Watch these robotic 'reindeer' from Boston Dynamics pull Santa's sleigh

By Lulu Chang for Digital Trends:  We’re going to rewrite Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, because now, it’s robotic dogs that are pulling Santa’s sleigh. In a rather frightening video, Google-owned robotics design firm Boston Dynamics has shown us the future of Christmas, and it’s plenty progressive, complete with machines and female Santas. I can get behind that sort of holiday, I think.

Of course, the Internet wasn’t so sure. And to be fair, the dog-like robots are a bit frightening. Large and, well, headless, these machines seem to hearken more to the Thestrals (the skeletal winged horses visible only to those who’ve witnessed death) of Harry Potter’s universe than the adorable reindeer that are supposed to transport jolly Saint Nick to and from the North Pole.

CES 2016 - Autonomous Cars Set To Dominate

BY DAVID GILBERT For International Business Times:  As cars become less about horsepower and torque and more about the technology inside, CES has become one of the most important showcases of the year for auto manufacturers. It's a sea change in how cars are built and marketed, with technology now the core, rather than an added feature. Connected, autonomous and electric vehicles will all be on display at CES 2016, with some of the world’s most talk-about companies in the field looking to make a major impact.

First up will be Faraday Future, the secretive startup based in Los Angeles and backed by a Chinese billionaire. It is set to unveil its first ever concept design on Jan. 4, and while all the company has said so far is that it will be an electric vehicle, it is widely believed to feature autonomous capabilities.

While Faraday Future is a relative unknown, one of the world’s biggest automotive companies, Ford, will also be at CES announcing news about the autonomous car it has been testing internally for several years. Among the announcements expected is apartnership with Google to build some of Google’s fleet of self-driving cars.  Cont'd...

Google Attracts Top U.S. Automakers With Self-Driving Technology

Jack Clark for Bloomberg Business:  Google’s self-driving car technology is attracting top U.S. automakers, as Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors talk with the company while laying the groundwork for a future with autonomous cars.

Ford Motor Co. and Google are discussing working together, including in a joint venture to build cars using Google’s technology, said a person familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

That follows comments in October from Mark Reuss, product development chief for General Motors Co., that the automaker was “very interested” in exploring ways its manufacturing skills could complement Google’s system. Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, has said repeatedly the past few months that his company wants to work on autonomous driving with technology companies such as Apple Inc. and Google.

“We are entering the era of the technology and software-defined vehicle,” said Thilo Koslowski, a vice president in the automotive practice at Gartner Inc. “You’re just seeing the auto industry recognize the importance of that.”  Cont'd...

Google to incubate its robotics and drone divisions under Google X

By Mike Wheatley for SiliconAngle:  Google is planning an organizational reshuffle that will see its secretive robotics department and drone business folded into its Google X labs.

Google’s robotics division, and the drone group it created when it acquired Titan Aerospace in 2014, will both fall under the Google X umbrella when the reshuffle takes place some time next year, Re/Code reported.

Google X is the secretive part of Google that develops some of its most futuristic, bleeding edge technologies. These include its famous self-driving cars, Project Loon (Wi-Fi hot air balloons), and its airborne wind turbines. Google X operates as a standalone company under Google’s parent Alphabet Inc., which was created following Google’s corporate restructuring earlier this year.

Google X’s projects are largely experimental and extremely uncertain in terms of a business model. Nevertheless, Google obviously deems it the best place to be for its robotics division, which has been left leaderless ever since Andy Rubin quit the Web giant last year. Previously, there was speculation that the robotics division may become a standalone company under Alphabet, but today’s news would indicate that’s not going to happen any time soon.  Cont'd...

