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...

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...

Space Bots & Android Waste Collectors: What's Ahead for Robotics

By Elizabeth Palermo for LiveScience:  It was a good year to be a robot.

In 2015, researchers in Korea unveiled a robotic exoskeleton that users can control with their minds, a four-legged bot in China set a new world record by walking 83.28 miles (134.03 km) without stopping and 3D-printing robots in Amsterdam started work on a new steel footbridge.

But these smart machines are capable of so much more. Researchers around the world are now designing and building bots that will complete more noteworthy tasks in 2016 and beyond. From exploring other planets to fighting fires at sea, here are a few skills that bots could pick up in the new year.  Full Article:  

What Robots and AI Learned in 2015

By Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  The  robots didn’t really take over in 2015, but at times it felt as if that might be where we’re headed.

There were signs that machines will soon take over manual work that currently requires human skill. Early in the year details emerged of a contest organized by Amazon to help robots do more work inside its vast product fulfillment centers.

The Amazon Picking challenge, as the event was called, was held at a prominent robotics conference later in the year. Teams competed for a $25,000 prize by designing a robot to identify and grasp items from one of Amazon’s storage shelves as quickly as possible (the winner picked and packed 10 items in 20 minutes). This might seem a trivial task for human workers, but figuring out how to grasp different objects arranged haphazardly on shelves in a real warehouse is still a formidable challenge for robot-kind.  Cont'd...

Watch these robotic 'reindeer' from Boston Dynamics pull Santa's sleigh

By Lulu Chang for Digital Trends:  We’re going to rewrite Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, because now, it’s robotic dogs that are pulling Santa’s sleigh. In a rather frightening video, Google-owned robotics design firm Boston Dynamics has shown us the future of Christmas, and it’s plenty progressive, complete with machines and female Santas. I can get behind that sort of holiday, I think.

Of course, the Internet wasn’t so sure. And to be fair, the dog-like robots are a bit frightening. Large and, well, headless, these machines seem to hearken more to the Thestrals (the skeletal winged horses visible only to those who’ve witnessed death) of Harry Potter’s universe than the adorable reindeer that are supposed to transport jolly Saint Nick to and from the North Pole.

Google to incubate its robotics and drone divisions under Google X

By Mike Wheatley for SiliconAngle:  Google is planning an organizational reshuffle that will see its secretive robotics department and drone business folded into its Google X labs.

Google’s robotics division, and the drone group it created when it acquired Titan Aerospace in 2014, will both fall under the Google X umbrella when the reshuffle takes place some time next year, Re/Code reported.

Google X is the secretive part of Google that develops some of its most futuristic, bleeding edge technologies. These include its famous self-driving cars, Project Loon (Wi-Fi hot air balloons), and its airborne wind turbines. Google X operates as a standalone company under Google’s parent Alphabet Inc., which was created following Google’s corporate restructuring earlier this year.

Google X’s projects are largely experimental and extremely uncertain in terms of a business model. Nevertheless, Google obviously deems it the best place to be for its robotics division, which has been left leaderless ever since Andy Rubin quit the Web giant last year. Previously, there was speculation that the robotics division may become a standalone company under Alphabet, but today’s news would indicate that’s not going to happen any time soon.  Cont'd...

Four Market Forces That Will Shape Robotics Over The Next Year

Richard Mahoney for TechCrunch:  As 2016 approaches, robotics is poised to traverse from a narrow set of industrial and military use cases to broader market applications that include commercial drones, telepresence robots, delivery robots and, of course, mobile vacuum cleaners.

But, are robots ready to be a part of our daily life?

Gill Pratt, a visionary who served as a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and oversaw the DARPA Robotics Challenge, postulated earlier this year that robotics might soon be headed for a “Cambrian Explosion.”

The term refers to a period of time roughly half a billion years ago when the numbers and diversity of animals became critical to evolution.  Pratt offered that technology developments are ushering in a similar upsurge in the diversification and applicability of robotics.  Cont'd...

'Rushing into robotics revolution without considering impact,' warn scientists

From RT.com:  Governments should examine the effects of robotics on human civilization before automated machines leap “out of factories to automate all aspects of our lives,” a group of scientists warns.

The Foundation for Responsible Robotics, launched on Friday in London, aims to persuade governments and industries to look at the ways robots will impact on society. They want organizations to look at the way robots could disrupt the job market, and believe policymakers have so far failed researched the issue.

Robotics professor at Sheffield University and Chairman of the foundation Noel Sharkey said the potential problems must be considered.

“We are rushing headlong into the robotics revolution without consideration for the many unforeseen problems lying around the corner. It is time now to step back and think hard about the future of the technology before it sneaks up and bites us.”

Sharkey said growing numbers of robots are being used in the service industry, whereas historically robots have usually been used to automate factory work.  Cont'd...

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...

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.

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:

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:

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Industrial Robotics - Featured Product

Midwest Motion Products Inc - “GRA52” Right Angled Gearmotor System

Midwest Motion Products Inc - "GRA52" Right Angled Gearmotor System

Midwest Motion Products Inc., based in Howard Lake, Minnesota, is pleased to announce the release of the new "GRA52" Right Angled Gearmotor System. This new 1:1 Right Angled Gearbox allows for significantly increased versatility, and design whose geometry allows for the unit to be mounted in tight spaces. We employ our Standard Brushed or Brushless DC Motors and Planetary Gearheads to complete the new R/A Design. Features/Benefits: Cost effective design - as low as $250*, Very Versatile - Output Ratios ranging from 3.7:1 to 2076:1, Fully Reversible Design, Readily available - Samples can be built from Stock Material, High Volume capacity.