Why Everyone Must Get Ready For 4th Industrial Revolution

Bernard Marr for Forbes:  First came steam and water power; then electricity and assembly lines; then computerization… So what comes next?

Some call it the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0, but whatever you call it, it represents the combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Systems.

In short, it is the idea of smart factories in which machines are augmented with web connectivity and connected to a system that can visualize the entire production chain and make decisions on its own.

And it’s well on its way and will change most of our jobs.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, has published a book entitled The Fourth Industrial Revolution in which he describes how this fourth revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three, which were characterized mainly by advances in technology.

In this fourth revolution, we are facing a range of new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds. These new technologies will impact all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human.  Cont'd...

National Robotics Week delights kids

Greg Nichols for ZDNet:  The seventh annual National Robotics Week, which kicks off this week, will see more than 250 events take place across all 50 states.

It's a pretty cool time to celebrate robots. A new generation of small, relatively inexpensive, and highly collaborative industrial robots brought new levels of automation to light industry last year. Home robots, in the form of vacuums and lawn mowers, continue to do well in sales, and drones--technically flying robots--are everywhere. I'm literally watching one fly over a park near my house as I write.

New kinds of bots are also making early strides. Companies like Savioke are bringing robots to hotels and others likeRevolve Robotics and Double are connecting people via affordable embodied telepresence--especially people whose disabilities prevent them from traveling to school or work.  Cont'd...

Collaborative Robots Will Transform Logistics Says DHL Group

Patrick Burnson for Logistics Management:  “Robots work in many industries but haven’t made an impact on logistics yet because of the complexity of the work – handling a wide array of different things in an infinite number of combinations, close to people and in confined spaces,” says Matthias Heutger, Senior Vice President Strategy for the Group.

“Current research shows that 80 percent of logistics facilities today are still manual. Recently, however, technology is just starting to catch up to meet demands for flexible and low-cost robots that could collaboratively work in logistics.”
The report highlights that the development of the next generation of robots that can see, move, react to their environment and work at precision tasks alongside people, is on a fast track powered by the explosion in labor-intensive e-commerce and diminishing and ageing workforces.  Cont'd...

Amazon Hosted A Secretive Robotics Conference In Florida

Michael Grothaus for FastCompany:  Amazon hosted a secret robotics conference in Palm Springs, Florida last weekend, reports Bloomberg. The conference, dubbed "MARS," which stands for "Machine-Learning (Home) Automation, Robotics and Space Exploration," was an invite-only event held at the Parker Palm Springs that brought together experts in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and home automation.

Amazon has not publicly commented on the conference, but reports on social media from attendees leaked its existence. Bloomberg notes that the conference hosted some big names, including film director Ron Howard and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The event was also attended by a number of academics from MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and ETH Zurich, sources told Bloomberg. Also in attendance were some CEOs and representatives from companies including Rethink Robotics, Toyota Motor Corp., and iRobot.  Cont'd...

18 months since the toolkit's release, soft robotics is flying

Gordon Hunt for SiliconRepublic:  Pioneered in Ireland by the likes of Dr Dónal Holland, with a plethora of departments in Harvard University in the US involved, the Soft Robotics Toolkit has gone on to foster significant interest in an area exploding into the mainstream.

More than 76,000 people have engaged with the service since it was created, represented across 150 different countries, with the toolkit identified as having made one of the most significant contributions to the development of the nascent industry to date.

While robotics engineering used to focus much more attention on creating the rigid, hard-bodied prototypes like Bender from Futurama, for example, lately there has been a push towards soft, malleable structures that take their inspiration from nature.  Cont'd...

Carnegie Mellon robotics selected for research projects totaling more than $11 million

Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) has been selected as a prime contractor or subcontractor on four major new federal research projects totaling more than $11 million over the next three years. The projects range from research on a wheel that can transform into a track to automated stress testing for critical software. 
Herman Herman, NREC director, said the center has hired 10 new technical staff members in the past six months and anticipates hiring another five-to-10 staff members in the coming months to augment its existing staff of about 100. 

"For the past 20 years, NREC has been an important national resource, combining unique technical skills and testing capabilities to solve problems that other groups can't," said Martial Hebert, director of CMU's Robotics Institute, which includes the NREC. "These new projects are a reminder that NREC continues to advance the art and science of robotics and that it remains a vital part of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute."   Full Press Release:
 

Would you buy meat from a robot butcher?

Greg Nichols for The Kernel:  In an era when hunks of cow and pig are packaged and distributed like Amazon Prime parcels, butchering has retained a surprising degree of its old-world craftsmanship. Workers armed with knives and hooks anachronistically slice flesh from bone the same way they have for hundreds of years. That’s because cutting meat—be it on an assembly line or in a niche shop in Santa Monica, California, or Brooklyn, New York—is a skill that requires exceptional dexterity, a good eye, and a honed tactile sense for texture and firmness. Industrial robots may be perfectly suited to welding chassis and painting cars, but they don’t have the touch to cut a succulent T-bone steak.

