmes technical director Romain Moulin,  and Exotec Solutions (“Exotec”) robots have already been tested across a number of industries. With $3.5 million more in its coffers, the company expects to launch its first robot — called Exo — into the wild in early 2017. The most recent round was raised from 360 Capital Partners, Breega Capital, and a handful of its existing investors.

The miniature robots are being targeted at any logistics operator that relies on humans to traverse large warehouses picking items off shelves, and it promises to cut employees’ average daily distance covered from 15km to 4km per day and to “[double] the productivity” of each worker. The robots are controlled by what the company calls a “centralized intelligence system,” which liaises between the humans and the robots on the ground.  Cont'd...

Metallic glass gears make for graceful robots

Science Daily:  Throw a baseball, and you might say it's all in the wrist.  For robots, it's all in the gears.  

Gears are essential for precision robotics. They allow limbs to turn smoothly and stop on command; low-quality gears cause limbs to jerk or shake. If you're designing a robot to scoop samples or grip a ledge, the kind of gears you'll need won't come from a hardware store.

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, technologist Douglas Hofmann and his collaborators are building a better gear. Hofmann is the lead author of two recent papers on gears made from bulk metallic glass (BMG), a specially crafted alloy with properties that make it ideal for robotics.  Cont'd...

A new standard in robotics

Phys.org:  On the wall of Aaron Dollar's office is a poster for R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), the 1920 Czech play that gave us the word "robot." The story ends with the nominal robots seizing control of the factory of their origin and then wiping out nearly all of humanity. Dollar, fortunately, has something more cheerful in mind for the future of human-robot relations.

He sees them as helpers in our daily lives—performing tasks like setting the table or assisting with the assembly of your new bookcase. But getting to the point where robots can work in the unstructured environment of our homes (as opposed to industrial settings) would take a major technological leap and a massive coordination of efforts from roboticists around the globe. The living room has been called the last frontier for robots—but first, the robotics community needs some standards that everyone can agree on.

Enter a suitcase-sized box containing 77 objects. It contains things like hammers, a cordless drill, a can of Spam and a nine-hole peg test. As ordinary as they may seem, these carefully curated household items could be the future of a new kind of standardization for robotics. Known as the Yale-CMU-Berkeley (YCB) Object and Model Set, the intent is to provide universal benchmarks for labs specializing in robotic manipulation and prosthetics around the world.  Cont'd...

Meet the robot whisperer who trains "big, monstrous, industrial robots" to follow her every command

Charlotte Whistlecroft for DigitalSpy:  If you think you're happy with your job, Madeline Gannon will definitely make you question your life, as this woman has managed to train giant robots to do things for her.

Nope, we're not joking - the founder of the Madlab Research Studio created "big, monstrous, industrial robots" and then tamed then, and she even has a nickname to prove it: The Robot Whisperer.

Which is all pretty impressive, if not terrifying, stuff.

Speaking at the WIRED Next Generation event in London, Madeline passed on her robot-taming skills to the audience of 12-18 year olds and shared her passion for turning 6-foot-tall factory line robots into tools any human can communicate with.  Cont'd...

ASU Robot learns to shoot hoops

ASU Interactive Robotics Lab:  The video shows a bi-manual robot that learns to throw a ball into the hoop using reinforcement learning. A novel reinforcement learning algorithm "Sparse Latent Space Policy Search" allows the robot to learn the task within only about 2 hours.

The robot repeatedly throws the ball and receives a reward based on the distance of the ball to the center of the hoop. Algorithmic details about the method can be found here: 

Foxconn reaches 40,000 robots of original 1 million robot automation goal

From Next Big Future:  In 2011, Foxconn had announced a plan to replace 500,000 mainland Chinese workers with 1 million robots over the next 3-5 years. 
Foxconn is the company that builds Apple's iPhone and iPad hardware and many of the android smartphones as well.
Foxconn, has so far installed 40,000 production robots across China as it looks to minimize the number of people it employs.
With the exception of some components like servo motors and speed reducers, the robots are being built entirely in-house, Foxconn's Dai Chia-peng told Taiwan's Central News Agency, as quoted by DigiTimes. It's unclear how many of the so-called "Foxbots" are being used to manufacture Apple products.
The machines are, however, said to be operating an industrial facility in Zhengzhou, a tablet plant in Chengdu, and computer/peripherals plants in Kunshan and Jiashan.   Cont'd...

As China Invests in Robotics, iRobot and Other Companies Eye Deals

Jeff Engel for Xconomy:  China emerged as a manufacturing powerhouse over the past few decades, thanks in large part to a deep pool of cheap labor. Now, the country is investing heavily in factory automation, and Boston-area robotics companies and their allies smell opportunity.

Executives from 11 New England robotics firms will travel to several cities in China later this month on a trade mission aimed at sparking business deals and more technology collaboration between the U.S. and China.

The trip is being organized by InTeahouse, along with local nonprofit robotics support group MassRobotics.   Cont'd...

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