Teaching robots the physics of sliding and pushing objects

Jiaji Zhou for RoboHub:  The Manipulation Lab at the CMU Robotics Institute proposes a computational model that relates an applied robot action to the resultant object motion. Their research won the Best Conference Paper Award atICRA 2016.  

Understanding the mechanics of manipulation is essential for robots to autonomously interact with the physical world. One of the common manipulation scenarios involves pushing objects in a plane subject to dry friction. We propose a planar friction (force-motion) model that relates an applied robot action to the resultant object motion.  Cont'd...

Amazon's $775 million deal for robotics company Kiva is starting to look really smart

Eugene Kim for Business Insider:  It wasn't until 2014 that Amazon really started to use the machines made by Kiva, the robotics company it bought for $775 million in 2012. Kiva makes robots that automate the picking and packing process at large warehouses.

But in the short two years they've been deployed across Amazon's warehouses, Kiva's robots have been a real cost saver, according to a new note published by Deutsche Bank on Wednesday.

The note says Kiva robots have cut operating expenses by about 20%, quoting Amazon exec Dave Clark, adding that it would translate to roughly $22 million in cost savings for each fulfillment center. 

Additionally, Deutsche Bank estimates Amazon could cut another $800 million in one-time cost savings once it deploys more Kiva robots across the 110 fulfillment centers that don't have them yet. Amazon uses Kiva robots in only 13 of its fulfillment centers currently.  Cont'd...

Sushi Robots and Vending-Machine Pizza Will Reinvent the Automat

Leslie Patton  for Bloomberg:  Decades from now, historians may look back on 2016 as the year Earthlings ate pizza from vending machines, bought burritos from a box in New York’s Grand Central Terminal and devoured sushi rolled by robots.

“Automation is coming whether we want it to come or not,” said Andy Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains. “It’s everywhere. It’s in everything.”

At a time when more consumers are embracing hand-made artisanal foods, 24/7 Pizza Box, Burritobox and Sushi Station are headed in the other direction. Vending-machine pizza will start popping up in Florida later this year and chipotle-chicken burritos, accompanied by guacamole and salsa, can now be ordered from an automated box. Sushi-making robots from Japan are already operating in U.S. restaurants and university cafeterias.  Cont'd...

New Muscle-Inspired Actuators Hold Potential to Build Safer, Soft-Bodied Robots

Robots should be safer and softer in order to make them more cooperative and execute tasks in close contact with humans. George Whitesides, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), along with his team, has created a new actuator that moves like human skeletal muscles by using vacuum power for automating soft, rubber beams.

These actuators are soft and shock absorbing similar to real muscles, and do not pose any danger to their surroundings or the human beings working along with them or the future robots containing them. This study was published in the June 1 issue of the Advanced Materials Technologies journal.  Cont'd...

Robot wars: Boston Dynamics fell out with Google over humanoid Atlas

Mary-Ann Russon for International Business Times:  When former Boston Dynamics employees released video of humanoid robot Atlas – walking unassisted over difficult terrain, such as rocks and snow – Google was reportedly displeased; despite the research receiving high praise from roboticists while wowing the public.

And the real reason Google is selling off Boston Dynamics is, by and large, due to insiders telling Tech Insider that the robotics firm was unwilling to fall in line with the internet giant's vision of a consumer robot for the home.

Google reportedly envisioned the firm as one of nine in a division called Replicant. Initially, under the guidance of Android co-founder Andy Rubin, the firms would continue with existing research and Google would see what ideas and innovations they came up with.  Cont'd...

Chrysalix partners with Dutch RoboValley on €100 million robotics fund

Terry Dawes for Cantech Letter:  Vancouver-based Chrysalix Venture Capital has announced a €100 million fund aimed at driving the global robotics revolution, in partnership withRoboValley, a centre for robotics commercialization based at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The RoboValley Fund is Chrysalix’s first robotics fund, and will concentrate on disbursing seed and Series A rounds of funding to early-stage companies developing component technology, intelligent software, and other breakthrough robotics technologies.

“Robotics is predicted to be the next big step in the digital revolution having an unprecedented impact on the way that we live, and provides an answer to some of the grand challenges of the 21st Century,” said RoboValley managing director Arie van den Ende. “Together with Chrysalix long-standing expertise in commercializing early stage industrial innovations, the RoboValley Fund will bring much needed capital and accelerated paths to market for our most promising next generation robotics technologies.”  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...

