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...

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...

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...

Japanese Robotics Giant Gives Its Arms Some Brains

Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  The big, dumb, monotonous industrial robots found in many factories could soon be quite a bit smarter, thanks to the introduction of machine-learning skills that are moving out of research labs at a fast pace. Fanuc, one of the world’s largest makers of industrial robots, announced that it will work with Nvidia, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that specializes in artificial intelligence, to add learning capabilities to its products.

The deal is important because it shows how recent advances in AI are poised to overhaul the manufacturing industry. Today’s industrial bots are typically programmed to do a single job very precisely and accurately. But each time a production run changes, the robots then need to be reprogrammed from scratch, which takes time and technical expertise.  Cont'd...

Google Canceled the Launch of a Robotic Arm After it Failed the 'Toothbrush Test'

Mark Bergen for Bloomberg:  Google published research this week detailing how its software enables robots to learn from one another. To demonstrate, the company’s scientists showed videos featuring robotic arms whirling inside its labs.

Google’s robotics group built those machines and wanted to sell them to manufacturers, warehouse operators and others. However, executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc. nixed the plan because it failed Chief Executive Officer Larry Page’s "toothbrush test," a requirement that the company only ship products used daily by billions of people, according to people familiar with the situation.  Cont'd...

Could the future of pizza be in the hands of robots?

CARTER EVANS for CBS:   In this emerging age of drone deliveries, anddriverless cars​, technology now brings us -- robo-pizza. 

Silicon Valley is at the forefront of reinventing the pie. The kitchen at Zume Pizza is where technology and culinary arts collide.

Humans and robots work side-by-side at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, California.

Veteran restaurateur Julia Collins founded the delivery-only pizza company with Alex Garden, the former president of online gaming company, Zynga.

“I saw an opportunity to go after the $40 billion domestic delivery pizza market,” Garden said.   Cont'd...

Robot Sews First Complete Garment

From Sewbo:  Sewbo Inc. on Thursday announced that it has achieved the long-sought goal of automated sewing, by using an industrial robot to sew together a T-shirt. This milestone represents the first time that a robot has been used to sew an entire article of clothing.

Despite widespread use in other industries, automation has failed to find a place in apparel manufacturing due to robots’ inability to handle limp, flexible fabrics. Sewbo avoids these hurdles by temporarily stiffening fabrics, making it easy for conventional robots to build clothes as if they were made from sheet metal. Afterwards, the process is reversed to produce soft, fully assembled garments.

“Our technology will allow manufacturers to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time than ever before,” said Jonathan Zornow, the technology’s inventor. “Avoiding labor issues and shortening supply chains will help reduce the complexity and headaches surrounding today’s intricate global supply network. And digital manufacturing will revolutionize fashion, even down to how we buy our clothes by allowing easy and affordable customization for everyone.”

Sewbo performed their feat using an off-the-shelf industrial robot, which they taught to operate a consumer sewing machine. Having successfully proved its core concept, Sewbo is now expanding its team and working towards commercializing its technology... (company webpage, MIT article)

Safety solutions for intelligent human-robot collaboration

Fanny Platbrood for SafeToWork:  Human-robot collaboration (HRC) describes a work scenario in which humans and automated machines share and work in the same workspace at the same time. Driven by Industry 4.0, this model of collaboration promises highly flexible workflows, maximum system throughput and productivity, as well as economic efficiency. However, ensuring that HRC is actually able to live up to this promise requires exactly the right safety technology for the application in question.

One of the major issues associated with Industry 4.0 is making work processes flexible. At the extreme end of the spectrum, this may involve manufacturing products in batch size 1 under industrial mass-production conditions – that is, manufacturing unique items on a conveyor belt.   Cont'd...

Global collaborative robots market expected to grow at a high rate

Market Reports World:  The global market for collaborative robots is expected to grow at a CAGR of 60.04% between 2016 and 2022 from USD 110.0 million in 2015 and reach USD 3.3 Billion by 2022. The market is expected to be driven by the growing demand because of higher return on investment and low price of collaborative robots that are attracting the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and the increase in investments for automation in industries.

“The market in the automotive industry and furniture & equipment industry is expected to grow rapidly”
The application in the automotive industry accounted for the largest share of the collaborative robot market in 2015 and this trend is expected to continue during the forecast period. However, the increasing installations of collaborative robots in the automotive industry and furniture & equipment industry would provide rapid growth between 2016 and 2022, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.  Full report...

Do the benefits of robotics outweigh the heavy demands on infrastructure?

Ben Rossi for Information Age:  Robotics has already been deployed in manufacturing to great effect for over a decade, performing delicate and precise tasks with greater accuracy than humans.

