Earthbound Robots Today Need to Take Flight

Neil Tardella for IEEE Spectrum:  The DARPA Robotics Challenge this past summer showcased how far humanoid robots have come—but also how far they have yet to go before they can tackle real-world practical applications. Even the best of the DRC behemoths stumbled and fell down, proving, as IEEE Spectrum noted at the time, that “not walking is a big advantage.” There is, in fact, a new not-walking way for robots to perform many kinds of tasks better and faster: the dexterous drone. A lightweight flying platform with a robotic arm combines the strengths of two rapidly developing, parallel industries. Aerial drones like quadcopters and octocopters have in just the past few years emerged as a viable industrial and consumer product with substantial maneuverability, versatility, and durability. Yet the drones of today are mostly just flying bodies with no arms or hands.   Cont'd...

"It's quite large:" Exact Automation showcases world's largest robot

JULIE COLLINS for Fox 6 Now:  The world's largest robot is here in Milwaukee. But folks looking to get a glimpse of the giant piece of technology better act fast.With precision and ease, this robot can pick up an 800-pound motorcycle! "Well you can't help but be astounded by it, quite frankly. It's quite large," said James Schneberger with New Berlin Plastics, Inc. And it's right here in Milwaukee at Exact Automation. The company purchased the machine from FANUC -- a Japanese company. It arrived in November, but Exact Automation had work to do before it got here. "We had to pour new concrete in the building. We had to put 100,000 pound of concrete to prepare as a base for this robot because it weighs so much," said Exact Automation Owner Jim Mevis. Schneberger works around robots -- but nothing this large. Weighing in at 26,000 pounds, Schneberger is astonished at its size.   Cont'd...

Mobile Robotic Fabrication System for Filament Structures

From Maria Yablonina at ITECH: The project Mobile Robotic Fabrication System for Filament Structures, demonstrates a new production process for filament structures. It proposes multiple semi-autonomous wall climbing robots to distribute fiber filament, using any horizontal or vertical surface, or even existing architecture, to support the new structures. Compared to larger scale industrial robots that are limited by position and reach, these robots are enabled with movement systems and a collection of sensors that allow them to travel and interact accurately along typical ground, walls, roofs, and ceilings. One can imagine a fabrication process where an operator arrives to the scene with a suitcase housing all the necessary robots and materials to create a large structure. These agile mobile robotic systems move robotic fabrication processes beyond the constraints of the production hall, exposing vast urban and interior environments as potential fabrication sites... ( site )

SoftBank's Pepper Robots to Staff Tokyo Cell Phone Store

BY ANGELA MOSCARITOLO for PCMAG:  SoftBank is giving its Pepper robot a new job with some big responsibilities.  The Japanese telecom giant is planning to open a cell phone store in Tokyo this spring staffed primarily by Pepper robots, according to a report from The Japan Times. About five to six Pepper robots will run the store from March 28 through April 3, and be responsible for helping customers and making sales.  "I don't know how this will turn out, but it should be a quite interesting experiment," SoftBank CEO Ken Miyauchi told the newspaper.  The robots will be able to answer questions about different cell phone options, and when someone's ready to buy, they'll even attempt to complete the sale. SoftBank does plan to have humans at the ready to handle tasks Pepper can't yet do — like checking customer IDs when drawing up a new contract.   Cont'd...

HACKLET 93 - ROBOTICS TOOLKIT AND ESP8266 PACKET INJECTION

Adam Fabio for Hackaday:  [Kevin Harrington] loves robots, but hates reinventing the wheel every time he creates a new machine. He’s built BowlerStudio: A robotics development platform to combat this problem. BowlerStudio was asemifinalist in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. BowlerStudio is a soup-to-nuts platform for creating all sorts of robots. [Kevin] has integrated Computer Aided Design (CAD), 3D modeling, kinematics, machine vision, and a simulation engine complete with physics modeling into one whopper of a software package. To prove how versatile the system is, he designed a hexapod robot in the CAD portion of the program. The robot then taught itself to walk in the simulation. Once the design was 3D printed, the real robot walked right off the bread board. [Kevin] linked the hardware and software with DyIO, another of his projects. BowlerStudio is a huge boon for just about any robotics hacker, as well as educators. An entire curriculum could be created around the system. Thanks to its Java roots, BowlerStudio is also a multi-platform. [Kevin] has binaries ready to go for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu.   Cont'd...

Greenbot: Driverless Tractor

From Greenbot: The Greenbot was introduced at the Agritechnica 2015 trade fair. The Greenbot is the first driverless machine to be developed especially for professionals working in the green sector who have to carry out repetitive tasks on a regular basis, such as working in fruit cultivation, horticulture, agriculture, or the municipal sector.  The software that controls the fourwheel steering and hydraulic four-wheel drive system is userfriendly, safe and reliable. The Greenbot can be programmed to function fully independent and can be used to replicate tasks recorded in advance using a tractor with a driver. Programs can also be activated using the remote control, and then the Greenbot repeats the instructions. This mode is called ‘Teach & Playback’. The Greenbot is furthermore able to independently plan its own route and operations for specific applications, such as spraying orchards or mowing public green areas... ( site )

Is Velo3D Plotting a 3-D Printed Robot Revolution?