Drone Light Painting - The Christmas Edit

From Ascending Technologies' blog:

The moves of the LED drone were shot while taking a long exposure photograph of every scene. Up to 10 minutes exposure time were needed. Additionally the flights have been filmed with an A7S Mark ii. In post processing the stills from the original drone flights were visualized via VFX and combined with further video footage.
The Drone Light Painting flights have been performed at airspeeds of 2 m/s with the patented V-Form Octocopter AscTec Falcon 8. Santa Claus throwing the presents into the chimneys and the snowflakes in the starting sequence of course are animated GIFs, yet based on flown paintings. Probably it was possible to do any drone light painting you like... (more)

Four Market Forces That Will Shape Robotics Over The Next Year

Richard Mahoney for TechCrunch:  As 2016 approaches, robotics is poised to traverse from a narrow set of industrial and military use cases to broader market applications that include commercial drones, telepresence robots, delivery robots and, of course, mobile vacuum cleaners.

But, are robots ready to be a part of our daily life?

Gill Pratt, a visionary who served as a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and oversaw the DARPA Robotics Challenge, postulated earlier this year that robotics might soon be headed for a “Cambrian Explosion.”

The term refers to a period of time roughly half a billion years ago when the numbers and diversity of animals became critical to evolution.  Pratt offered that technology developments are ushering in a similar upsurge in the diversification and applicability of robotics.  Cont'd...

'Rushing into robotics revolution without considering impact,' warn scientists

From RT.com:  Governments should examine the effects of robotics on human civilization before automated machines leap “out of factories to automate all aspects of our lives,” a group of scientists warns.

The Foundation for Responsible Robotics, launched on Friday in London, aims to persuade governments and industries to look at the ways robots will impact on society. They want organizations to look at the way robots could disrupt the job market, and believe policymakers have so far failed researched the issue.

Robotics professor at Sheffield University and Chairman of the foundation Noel Sharkey said the potential problems must be considered.

“We are rushing headlong into the robotics revolution without consideration for the many unforeseen problems lying around the corner. It is time now to step back and think hard about the future of the technology before it sneaks up and bites us.”

Sharkey said growing numbers of robots are being used in the service industry, whereas historically robots have usually been used to automate factory work.  Cont'd...

Building the Steam Controller

From Valve:

When we first started designing hardware at Valve, we decided we wanted to try and do the manufacturing as well. To achieve our goal of a flexible controller, we felt it was important to have a similar amount of flexibility in our manufacturing process, and that meant looking into automated assembly lines. It turns out that most consumer hardware of this kind still has humans involved in stages throughout manufacturing, but we kind of went overboard, and built one of the largest fully automated assembly lines in the US. Our film crew recently put together a video of that assembly line, showcasing exactly why robots are awesome.

'Darwin' the thinking robot teaches itself how to walk, just like a child

Andre Mitchell for ChristianToday:  Just like a real human toddler, a robot is learning how to take baby steps inside a laboratory at the University of California Berkeley.

The state-of-the-art robot mimics the behaviour of a child so realistically that it also falls as it attempts to take its first steps.

What is even more impressive is that the robot, nicknamed "Darwin," is actually teaching itself how to walk, much like a little child.

The robot's developers, Pieter Abbeel and his team at UC Berkeley's Robot Learning Lab, explained that Darwin is not like other robots that are programmed to do only a set of things.

This robot has a neural network designed to mimic the human brain, through which it undergoes the process called "reinforcement learning."

"Imagine learning a new skill, like how to ride a bike. You're going to fall a lot, but then, after some practice, you figure it out," one of Darwin's developers, computer scientist John Schulman, explained in an article on NBC News.  Cont'd...

IREX - Meet the Japanese robots that do what humans can't

By Sam Byford for The Verge:  Nearly half the jobs in Japan could be performed by robots in a decade or two, according to a recent study by Nomura Research Institute. If that's the case, then the International Robot Exhibition — IREX for short — is going to be the best place possible to get a glimpse of Japan's future.

Held in Tokyo once every two years since 1973, IREX is the biggest robot show in the world, and it features everything from cute communication bots to immensely powerful industrial machinery. Companies like Fanuc, which makes robot factory equipment used by Apple and Tesla but generally stays out of the spotlight, take center stage at IREX to demonstrate how effortlessly their articulated arms can pick up entire cars.

It's a show where online video companies' dancing idol robots rub shoulders with government-sponsored androids designed to save lives in natural disasters. As you might imagine, it's quite the place to walk around.  Cont'd...