But now cutting-edge robots and other smart machines are set to join forces with the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, which Gartner estimates will total 25 billion devices by 2020.

In healthcare, robotic services are already operating pharmacy dispensers and robotic trolleys are now deployed in a growing number of hospitals. In hospitality, robots deliver services such as drinks dispensing and automated trolley deliveries.

Robots have even made their way into education, where they are being deployed successfully as a tutor, tool or peer in learning activities.

But what impact will this large-scale adoption of robotics have on existing networks as they encounter inevitable further strain?  Cont'd...

Robotics, automation, and how a strong network is needed to connect it all up

Manish Sablokk for IoTTech:  Cutting-edge robots and other advanced smart machines are set to be added into the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, which is projected to reach 25 billion devices by 2020. Robotics has already been used in manufacturing to great effect for over a decade, performing delicate and precise tasks with a higher success rate than humans. With advancements such as 'deep learning' robots, delivery drones and ubiquitous knowledge-sharing between machines, widespread robotics adoption is becoming far more feasible.

In healthcare, there are already robotic services in operation with automated pharmacy dispensing and robotic trolleys - robots that can navigate between floors and even call the lift using a Wi-Fi sensor. The hospitality sector has also been a keen adopter of robotics to deliver services and in education, robots are being deployed successfully as a tutor, tool or peer in learning activities, providing language, science and technology education.  Cont'd...

Ford's new robots can build cars, make coffee

Ford Motor Company announced today its early testing of a new type of assembly line robot that were co-developed with German robotics company KUKA Roboter GmbH with the intention of assisting human line workers. Two of these three-foot-tall machines are in use at the Cologne, Germany factory, where they assist human workers to install shock absorbers on Ford Fiestas. These workers would have originally had to juggle the shocks and tools to install them, but now the robot helps them position and install the parts.  More...

Standardizing Collaborative Robots: What is ISO/TS 15066?

Samuel Bouchard for Engineering.com:  Collaborative robots (also known as cobots) are changing how robots and humans interact in our factories and manufacturing facilities. 

No longer separated by cages, humans and cobots can work beside each other on complex tasks from picking and placement to assembly and logistics. 

Human-cobot systems bring together the best of human capabilities (complex reasoning, ease of learning new tasks, pattern and object recognition in cluttered environments) and robot functionality (the ability to perform complex, tedious tasks 24/7 and with high precision). 

The close proximity between humans and cobots and its advantages are exciting for manufacturers, SMEs, and the robotics industry, but it also brings a unique set of safety challenges.

Enter ISO/TS 15066 – the world's first specifications of safety requirements for collaborative robot applications.  Cont'd...

China's Midea buys nearly half of German robotics firm Kuka

The Star:  Chinese appliances giant Midea moved a step closer to fulfilling its ambition to acquire German industrial robotics firm Kuka with two weekend deals raising its stake to nearly a majority. 

Two of Kuka’s biggest German shareholders – technology company Voith and entrepreneur Friedhelm Loh – said they had decided to take up Midea’s offer of €115 (RM512) per share and sell their stakes. 

German news agency DPA reported that Voith had agreed to sell its stake of 25.1% for €1.2bil (RM5.34bil). 

And Loh told the business daily Handelsblatt he had decided to sell his stake of 10% for nearly €500mil (RM2.22bil). 

Combined with its existing holding of 13.5% in Kuka, the two purchases mean Midea now holds 48.5%, or not far from the outright majority, in the Augsburg-based robot builder.   Cont'd...

Foxconn Replaces 60,000 Labourers With Robots in China

Subhrojit Mallick  for GIZMODO India:   Apple and Samsung phone manufacturer, Foxconn has already taken a step towards the dystopian future. The South China Morning Post reported the manufacturing giant has replaced 60,000 laborers with robots. The total strength of Foxconn factory workers reduced from 110,000 to 50,000, marking a huge shift towards automation of routine jobs. 
The Foxconn technology group confirmed to the BBC that they are automating many of the manufacturing tasks associated with their operations by introducing robots. However, they maintained the move will not affect long-term job losses.   Cont'd...

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Factory Automation - Featured Product

Omron Adept Lynx Cart Transporter

Omron Adept Lynx Cart Transporter

The Omron Adept Lynx Cart Transporter is an Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle (AIV) designed to attach to movable carts and transport them from a pickup location to a drop off location. Applications include line-side inventory replenishment, moving flow racks, transporting Work in Progress (WIP) between process steps, and moving finished goods to the warehouse. The Lynx Cart transporter leverages Natural Feature Navigation to autonomously find a path through the facility without the need for any facility modifications necessary.