Why being able to 3-D print glass objects is such a big deal

By Dominic Basulto for the Washington Post:  Researchers at MIT have just unveiled the ability to 3-D-print beautiful glass objects. While humanity has been forming, blowing and molding glass objects for more than 4,500 years, this is the first time that a 3-D printer has been used to process glass from a molten state to an annealed product. Obviously, there are some purely aesthetic applications here, as in the potential for epic blown glass art. Think museum-worthy glass objects worthy of Dale Chihuly. In fact, the MIT team — a collaborative team of researchers that includes the MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group, the MIT Glass Lab and MIT’s Mechanical Engineering Department — plan to display a few of their beautiful objects at an upcoming exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2016.  But the applications go beyond just beautiful new designs that might be created via 3-D printers one day. As the MIT research team points out in a forthcoming paper for the journal 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, “As designers learn to utilize this new freedom in glass manufacturing it is expected that a whole range of novel applications will be discovered.” That’s the real future potential of glass 3-D printing — the ability to create objects and applications that do not exist today.   Cont'd...

Here comes the drone backlash

Mike Elgan for Computer World:  Consumer drone technology is barely taking off, and already a harsh public backlash is growing. Your typical garden variety consumer drone is lightweight, battery operated, has four propellers and is controlled by a smartphone. Most have cameras and beam back live video, which can be recorded for posterity. Some have high-quality HD cameras on them, and from that high vantage point can take stunning photos and videos. Drones are fun. They're exciting. They're accessible. But increasingly, they're becoming unacceptable. I'm sensing a growing backlash, a kind of social media pitchfork mob against drones and drone fans. It's only a matter of time, and not much time, before it will be politically incorrect to express any kind of enthusiasm for drones in polite company. I fear that many are about to embark on an "everybody knows drones are bad" mentality that will suppress the nascent industry and spoil this innovative and exhilarating technology. Here's what's driving the coming backlash:   Cont'd...

Autonomous Drifting

From AMREL: You know how the stuntmen make fast cars drift in action movies? Have you ever wanted to make a remote-controlled toy car drift like that? Of course you have.  If there ever were awards for endeavors that sound silly, but is actually technically interesting, then the folks at MIT’s Aerospace Controls Lab would surely be nominated. Unmanned systems are rarely fully autonomous.  Instead, researchers are pursuing “sliding” autonomy, i.e. an operator retains control, while some behaviors are made autonomous. Aerospace Controls Lab decided to teach a remote-control toy car how to autonomously drift. They started by running their learning algorithm through simulations.  Information from these simulations was transferred to performance modifiers. When the car was run through its drifting actions in reality, the algorithm was constantly modified. The result is a car that can maintain drifting in a full circle even when salt is added to the floor, or another vehicle interferes with it.  

Humanoid robot negotiates outdoor, rough terrain with ease

Boston Dynamics have developed the "Atlas" robot a highly mobility, humanoid robot designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain.  Here is a video showing "Atlas" courtesy euronews.

Gecko-inspired technology for 'climbing' space robots

MIT researchers have designed a human-machine interface that allows an exoskeleton-wearing human operator to control the movements and balance of a bipedal robot. The technology could allow robots to be deployed to a disaster site, where the robot would explore the area, guided by a human operator from a remote location. "We'd eventually have someone wearing a full-body suit and goggles, so he can feel and see everything the robot does, and vice versa," said PhD student Joao Ramos of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Mechanical Engineering. "We plan to have the robot walk as a quadruped, then stand up on two feet to do difficult manipulation tasks such as open a door or clear an obstacle," Ramos said.   Cont'd...

Auro Robotics: Driverless Shuttles for In-campus Travel

From Techcrunch: Y Combinator-backed Auro Robotics is currently testing their driverless shuttle system at several universities, and is actually beginning to deploy shuttles on the campus of Santa Clara University. The company is also planning to expand to other markets like amusement parks, retirement communities and small islands, with some projects in those spaces already set to take off “in the later part of this year.” Auro has chosen to focus on these small, contained environments largely because they are controlled by private corporations, and thus are not subject to the heavy government regulation that Google and other companies are stuck behind with their driverless cars... ( full article ) From Auro Robotics: How does it work Auro Prime uses latest technology to ensure safe navigation even on busy roads. The vehicle is equipped with Lasers, camera, Radar and GPS providing it complete 360 degree vision under all environment situations. The shuttles relies on a prior 3D map of the environment, which is created once in the lifetime at the beginning. In all subsequent runs, it uses this 3D map to localise itself and interpret road topography. Passengers can input their destinations through a simple to use touch screen mounted on the vehicle, or through their mobile app. The underlying software automatically figures out the optimum high-level route to reach safely to the destination... ( more info )    

