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...

MIP Robotics Launches Its First Model of New Generation Industrial Robot "MIP Junior",

MIP robotics is a startup founded in 2015 and based on research conducted for many years. The company aims to provide accessible, industrial robots, especially for SMIs (small and medium industries). In other words, like 3D printing in recent years, MIP wants to democratize industrial robotics.

The robots can be used to automate repetitive, arduous or dangerous tasks; indeed it is possible to set the standard gripper arms: suction cup, hook, screwdriver, blade etc. Application examples are numerous: storing goods in cartons, checking the tightening torque, making the automated cutting, removing non-compliant products etc. MIP allows its customers to increase their productivity (and hence margins) in order to improve the quality or reduce the hardship. The investment can be made profitable in only 6 month.

The "Junior " is a robot called "SCARA" (that is to say a horizontal arm) operating on a range of 600mm and fixed on a vertical axis in a standard 400mm high. These dimensions can be adjusted on demand. Its speed reaches up to 250mm/s with an accuracy of 0.5mm and can move up to 5kg. Junior is also characterized by its ease of use: for instance you can teach the robot the movements to be carried out by manually moving the robotic arm. Finally, the robot stops in case of impact, enabling collaborative applications if all safety conditions are met. While prices often start around €20,000 on the market, Junior is available from €8000.  Full Press Release:

Drake: Robotics Planning, Control And Analysis Toolbox

From MIT:

Drake ("dragon" in Middle English) is a toolbox maintained by the Robot Locomotion Group at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). It is a collection of tools for analyzing the dynamics of our robots and building control systems for them in MATLAB and C++, with a heavy emphasis on optimization-based design/analysis. Here is a quick summary of capabilities:

Simulation

  • Rigid-body dynamics including contact/collisions (hybrid+LCP) and kinematic loops
  • Basic aerodynamics/fluid dynamics
  • Sensor models (lidar, depth camera, imu, contact force/torque; cameras coming soon)
  • Hand-derived models for many canonical control dynamical systems
  • Easily add your own models/components
  • Some support for stochastic models
  • For all of the above we aim to expose sparsity and provide analytical gradients / symbolic analysis
  • Primary limitations: code is optimized for analysis / planning / control design (as opposed to speed, generality)...

​... Most of these models/tools are described in the companion textbook from an MIT course/MOOC. We've also recently started populating the Drake Gallery (contributions welcome!)... (git repo)

ABB's largest ever robot is 25 percent faster than competitor robots in high payload range

ABB has introduced its highest payload, multipurpose industrial robot, the IRB 8700. The robot has a reach of 3.5 meters and is capable of handling a payload of up to 800 kg (1000 kg with the wrist down; 630 kg with LeanID). Designed for the ultimate in uptime, reliability and reduced maintenance, the IRB 8700 provides the lowest total cost of ownership among competitor high payload robot models. The new robot is targeted for material handling applications in the automotive, transportation and other heavy industries.

“When designing the IRB 8700, we focused on combining ABB’s largest ever model with an unusually long reach for a robot in the high payload class,” said John Bubnikovich, vice president, sales and marketing, ABB Robotics North America. “Utilizing ABB’s superior motion control technology at high moments of inertia, the new robot automatically adapts and adjusts its speed to accommodate heavy and wide parts. With a compact footprint, optimized counterweight, parallel linkages, stiff axes and fewer drive motors, the IRB 8700 keeps its momentum down and speed up, providing unmatched agility and performance.”

The IRB 8700, ABB’s largest ever robot offers all the functionality and expertise of the ABB portfolio in a much bigger package. The robot has only one motor and one gear per robot axis, while most other robots in this size class use dual motors and/or gears. In addition, there are no gas springs; only a reliable counterweight and mechanical springs for counter balancing. Together these design elements mean the IRB 8700 has fewer components and is able to deliver shorter cycle times and higher accuracy – making it 25% faster than any comparable competitor robots in its payload range.  Full Press Release:

Amazon's robotics group asked the FCC to test special wireless equipment

Jillian D'Onfro for Business Insider:  Amazon is ramping up its robotics efforts and testing new technology that could make it safer to operate the fleet of robots toiling in its warehouses, according to recent FCC filings. 