China's Big Bid For Germany's Industry 4.0 Technology

Klaus E. Meyer for Forbes:  Midea, the Chinese household appliances (“white goods”) manufacturer just made what analysts called an ‘incredibly high’ bid for German robot maker Kuka. This acquisition would take the Chinese investor right to the heart of Industry 4.0 : Kuka is a leading manufacturer of multifunctional robots that represent an important building block for enterprises upgrading their factories with full automation, the latest human-machine interface functionality, and machine-to-machine communication. Midea want a 30% stake in Kuka and have offered €115 per share. Kuka’s shares traded at €84 the day before and had already increased 60% since the beginning of the year. This offer values Kuka at €4.6 billion, which means Midea’s 30% stake would be worth €1.4 billion – on par with Beijing Enterprise’s February 2016 takeover of recycling company EEW which was the largest Chinese acquisition of a German firm to-date.

Midea’s takeover bid underscores Chinese interest in German Industry 4.0 technology; in January 2016, ChemChina paid €925 million for Munich-based KraussMaffei machine tools, in part because of their advances into Industry 4.0. Recent smaller Chinese acquisitions in the German machine tool industry, which include the partial acquisitions of H.Stoll by the ShangGong Group and of Manz by the Shanghai Electric Group are, in part, motivated by the objective to partake in the latest Industry 4.0 developments.  Cont'd...

Tether free actuator hailed as soft robotics breakthrough

Jon Excell for The Engineer:  Designed by a team at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, the new device is claimed to have considerable advantages over existing pneumatically-powered soft actuators as it doesn’t require a tether.

The device consists of a dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA): a membrane made of hyperelastic material like a latex balloon, with flexible (or ‘compliant’) electrodes attached to each side.

The stretching of the membrane is regulated by means of an electric field between the electrodes, as the electrodes attract each other and squeeze the membrane when voltage is applied. By attaching multiple such membranes, the place of deformation can be shifted controllably in the system. Air is displaced between two chambers.

The membrane material has two stable states. In other words, it can have two different volume configurations at a given pressure without the need to minimize the larger volume. Thanks to this bi-stable state, the researchers are able to move air between a more highly inflated chamber and a less inflated one. They do this by applying an electric current to the membrane of the smaller chamber which responds by stretching and sucking air out of the other bubble.  Cont'd...

These Five Exponential Trends Are Accelerating Robotics

Alison E. Berman for Singularity Hub:  If you've been staying on top of artificial intelligence news lately, you may know that the games of chess and Go were two of the grand challenges for AI. But do you know what the equivalent is for robotics? It's table tennis. Just think about how the game requires razor sharp perception and movement, a tall order for a machine.

As entertaining as human vs. robot games can be, what they actually demonstrate is much more important. They test the technology's readiness for practical applications in the real world—like self-driving cars that can navigate around unexpected people in a street.

Though we used to think of robots as clunky machines for repetitive factory tasks, a slew of new technologies are making robots faster, stronger, cheaper, and even perceptive, so that they can understand and engage with their surrounding environments. Consider Boston Dynamic’s Atlas Robot, which can walk through snow, move boxes, endure a hefty blow with a hockey stick by an aggressive colleague, and even regain its feet when knocked down. Not too long ago, such tasks were unthinkable for a robot.

At the Exponential Manufacturing conference, robotics expert and director of Columbia University’s Creative Machine Labs, Hod Lipson, examined five exponential trends shaping and accelerating the future of the robotics industry.   Cont'd...

The US service-sector jobs at risk from a robot revolution

Sam Fleming for Financial Times:  When Andy Puzder, chief executive of restaurant chains Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s, said in March that rising employment costs could drive the spread of automation in the fast-food sector, he tapped into a growing anxiety in the US.

From touchscreen ordering systems to burger-flipping robots and self-driving trucks, automation is stalking an increasing number of professions in the country’s service sector, which employs the vast majority of the workforce.

Two-fifths of US employees are in occupations where at least half their time is spent doing activities that could be automated by adapting technology already available, according to research from the McKinsey Global Institute. These include the three biggest occupations in the country: retail salespeople, store cashiers and workers preparing and serving food, collectively totalling well over 10m people.