Carnegie Mellon, GE Ventures bringing robotics accelerator program to Pittsburgh

By Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  A new accelerator program and a $20 million venture fund started by Carnegie Mellon University and GE Ventures could brand Pittsburgh as the official home of the globe’s growing robotics industry. CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center and GE Ventures, the investment arm of Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric, have teamed up to create The Robotics Hub, an early-stage startup accelerator program designed to draw the nation’s best advanced robotics firms to Pittsburgh and to keep those started here firmly in place. The for-profit Robotics Hub will provide funding through newly created Coal Hill Ventures and access to equipment at CMU and the NREC to chosen companies by 2016, in addition to putting their creations on a fast track toward commercialization. “The strategy that’s most important to GE is to really get behind startups and help them scale. A lot of companies can come with the money, but what we bring is the ability to scale and the opportunity to commercialize quite quickly, said Alex Tepper, GE Ventures managing director.   Cont'd...

Robotics firm GreyOrange raises $30 million, to expand overseas

GreyOrange, a robotics firm that is in the business of automating warehouses, has raised $30 million (Rs 191.6 crore) in a round led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from existing investors Blume Ventures. The funding, which the company says is one of the largest for robotics company globally, will be used to invest in developing new products, expand internationally into Asia Pacific, Middle East and Europe. The company says it has a 90% market share of India's warehouse automation market and it powers over 180,000 square feet of warehouse. "We are doubling our team size globally as we steer the company and our products beyond India and into international markets," said co-founder and CEO Samay Kohli, who founded the company with Akash Gupta in 2011. The company has two products: The Sorter and the Butler. The former is a high-speed system that consolidates orders and routes parcels. By Diwali, the company will have installed sortation capacity of 3 million parcels per day. The second product, the Butler, is an order-picking system that is tailored for high-volume, high-mix orders characteristic of e-commerce and omni-channel logistics fulfilment.   Cont'd..  

Giving robots a more nimble grasp

Engineers use the environment to give simple robotic grippers more dexterity. Engineers at MIT have now hit upon a way to impart more dexterity to simple robotic grippers: using the environment as a helping hand. The team, led by Alberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and graduate student Nikhil Chavan-Dafle, has developed a model that predicts the force with which a robotic gripper needs to push against various fixtures in the environment in order to adjust its grasp on an object.

Robo-Sabotage Is Surprisingly Common

By Matt Beane for MIT Technology Review:  I think perhaps there’s something else at work here. Beyond building robots to increase productivity and do dangerous, dehumanizing tasks, we have made the technology into a potent symbol of sweeping change in the labor market, increased inequality, and recently the displacement of workers. If we replace the word “robot” with “machine,” this has happened in cycles extending well back through the Industrial Revolution. Holders of capital invest in machinery to increase production because they get a better return, and then many people, including some journalists, academics, and workers cry foul, pointing to the machinery as destroying jobs. Amidst the uproar, eventually there are a few reports of people angrily breaking the machines. Two years ago, I did an observational study of semiautonomous mobile delivery robots at three different hospitals. I went in looking for how using the robots changed the way work got done, but I found out that beyond increasing productivity through delivery work, the robots were kept around as a symbol of how progressive the hospitals were, and that when people who’d been doing similar delivery jobs at the hospitals quit, their positions weren’t filled.   Cont'd...

Foxconn Seeks Manufacturing Sites in India

SEAN MCLAIN for WSJ.com:  Foxconn became the latest global giant to declare its intention to tap into India’s budding manufacturing potential. The company is looking for manufacturing sites in India. So far it hasn’t been able to settle on any in particular, Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou told a news conference in New Delhi. “India is a big, big country. Too many places, too many states, too many cities. The choice is difficult,” he said. Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer by revenue. The Taiwanese company—known officially as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.—is looking to tap India’s massive labor pool and has big ambitions for its Indian investments. It has long-term plans for Asia’s third-largest economy and hopes to do more in India than simply assemble smartphones and laptops. “We want to bring the whole supply chain here,” Mr. Gou said. Analysts say Foxconn is looking to diversify its global network of factories as the company faces more competition and rising wages in China, where it has most of its manufacturing operations.  Cont'd...

