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...

Stanford study concludes next generation of robots won't try to kill us

Bruce Brown for DigitalTrends:  It sounds like we can all take a breath and forget about robot attacks occurring — at least anytime soon. Robots turning against their makers is a common theme in science fiction. However, there’s “no cause for concern that AI poses an imminent threat to humanity,” according to Fast Company, citing the first report from the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100).

The Stanford University-hosted project represents a standing committee of AI scientists. The AI100 project is ongoing but will not issue reports annually — the next one will be published “in a few years.” The first report, Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030, downloadable at this link, looks at how advances in AI will make a difference in the U.S. between now and 2030. Areas of change explored by the report include transportation, healthcare, education, the workplace, and policing and public safety.  Cont'd...

Robotics entrepreneur unveils spider creation set to take gaming world by storm

David Clensy  for Bristol Post:  For Silas Adekunle, the fascination has always been about how the very best robotics learns from biology.

There is a twinkle in the eye of the 25-year-old Reach Robotics founder, as he introduces me to Mekamon – the spider-like robot with which he plans to transform the future of augmented reality gaming among techies around the world.

Silas only graduated from the University of the West of England in 2014, but is already employing 10 people in his rapidly growing tech company.  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...

Innovative Machine Learning Training Method Opens New Possibilities for Artificial Intelligence

From AZoRobotics:  As a result of a new machine learning algorithm formulated by engineering researchers Parham Aarabi (ECE) and Wenzhi Guo (ECE MASc 1T5) at University of Toronto, smartphones may soon be able to provide users with honest answers.

The researchers prepared an algorithm that was capable of learning directly from human instructions, instead of an existing set of examples, and surpassed conventional techniques of training neural networks by 160%.

But more astonishingly, their algorithm also surpassed its own training by 9% - it learned to identify hair in pictures with better reliability than that enabled by the training, signifying a major leap forward for artificial intelligence.  Cont'd...

Irishman's soft robotics exosuit wins major tech award

Colm Gorey for SiliconRepublic:  Irishman Conor Walsh’s soft robotics exosuit was among the award winners at the recent Rolex Awards, due to the creator’s continuing efforts to develop tech for the benefit of humanity.

Now in its 40th year, the Rolex Awards are part of an international philanthropic programme that supports new and ongoing projects by individuals taking on major challenges to benefit humankind.

Hosted last night at a public awards ceremony in Los Angeles, the awards were presented to 10 laureates – including five young laureates – that included such wide-ranging topics as opthamology and agritech.  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...

Care-O-bot 4 celebrates its premiere as a shopping assistant

By Fraunhofer IPA via RoboHub:  In January 2015, Fraunhofer IPA presented a prototype of the “Care-O-bot 4” service robot. The charming helper is now proving its worth in the real world. “Paul” the robot has been greeting customers in Saturn-Markt Ingolstadt since the end of October 2016 and directing them towards their desired products.

Care-O-bot 4, alias Paul, approaches Saturn customers and welcomes them to the store. If they ask him about a certain product, he accompanies the customer to the department and points them in the direction of the relevant shelf. As he indulges in small talk about the weather, or another subject, Paul turns out to be a most charming contact partner. However, he prefers to leave actual customer service to his human colleagues. Paul is able to call another member of staff for support via “Voice over IP”. Before Paul bids a fond farewell and returns to the store entrance, he still has time to ask for feedback. In this way, he discovers whether customers appreciated the interaction or not. Martin Wild, Chief Digital Officer at Media-Saturn-Holding: “With Paul, we are offering our customers the opportunity to get to know one of the most advanced robots in the world.”  Cont'd...

Relay Is a Robot Butler Coming to a Hotel Near You

Nathaniel Mott for Inverse:  Ordering room service can be a lesson in embarrassment. It could arrive right after you’ve taken off your clothes, while you’re indisposed, or while you’re in the middle of other hotel-related behavior.  Thankfully, a robot butler named Relay is here to take that embarrassment (and other inconveniences) out of hotel deliveries.

Relay is basically an autonomous locker on wheels. Guests ask for an item, a hotel worker puts the object inside Relay’s compartment, and then the robot scoots over to the guest’s room with its cargo. It then calls the guests to let them know their item is ready before heading back down to the lobby so it can recharge before its next assignment.  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: 

Deepmind and Blizzard to Release Starcraft II as an AI Research Environment

From DeepMind:  For almost 20 years, the StarCraft game series has been widely recognised as the pinnacle of 1v1 competitive video games, and among the best PC games of all time. The original StarCraft was an early pioneer in eSports, played at the highest level by elite professional players since the late 90s, and remains incredibly competitive to this day. The StarCraft series’ longevity in competitive gaming is a testament to Blizzard’s design, and their continual effort to balance and refine their games over the years. StarCraft II continues the series’ renowned eSports tradition, and has been the focus of our work with Blizzard.

DeepMind is on a scientific mission to push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be told how. Games are the perfect environment in which to do this, allowing us to develop and test smarter, more flexible AI algorithms quickly and efficiently, and also providing instant feedback on how we’re doing through scores... (more)

Self-drive delivery van can be 'built in four hours'

Jane Wakefield for BBC News:  A self-drive electric delivery van, that could be on UK streets next year, has been unveiled at the Wired 2016 conference in London.

The vehicle's stripped-back design and lightweight materials mean it can be assembled by one person in four hours, the firm behind it claims.

The vehicles will be "autonomous-ready", for when self-drive legislation is in place, the firm said.

The government wants to see self-drive cars on the roads by 2020.

"We find trucks today totally unacceptable. Loud, polluting and unfriendly," said Denis Sverdlov, chief executive of Charge, the automotive technology firm behind the truck.

"We are making trucks the way they should be - affordable, elegant, quiet, clean and safe."  Cont'd...

New US Robotics Roadmap calls for increased regulations, education and research

From Phys.org:  A new U.S. Robotics Roadmap released Oct. 31 calls for better policy frameworks to safely integrate new technologies, such as self-driving cars and commercial drones, into everyday life. The document also advocates for increased research efforts in the field of human-robot interaction to develop intelligent machines that will empower people to stay in their homes as they age. It calls for increased education efforts in the STEM fields from elementary school to adult learners

The roadmap's authors, more than 150 researchers from around the nation, also call for research to create more flexible robotics systems to accommodate the need for increased customization in manufacturing, for everything from cars to consumer electronics

The goal of the U.S. Robotics Roadmap is to determine how researchers can make a difference and solve societal problems in the United States. The document provides an overview of robotics in a wide range of areas, from manufacturing to consumer services, healthcare, autonomous vehicles and defense. The roadmap's authors make recommendation to ensure that the United States will continue to lead in the field of robotics, both in terms of research innovation, technology and policies.  Cont'd...

Swarm of Origami Robots Can Self Assemble Out of a Single Sheet

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  One of the biggest challenges with swarms of robots is manufacturing and deploying the swarm itself. Even if the robots are relatively small and relatively simple, you’re still dealing with a whole bunch of them, and every step in building the robots or letting them loose is multiplied over the entire number of bots in the swarm. If you’ve got more than a few robots to handle, it starts to get all kinds of tedious.

The dream for swarm robotics is to be able to do away with all of that, and just push a button and have your swarm somehow magically appear. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close: At IROS this month, researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard presented a paper demonstrating an autonomous collective robotic swarm that can be manufactured in a single flat composite sheet. On command, they’ll rip themselves apart from each other, fold themselves up into origami structures, and head off on a mission en masse.  Cont'd...

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