Microbots: Microsoft's multi-pronged robotics play takes shape

Mary Jo Foley for All About Microsoft:  In the early 2000s, Microsoft was all-in on robotics. By the middle of that decade, the company seemingly had all but abandoned the robotics space.

But this may be the year that Microsoft may be ready to get back into robotics, on multiple fronts.

When Microsoft founder Bill Gates was still involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, robotics was slated to be one of Microsoft's next big things. Microsoft built a programming model and framework for developers working on anything from Lego robots to industrial-scale robots. However, that product, "Microsoft Robotics Studio," never really went beyond the academic and hobbyist communities and the company's ambitions in this space withered.

Cut to 2017. These days, the home for a good chunk of the Microsoft current robotics work is apparently in Microsoft Research (MSR) -- specifically in the AI + Research (AI+R) Group under executive vice president Harry Shum. (I say "apparently" here because Microsoft officials declined to answer any of my questions on the company's robotics initiatives.) Shum is known for his work in computer vision and graphics and has a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon.  Cont'd...

Swarm of Underwater Robots Mimics Ocean Life

UCSD:  Underwater robots developed by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego offer scientists an extraordinary new tool to study ocean currents and the tiny creatures they transport. Swarms of these underwater robots helped answer some basic questions about the most abundant life forms in the ocean—plankton.

Scripps research oceanographer Jules Jaffe designed and built the miniature autonomous underwater explorers, or M-AUEs, to study small-scale environmental processes taking place in the ocean. The ocean-probing instruments are equipped with temperature and other sensors to measure the surrounding ocean conditions while the robots “swim” up and down to maintain a constant depth by adjusting their buoyancy. The M-AUEs could potentially be deployed in swarms of hundreds to thousands to capture a three-dimensional view of the interactions between ocean currents and marine life.  Cont'd...

360° Optics Tutorial

Enabling a full object view with just one camera.

Robotics, artificial intelligence, and 5G are at the heart of Theresa May's new industrial strategy

Oscar Williams-Grut for Business Insider:  The government is putting cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G wireless internet, "smart" energy technology, and robotics at the heart of its new post-Brexit industrial strategy.

Theresa May is set to launch the government's "Modern Industrial Strategy" on Monday at a regional meeting of the cabinet in the North West.

The Prime Minister announced in a release on Sunday evening that the strategy would be focused around ten key strategic pillars, the first of which is: "Investing in science, research, and innovation."  Cont'd...

Car Work: The Long-Term View of Autonomous Transportation

The logical question arises then--if the thing is going to pick me up and take me from point A to Point B; why even buy a car, since 90 plus percent of the time it's just sitting and losing value?

RTOS 101: Semaphores and Queues

The use of a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) is increasingly common in embedded software designs.

Segway's 'mobility robot platform' to begin mass production

Liu Zheng for China Daily:  A China-made mobile robot is set to begin mass production for consumers later this year.

Ninebot (Beijing) Tech Co Ltd, backed by Smartphone maker Xiaomi, unveiled its self-balancing two-wheeled robot on Thursday in Beijing.

Named "Loomo", the robot was transformed from the Ninebot Mini series scooter, which was first launched in October 2015, months after the company made an announcement to acquire the 12-year-old US-based balancing-scooter pioneer Segway Inc, and became one of the largest patent holders in the industry.

The acquisition followed an $80 million investment in Ninebot by Xiaomi, Sequoia Capital and other investors.  Cont'd...

Artificial fingertip that 'feels' wins international robotics competition

Phys.org:  An open-source 3D-printed fingertip that can 'feel' in a similar way to the human sense of touch has won an international Soft Robotics competition for its contribution to soft robotics research.

Pushing the boundaries of soft robotics, the open-source tactile fingertip, known as TacTip, is a 3D-printed tactile sensor that has been developed by the Tactile Robotics Team from Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).

The fingertip meets the need for a cheap, robust, versatile tactile sensor to give robots an artificial sense of touch. The sensor has a unique design in which a webcam is mounted inside a 3D-printed soft fingertip to track internal pins that act like touch receptors inside our own fingertips, making it cheap to build and highly customisable.  Cont'd...

Robots Took My Job but I Don't Care

The company pays the robot monthly, plus payroll taxes. The robot pays income tax and a percentage of the robot's wages go to the RMWP. The RMWP (Robot Minimum Wage Plan) collects the money and distributes it to the displaced workers.

CTRL The Robot. A modern industrial robot for the desktop.

Via Yahoo Finance:  This robot arm is a fraction of the price of similar robots you might see in factories.  It’s called CTRL and was developed by Robotics Evolved to be an affordable robot arm.

Unveiled at CES 2017, this desktop-sized robot arm aims to make robotics more accessible to the masses.  The device is open-source and can be run on the programming language of the user’s choosing.  For those unfamiliar with code, CTRL can also learn to replicate movements when manipulated by hand.

CTRL is currently equipped with a gripping tool but the company plans to expand attachment offerings to include options like spray nozzles and engraving tools.

Robotics Evolved is currently seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaign and you can reserve your very own CTRL robot arm for just over $500.  Kickstarter page:

$18.867 billion Paid to Acquire 50 Robotics Companies in 2016

Companies are reinventing themselves, looking at their business in a new way with regards to how can they be a disrupter, and how they can prevent being disrupted - and this opens up deal flow.

Brave New World of RPA

RPA ultimately empowers your workforce to deliver more engaging (and profitable) work. Implement it smartly, and RPA may be the single most important investment you make this year… or this decade.

Robotics, Trump and Brexit turn up the heat amid the snow of Davos

Graeme Wearden for The Guardian:  The “fourth industrial revolution” will once again be a key theme at this year’s Davos, where the focus will be on the problems created by technologies such as smart robots and driverless cars. The WEF will examine whether the loss to these innovations of millions of jobs is undermining social cohesion and contributing to the rise of populist parties.

Davos will also consider whether increased use of artificial intelligence and the “internet of things” are laying firms open to a new wave of cyberthreats and security beaches. This area of technology has until now been only lightly regulated; is the world ready to hand more decision-making powers to machines?  Full article:

Robots: Legal Affairs Committee calls for EU-wide rules

EU Parliament News:  EU rules for the fast-evolving field of robotics, to settle issues such as compliance with ethical standards and liability for accidents involving driverless cars, should be put forward by the EU Commission, urged the Legal Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Rapporteur Mady Delvaux (S&D, LU) said: “A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics. In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework”. Her report, approved by 17 votes to 2, with 2 abstentions, looks at robotics-related issues such as liability, safety and changes in the labour market.

MEPs stress that EU-wide rules are needed to fully exploit the economic potential of robotics and artificial intelligence and guarantee a standard level of safety and security. The EU needs to take the lead on regulatory standards, so as not to be forced to follow those set by third states, argues the report.  Full Release:

The 'intelligent' robot companion that plays chess as a hobby, serves coffee and learns from its own experiences

The Daily Mail:  A robot developed by engineers in Taiwan can pour coffee and move chess pieces on a board against an opponent - but he's looking for a real job.

The robot spent last week playing games against opponents at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  It was displaying what developers call an 'intelligent vision system' which can see its environment and act with greater precision than its peers.

With this enhanced vision, the robot can perform variety of tasks for service and manufacturing, and can also learn on the job with artificial intelligence.  Playing chess is just a hobby showcasing the robot's visual acuity - such as the ability to distinguish between different chessmen- and dexterity in gripping and moving objects.  Cont'd...

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