The FCC gave Amazon Robotics an expedited experimental license to test a "proximity sensing system" that the company hopes to deploy in fulfillment centers outside the U.S.

Amazon Robotics "seeks to evaluate radiolocation technology to be used in the operation of robotics in fulfillment centers outside the United States," the company said in the filing, the first such FCC filing by Amazon Robotics.

While Amazon stresses that the technology is strictly for internal use, and not something it intends to sell to "end users," the filing underscores the company's increasing investment and innovation in robotics, which has the potential to transform a broad swath of industrial and consumer markets.   Cont'd...

 

There's a five-story vending machine dispensing used cars in Nashville

From Mashable:

That's right; online used car retailer Carvana has officially unveiled its first vending machine completely stocked with cars. Standing at five stories tall, the coin-operated (yes, really) glass tower vending machine can house as many as 20 used cars at a time. The facility also includes a welcome center and three customer delivery bays to which the cars are dispensed... (full story)

 

Simbe Robotics launches new retail robot

By Silicon Valley Robotics via Robohub:  The area of service robotics is getting active, with a new retail robot startup launching today. Tally is one of several robotics startups launching today at Haxlr8r’s 7th Demo Day. Tally is an inventory tracking robot platform fromSimbe Robotics and the “world’s first robotic autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution” according to the press release.

Tally is in trials with several North American retailers and will traverse aisles scanning and auditing merchandise to help stores maintain ideal product placement, fill inventory gaps, and find misplaced or mispriced items. Tally is also capable of autonomously returning to base to charge.

“When it comes to the retail industry, shopper experience is everything. If a product is unavailable at the time the shopper wants to buy it, the retailer has missed an opportunity and disappointed their customer,” according to Brad Bogolea, CEO and Co-founder of Simbe Robotics. “Tally helps retailers address these challenges by providing more precise and timely analysis of the state of in-store merchandise and freeing up staff to focus on customer service.”  Cont'd...

Toyota Invests $1 Billion in AI and Robots, Will Open R&D Lab in Silicon Valley

By Erico Guizzo and Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  Today in Tokyo, Toyota announced that it is investing US $1 billion over the next five years to establish a new R&D arm headquartered in Silicon Valley and focused on artificial intelligence and robotics. The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) plans to hire hundreds of engineers to staff a main facility in Palo Alto, Calif., near Stanford University, and a second facility located near MIT in Cambridge, Mass.
Former DARPA program manager Dr. Gill Pratt, an executive technical advisor at Toyota, was named CEO of TRI, which will begin operations in January. Toyota president Akio Toyoda said in a press conference that the company pursues innovation and new technologies “to make life better for our customers and society as a whole,” adding that he wanted to “work with Gill not just because he’s an amazing researcher and engineer, but because I believe his goals and motivations are the same as ours.”  Cont'd...

Skype founders invent self-driving robot that can deliver groceries for £1

By Sophie Curtis, video by Robert Midgley:  You've heard of Amazon's plan to deliver packages using drones; now a new company called Starship is promising to disrupt local delivery with the launch of a self-driving robot that can deliver groceries to customers' doors in under 30 minutes for less than £1.

The Starship robot has been developed by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. It drives on pavements at an average speed of 4mph, and uses proprietary mapping and navigation technology to avoid crashing into obstacles, (check out the video we made).  Cont'd...

 

UCSD to create robots that see, think and do

By Gary Robbins for the San Diego Union Tribune:  UC San Diego is creating a robotics institute that will develop machines that can interpret everything from subtle facial expressions to walking styles to size up what people are thinking, doing and feeling.

The “See-Think-Do” technology is largely meant to anticipate and fulfill people’s everyday needs, especially the soaring number of older Americans who want to live out their lives in their own homes.

Engineers envision robots that are so good at sizing up people, places and situations that they could help evacuate crowds from dangerous areas and pick through the rubble of an earthquake to look for survivors.

The newly created Contextual Robotics Institute will be formally announced on Friday when some of the nation’s top scientists meet at UC San Diego to discuss the future of robotics. The campus has already lined up support from such San Diego companies as Qualcomm, which needs new markets for its computer chips, and Northrop Grumman, which develops unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Our plan is to do the research and development that’s needed to realize robots of the future — robots that are safe, useful and autonomous in any environment,” said Albert Pisano, dean of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering.  Cont'd...

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