That’s likely to change. JBS, one of the country’s largest meat processors, recently acquired a controlling share of Scott Technology, a New Zealand-based robotics firm. Now JBS is looking at ways to automate its facilities. Robots don’t sleep, don’t collect overtime, and don’t suffer the horrific repetitive stress injuries that plague meat workers. Meat is already packed using machines, and if engineers can figure out how to make automated systems that approximate the deft hands of a butcher, there’s little question giants like JBS, Cargill, and Tyson will replace many of their line workers with robots. In the next decade, adroit robots that can see, feel, and move like humans may finally kill off the butcher.  Cont'd...

Mercedes Boots Robots From the Production Line:

By Elisabeth Behrmann & Christoph Rauwald for Bloomberg Business:  “Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” Markus Schaefer, the German automaker’s head of production, said at its factory in Sindelfingen, the anchor of the Daimler AG unit’s global manufacturing network. “We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.”

Mercedes’s Sindelfingen plant, the manufacturer’s biggest, is an unlikely place to question the benefits of automation. While the factory makes elite models such as the GT sports car and the ultra-luxury S-Class Maybach sedan, the 101-year-old site is far from a boutique assembly shop. The complex processes 1,500 tons of steel a day and churns out more than 400,000 vehicles a year.

That makes efficient, streamlined production as important at Sindelfingen as at any other automotive plant. But the age of individualization is forcing changes to the manufacturing methods that made cars and other goods accessible to the masses. The impetus for the shift is versatility. While robots are good at reliably and repeatedly performing defined tasks, they’re not good at adapting. That’s increasingly in demand amid a broader offering of models, each with more and more features.  Cont'd...

Republican-Leaning Cities Are At Greater Risk Of Job Automation

By Jed Kolko for Five Thirty Eight:  More and more work activities and even entire jobs are at risk of beingautomated by algorithms, computers and robots, raising concerns that more and more humans will be put out of work. The fear of automation is widespread — President Obama cited it as the No. 1 reason Americans feel anxious about the economy in his State of the Union address last month — but its effects are not equally distributed, creating challenges for workers and policymakers. An analysis of where jobs are most likely to face automation shows that areas that voted Republican in the last presidential election are more at risk, suggesting that automation could become a partisan issue.

So-called “routine” jobs — those that “can be accomplished by following explicit rules” — are most at risk of automation. These include both “manual” routine occupations, such as metalworkers and truck drivers, and “cognitive” routine occupations, such as cashiers and customer service reps.1 Whereas many routine jobs tend to be middle-wage, non-routine jobs include both higher-wage managerial and professional occupations and lower-wage service jobs.  Cont'd...

Japanese Firm To Open World's First Robot-run Farm

Spread, a vegetable producer, said industrial robots would carry out all but one of the tasks needed to grow the tens of thousands of lettuces it produces each day at its vast indoor farm in Kameoka, Kyoto prefecture, starting from mid-2017.

The robots will do everything from re-planting young seedlings to watering, trimming and harvesting crops.

The innovation will boost production from 21,000 lettuces a day to 50,000 a day, the firm said, adding that it planned to raise that figure to half a million lettuces daily within five years.

“The seeds will still be planted by humans, but every other step, from the transplanting of young seedlings to larger spaces as they grow to harvesting the lettuces, will be done automatically,” said JJ Price, Spread’s global marketing manager.

The new farm – an extension of its existing Kameoka farm – will improve efficiency and reduce labour costs by about half. The use of LED lighting means energy costs will be slashed by almost a third, and about 98% of the water needed to grow the crops will be recycled.

The farm, measuring about 4,400 sq metres, will have floor-to-ceiling shelves where the produce is grown... (cont'd)

Humanoid robots in tomorrow's aircraft manufacturing

From Phys.Org:  Developing humanoid robotic technology to perform difficult tasks in aircraft manufacturing facilities is the goal of a four-year joint research project, which is being conducted by the Joint Robotics Laboratory (CNRS/AIST) and Airbus Group. It will officially be launched on 12 February 2016 at the French Embassy in Tokyo. The introduction of humanoids on aircraft assembly lines will make it possible to relieve human operators of the most laborious and dangerous tasks, thus allowing them to concentrate on higher value-added ones. The primary difficulty for these robots will be to work in a confined environment and move without colliding with the numerous surrounding objects. This is the first issue researchers will have to solve by developing new algorithms for the planning and control of precise movements.  Cont'd...
 

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...

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...

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...

 

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