Yet evidence of human obsolescence is conspicuous by its absence in the US’s economic statistics. The country is in the midst of its longest private-sector hiring spree on record, adding 14.4m jobs over 73 straight months, and productivity grew only 1.4 per cent a year from 2007 to 2014, compared with 2.2 per cent from 1953 to 2007. Those three big occupations all grew 1-3 per cent from 2014 to 2015.  Cont'd...

Innovators offered chance to develop their ideas with world leading robotics manufacturer ABB Robotics

Full Press Release:  The IdeaHub, is once again recruiting robotics and software innovators worldwide to take on the challenge of improving the way we work and interact with the next generation of industrial robots. Working on behalf of ABB Robotics, IdeaHub will help successful applicants pitch their ideas and secure uniquely tailored support packages to maximise their venture's commercial potential, including investment, mentoring and access to cutting edge hardware. 
The IdeaHub is a cross sector, open innovation platform that connects visionaries worldwide with funding and support from global corporations. In 2015 they ran their first programme for ABB Robotics, attracting over 130 applicants with 12 finalists selected for a pitch day in London, with 6 entrepreneurs receiving an offer of support. For 2016 they are partnering with ABB Robotics once again to bring more solutions to solve three core challenges in the world collaborative industrial robotics: 
1.) Simplicity: How to simplify robotics 
2.) Intelligence: How to enable robots to learn and apply that learning
3.) Digitalization: How smart 
connectivity will enhance digital factories. 

Obama and Merkel open HANNOVER MESSE

"We want to build on the spirit of innovation in the USA," said POTUS Barack Obama in his opening speech. This spirit has been driven by Germany and HANNOVER MESSE, especially over the past 70 years. Obama added that the USA has now created new production facilities, subsidy schemes and jobs in recent years to help reach this goal.

In what is likely his last visit to Germany as President, Obama spoke in particular about the TTIP free trade agreement. He believes that there are too many obstacles restricting trade between the EU and the USA. Different regulations and standards lead to higher costs. Therefore, one of TTIP's aims is to establish harmonized high standards.

Obama also promoted the USA as a production location for European companies. Angela Merkel gladly took the opportunity to respond:  "We love competition. But we also like to win,"  replied the German Chancellor.

A challenge with a smile. In her speech, Merkel emphasized that cooperation is essential for the future of industrial production - in a transatlantic partnership. "We in the EU want to lead the way, together with the USA," said the Chancellor, referring above all to the development of global communication and IT standards for integrated industry.

However, the opening ceremony at HANNOVER MESSE 2016 was more than a meeting of Heads of State. Amidst musical numbers and dance performances by humans and machines, German Minister for Education and Research, Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, presented the coveted HERMES AWARD for industrial innovation. This year's winner is the Harting Group with its intelligent communication module, MICA.  Cont'd...

Dmitry Grishin Doubles Down on Robotics With New $100 Million Fund

Erico Guizzo for IEEE Spectrum:  Nearly four years ago, Dmitry Grishin launched a US $25 million fund to invest exclusively in consumer robots. Grishin, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Mail.ru, the Russian Internet giant, believed that robotics was going to be one of the next big technology revolutions, and he was willing to put his money where his mouth was.

Now the Russian investor is ready to double down on his vision. Or actuallydouble double down. Grishin Robotics has recently announced a second fund four times as large as the original one. The new $100 million fund will seek Series A and B deals and expand its focus to include startups in markets like connected devices, collaborative and material-handling robots, AI and data analytics, and industrial Internet of Things.  Cont'd...

9 open source robotics projects

Jason Baker for OpenSource:  Open source isn't just changing the way we interact with the world, it's changing the way the world interacts back with us. Case in point: open source robotics.

Robots are playing an increasing role in our world, and while we perhaps haven't reached the utopian future with robotic housekeepers imagined for us in the Jetsons, robotics are making advances in fields that fifty years ago would have been completely unimaginable.

While undoubtedly manufacturing has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the robot renaissance, we are seeing robots enter the mainstream as well. Many of us have robots that clean our floors, clear our gutters, mow our grass, and more.

And now, with the advances of self driving cars, drones, and other transport technologies, the line between what is a robot and what is a vehicle is steadily blurring.

But let's be honest: a lot of us have an interest in robotics simply because it's fun! And the good news is you don't need to be an electrical engineer to enjoy robotics as a hobby. Fortunately, there are a number of open source projects out there that can help even the most novice beginner get started.  Full Article:

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