Road to Robotic Parking Is Littered With Faulty Projects

From New York Times:

It seemed like the perfect night life accessory for the South Beach set — an automated robotic parking garage where trendy clubgoers could park their Porsches with a futuristic touch of a button.

Forget hiding your GPS and favorite Fendi sunglasses from a valet who might ding your new alloy wheels; this garage would park cars itself.

Instead, malfunctions lasted for hours. Cars were smashed, and faulty machinery fell several stories to the ground. Sometimes vehicles were stuck for so long that garage operators had to pay for customers’ taxis... (full story)

 

Father of Robotics Joseph F. Engelberger Dies at Age 90

Joseph F. Engelberger, an engineer and entrepreneur who pioneered the robotics field, died peacefully at his home this morning, December 1, 2015, in Newtown, Connecticut. Engelberger - widely known as the "Father of Robotics" and creator of the world's first industrial robot - revolutionized modern industrial and automotive manufacturing processes and went on to establish robotics in human services. Engelberger was 90 years old. 

Engelberger, an industry advocate, author, and international ambassador for robotics, founded Unimation, Inc., in 1956, the world's first industrial robotics manufacturer. Working closely with inventor George Devol, he developed the first industrial robot in the U.S., called "Unimate", which was installed for industrial use in a General Motors plant in 1961. Since then, approximately three million industrial robots have been installed in manufacturing facilities around the world.   Full Press Release.

On Cyber Monday, Friendly Robots Are Helping Smaller Stores Chase Amazon

DAVEY ALBA for Wired:  Locus Robotics is an offshoot of Massachusetts-based Quiet Logistics, a third-party order fulfillment company that gets merchandise out the door for big apparel retailers like Zara, Gilt Groupe, and Bonobos. And the idea behind its bots isn’t just to replace humans, but to create a system where everyone can work together more efficiently.
What most people don’t realize in the age of push-button shopping is the “shopping” part doesn’t disappear. You the consumer are no longer at the store doing the physical work of tracking down the thing you want. But somebody still has to do it. For e-commerce, that task typically falls to a worker at a distribution center who must locate the product, make sure it’s not damaged, and send it off to be packed and shipped. This can be grueling, tedious work. More than anything else, it’s about walking. Lots of walking. Locus aims to have its bots do the walking instead.  Cont'd...
 

Drone giant DJI launches crop-spraying drone

From BBC:

Billion-dollar drone company DJI is expanding from consumer and camera drones into the agriculture industry.

The Chinese firm's latest model is a crop-spraying drone, which it claims is "40 times more efficient" than manual spraying, despite having just 12 minutes of flight time.

It will be released in China and Korea where hand-spraying is more common.

DJI made $500m (£332m) in drone sales in 2014 and some analysts predict the firm will hit $1bn in sales this year.

The Agras MG-1 has eight rotors and can carry up to 10kg of crop-spraying fluids per flight.

The foldable device is also dustproof, water-resistant and made of anti-corrosive materials, the firm says on its website (in Chinese).

Think You Know Industrial Robots? Think Again

Jim Lawton for Forbes:  Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and in my experience there’s no industry where that wisdom holds more true than manufacturing. I’m not a hardened cynic, just a pragmatist, having spent the majority of my career bringing technology that disrupts the status quo – from inventory optimization and managing risk in the supply base to collaborative robots. Manufacturers are among the most skeptical buyers and for good reason – what they do is hard, complex and things are done the way they are done because it’s been proven to work. There are times though when the opportunity to transform the business is so compelling that – as Drucker said – executives need to spend whatever time is necessary to tear down the cultural barriers that are getting in the way of the strategy that capitalizes on the moment.

In the category of robotics and industrial automation, now is one of those times. It’s been more than 50 years since Unimate went to work at a GM plant unloading heavy parts and welding them onto automobile frames. Manufacturing has changed a lot and today is on an evolutionary path toward the 4th industrial revolution. Unfortunately, while executives may be ready to move quickly toward the factories of the future for first mover advantage, many automation engineers remain entrenched in 20th century thinking about robots — when they were highly customized solutions, designed to perform one task over and over again, with a price tag to match.  Cont'd...

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