Tekla S. Perry for IEEE Spectrum:  Velo3D, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has $22.1 million in venture investment to do something in 3-D printing: That makes it fourth among 2015’s best-funded stealth-mode tech companies in the United States, according to CB Insights. This dollar number is about all the hard news that has come out of this startup, founded in 2014 by Benyamin Butler and Erel Milshtein. But job postings, talks at conferences, and other breadcrumbs left along Velo3D's development trail—has created a sketchy outline of this company’s plans. Consider which 3-D printing technology is ready for disruption: metal. 3-D printing of plastics took off after 2009, when a key patent that covered the deposition technology expired; we now have desktop printers for 3-D plastic objects as cheap as $350. Printing of metal objects—done regularly in industry, particularly aerospace—uses a different, and, to date, far more expensive technology: selective laser sintering. This technology melts metal powders into solid shapes; it requires high temperatures, and far more complicated equipment than what’s found in the layering sort of printers used for plastic. The patent for this technology expired in early 2014—just before the formation of Velo3D. At the time, industry experts indicated that there wouldn’t be cheap metal printers coming anytime soon, but rather, would only come after “a significant breakthrough on the materials side,” OpenSLS’s Andreas Bastian told GigaOm in 2014. Could Velo3D’s founders have that breakthrough figured out?   Cont'd...

Experts At Davos Say Weaponized Artificial Intelligence Robots Are Dangerous

Matt Dayo for STGist:  This may sound like science fiction, or the plot of a Marvel movie, but AFP is reporting that scientists and arms experts in attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland have issued a dire warning saying that robots with advanced artificial intelligence (or AI robots) could one day join wars and kill many people. A former United Nations Disarmament Affairs representative, Angela Kane, has told a forum in Davos that there are many countries that don’t understand what is involved and the development of such technology is limited to a certain number of rich and advanced nations. Kane and other experts at the debate say rules must be agreed to prevent the development of these killer AI robots.  But at one point during the debate, Kane said “it may be too late.”   Cont'd...

A problem-solving approach IT workers should learn from robotics engineers

Greg Nichols  for ZDNet:  Google-owned Boston Dynamics got some bad news in the final days of 2015.  After years of development and intensive field trials, the Massachusetts-based robotics company learned that the U.S. Marines had decided to reject its four-legged robotic mule, Big Dog. The reason? The thing is too damn noisy for combat, where close quarters and the occasional need for stealth make excess machine noise a liability. The setback reminded me of a story another group of robotics engineers told me about the development of their breakthrough machine, a robotic exoskeleton that enables paraplegics to walk and soldiers to hump heavy packs without wearing down. It also reminded me of a powerful approach to solving problems and dealing with setbacks that I've encountered again and again reporting on robotics. Ekso Bionics, which went public in 2015, invented the first viable untethered exoskeleton, one that doesn't need to be plugged into an external power source. Their achievement rests on one engineering breakthrough in particular, and to arrive at it Ekso's engineers had to do something that's surprisingly difficult but incredibly instructive for non-engineers--they had to change the way they thought about their problem.   Cont'd...  

Factory Automation Will Speed Forward with A.I., Says Bernstein

By Tiernan Ray for Barron's:  Bernstein Research’s Alberto Moel, who follows tech-industrial companies such as Corning(GLW) and AU Optronics (AUO), this afternoon offered up a thinks piece on robotics andfactory automation, arguing that some of the costs of automation beyond the basic cost of the robot are about to get dramatically cheaper, thanks in large part to artificial intelligence akin to what Alphabet (GOOGL) and others are doing. Moel notes that the basic components of factory robots are only falling by perhaps 6% per year, their cost reduction bounded by things such as casings and servomotors and reduction gears that don’t rapidly fall in cost. But, writes Moel, the cost to install and adjust these machines on a factory floor is ten times their component cost and that stuff can be reduced more dramatically: How much this integration costs varies widely. An often-cited rule of thumb is that a $50,000 robot will need $500,000 of integration costs before it is all said and done. Of course, these integration costs can be amortized over many robots, so perhaps a better estimate would be 3-5x the robot cost [...] But I do believe we are at an inflection pointthat will materially increase the capability of automation systems and substantially reduce programming, setup, and fixturing costs which are the largest cost element in most automation efforts. So instead of a measly 6% YoY cost reduction , we get 25-30% YoY declines, and automation Nirvana.   Cont'd.. .

Alphabet Shakes Up Its Robotics Division

From The New York Times: Google’s robotics division has been plagued by low morale and a lack of leadership since the unit’s founder left abruptly in 2014. Now Alphabet is cleaning it up. Over the last two months, Alphabet, the new holding company that separated Google from its collection of speculative projects, has reframed the robots effort, moving it from a stand-alone division inside Google to a piece of the X research division. The company has also hired Hans Peter Brondmo, a technology industry veteran who last worked at Nokia, to help with management... ... After starting the robotics division, Mr. Rubin quickly went on a buying spree, purchasing a number of promising companies, including Boston Dynamics, the of experimental military robots, and Schaft, an elite group of Japanese roboticists from the University of Tokyo... ... Google’s robotics effort stalled after his departure, going through a variety of leaders, including James Kuffner, a Carnegie Mellon roboticist who has since joined Toyota’s research and development laboratory in Palo Alto, and Jonathan Rosenberg, who is a troubleshooter for Larry Page, the Google co-founder who is Alphabet’s chief executive... ( full article )

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...

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