Chinese factory replaces 90% of humans with robots, production soars

By Conner Forrest for TechRepublic:  In Dongguan City, located in the central Guangdong province of China, a technology company has set up a factory run almost exclusively by robots, and the results are fascinating. The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan has automated production lines that use robotic arms to produce parts for cell phones. The factory also has automated machining equipment, autonomous transport trucks, and other automated equipment in the warehouse. There are still people working at the factory, though. Three workers check and monitor each production line and there are other employees who monitor a computer control system. Previously, there were 650 employees at the factory. With the new robots, there's now only 60. Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the company, told the People's Daily that the number of employees could drop to 20 in the future. The robots have produced almost three times as many pieces as were produced before. According to the People's Daily, production per person has increased from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces. That's a 162.5% increase.   Cont'd...

3D printing is not the miracle we were promised

Mike Murphy for Quartz:  3D printing has been hailed as the future of manufacturing for years now. Consumers and investors were sold on the idea of being able to print anything at any time from a little box in their houses. But that Jetsons-like vision hasn’t come to pass. The 3D printers available to consumers are great for making small prototypes or tchotchkes. But they’re still slow, inaccurate and generally only print one material at a time. And that’s not going to change any time soon. That reality is setting in for 3D printer makers. Stratasys, which owns MakerBot and is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial and industrial 3D printers, announced its fifth straight quarter of losses today. 3D Systems, which was founded by the man who invented 3D printing—Chuck Hull—isn’t faring much better. Wall Street’s interest in 3D printing seems to have peaked in the first week of 2014: The stock prices for both Stratasys and 3D Systems were at their highest on January 3 last year. Stratasys had completed the purchase of MakerBot—which has been called the “Apple” of 3D printing—about three months earlier, and it looked as if things were on the up. But a little over a year later, MakerBot laid off a fifth of its staff, closed its stores, and started focusing on selling to schools. As it stands, it seems that the market is retracting to industrial printers, for companies that benefit from rapidly prototyping objects. 3D printing makes a lot of sense when companies can quickly model and print their ideas—anything from new bike helmets to car doors or sprockets. These are where (relatively) cheap, disposable plastic models thrive, as companies can churn out all the models they need, and then turn to more traditional automated processes, like CNC milling or vacuum forming, to build their final product at scale, using materials that will actually last.   Cont'd...

Musk, Hawking, Chomsky: Why they want a ban on killer robots.

A global arms race for killer robots? Bad idea. That’s according to more than 1,000 leading artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers, who have together signed an open letter, published Monday, from the nonprofit Future of Life Institute. The letter calls for a ban on autonomous offensive weapons as a means of preventing just such a disaster, and represents the latest word on the global conversation around the risks and benefits of AI weaponry.   Cont'd...  

Fastbrick Robotics' bricklaying machine builds investor interest

Tim Boreham for The Australian:  According to Fastbrick Robotics chief Mike Pivac, the art of bricklaying hasn’t changed much in the past 5000 years.  For brickies’ labourers in particular, it remains an unsafe and back-breaking game of messy mortar-mixing and lugging hods at height or over uneven surfaces. Backed with seed funding from the publicly listed Brickworks, Mr Pivac and his cousin Mark have devised a robotic bricklaying machine to eliminate the drudge work.  About the size of a garbage truck, the prototype Hadrian 105 unit can erect an average house in one to two days, within an accuracy of half a millimetre.  That’s far more accurate than the brickies’ time-honoured string and spirit level method. Led by Cygnet Capital, the ­Pivacs have been on an investor roadshow ahead of a $3 million raising and reverse IPO, via the shell of former winery owner DMY Capital.  Interest has been enormous, with inquiries from as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Russia.  “We had 500,000 hits on our website in just over five days,’’ Mr Pivac says.  “We have had interest from 35 countries, including some outstanding big organisations.’’  Cygnet Capital director of ­corporate finance Darien Jagger says no other IPO has attracted as much interest.  “We have fielded thousands of emails from all sorts of parties.’’  The Hadrian unit has already demonstrated end-to-end construction, without the need for human intervention. The innovation lies not with the robotic arms, but the laser-guided system that allows the bricks to be placed accurately.  “If you put this machine on a rocking boat it would lay a house on the shore correctly to an inch or two,’’ Mr Pivac said.   Cont'd...

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