Robotics, reshoring, and American jobs

By Charles Orlowek for The Hill:  Good news?   Boston Consulting Group foresees more large manufacturers boosting production for the American market by adding capacity in the U.S. itself, compared with any other country.  It cites “decreasing costs and improved capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies such as robotics."  Under this optimistic scenario, how much value would American workers add?  When robotics and other automation gets built for, and installed in American workplaces, where are jobs created?   

Increasingly, these jobs are being created and sustained outside the United States, even for domestic factories.   

The first industrial robots were developed and manufactured by Americans, and General Motors became the first user, in 1961.  Over recent decades, however, the domestic robot industry has declined.   A Commerce Department national security assessment from 1991 asserted that American robot manufacturers lost market share throughout the 1980s, with shipments of U.S.-manufactured robots falling by 33 percent between 1984 and 1989, despite robust domestic demand and a weak dollar.   Cont'd...

Looking for a few good robots

By Adam Zewe for Harvard News:  If you have a soft spot for robotics, this competition is right up your alley.

The 2016 Soft Robotics Competitions offer anyone with an interest in robotics the chance to design and build their own soft robot using the resources available in the open-source Soft Robotics Toolkit.

Now in its second year, the competition was developed by Conor Walsh, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Dónal Holland, visiting lecturer in engineering sciences, as a way to encourage individuals to take advantage of the resources provided in the Soft Robotics Toolkit.

The toolkit, which incorporates contributions from researchers from Harvard and other institutions, provides a set of intellectual tools that one can use to design and construct a robot using soft, flexible materials. It includes resources such as step-by-step instructions on building actuators and sensors, lists of suggested materials, and how-to fabrication videos.

The ultimate goal of the competition is to encourage others to find innovative applications for soft robotics technology and continue expanding interest in this relatively new field.  Cont'd...

The Segway Robot

Segway announcement from CES:

A Segway that sees the world and a robot that gives you a ride. Segway Robot can navigate and follow, and he is extendable with many exciting possibilities. The future is interesting...

... We target to start shipping Segway Robot Developer Edition in early Q3 2016. It will come with a full SDK. Whether you are creating for yourself or are interested in developing new skills and content, the SDK is for you. With the purchase of the Segway Robot Developer Edition, you will be enrolled in the Segway Robot Developer Program and have direct access to support and advice from our team... (more details)

Lego's classroom robotics kit goes wireless

Ross Miller for The Verge:   Lego's entry-level robotics set is getting an overhaul. The brickmaker today is announcing WeDo 2.0 for elementary classrooms, which will both teach science-related concepts and, more importantly, let children build and program Lego robots.

Designed to teach engineering and science, Lego Education's WeDo 2.0 kits contain about 280 Lego pieces, which also includes motion / tilt sensors and a motor. The new version eschews USB tethering for Bluetooth LE-powered "smarthub" brick that connects the sensors to a tablet or PC / Mac app. (The new version also has a more cohesive, more appealing color palette for all the bricks.) Each app includes a set of lessons, which tie in science concepts with a classic Lego construction manual. WeDo has a very simple drag-and-drop coding interface that lets students (or, to be honest, very enthusiastic adults) program basic functions. You can also, of course, just ignore the instructions entirely and build / program your own pastel robot.  Cont'd...

Space Bots & Android Waste Collectors: What's Ahead for Robotics

By Elizabeth Palermo for LiveScience:  It was a good year to be a robot.

In 2015, researchers in Korea unveiled a robotic exoskeleton that users can control with their minds, a four-legged bot in China set a new world record by walking 83.28 miles (134.03 km) without stopping and 3D-printing robots in Amsterdam started work on a new steel footbridge.

But these smart machines are capable of so much more. Researchers around the world are now designing and building bots that will complete more noteworthy tasks in 2016 and beyond. From exploring other planets to fighting fires at sea, here are a few skills that bots could pick up in the new year.  Full Article:  

The artist who turned his dead cat into a drone is now building a helicopter out of a cow

From Business Insider:

It all started in 2012, when his cat Orville got hit by a car. Jansen decided it would be a shame to simply bury his late feline friend, so he drew inspiration from his pet's namesake — Orville Wright, one of the Wright Brothers, the inventors of heavier-than-air flight. Jansen gutted Orville, preserved him, and turned him into a custom quadcopter...

... When a friend offered him a dead badger, he immediately accepted and soon settled on a use for it: a submarine. The project is called "Das Boot," a play on the famous German U-boat film "Das Boot," as well as the Dutch word for "badger" — "das." (full story)

What Robots and AI Learned in 2015

By Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  The  robots didn’t really take over in 2015, but at times it felt as if that might be where we’re headed.

There were signs that machines will soon take over manual work that currently requires human skill. Early in the year details emerged of a contest organized by Amazon to help robots do more work inside its vast product fulfillment centers.

The Amazon Picking challenge, as the event was called, was held at a prominent robotics conference later in the year. Teams competed for a $25,000 prize by designing a robot to identify and grasp items from one of Amazon’s storage shelves as quickly as possible (the winner picked and packed 10 items in 20 minutes). This might seem a trivial task for human workers, but figuring out how to grasp different objects arranged haphazardly on shelves in a real warehouse is still a formidable challenge for robot-kind.  Cont'd...

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.

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