Robotics-focused ETFs see big gains, Trump could hasten trend

Ryan Vlastelica for MarketWatch:  If robots are taking jobs, should you invest in the robot makers? That’s the argument behind a pair of outperforming exchange-traded funds that track the robotics industry, which could continue seeing strong growth as more positions get automated by machines or algorithms. In a Jan. 23 note, UBS named automation and robotics as one of the two areas of technological innovation that would drive productivity over the coming decade, along with the digital data industry. “Both have the potential to profoundly transform the structure of our economy, disrupt existing business models, but also create substantial growth opportunities for those well-positioned to participate,” the firm wrote, singling out the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation Index ETF ROBO, +0.59%  as a fund that would benefit from this trend, with the investment time horizon of a decade.   Cont'd...

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...

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...

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...

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:

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...

Google Tasks Robots with Learning Skills from One Another via Cloud Robotics

Steve Arar for All About Circuits:  Humans use language to tap into the knowledge of others and learn skills faster. This helps us hone our intuition and go through our daily activities more efficiently. Inspired by this, Google Research, DeepMind (its UK artificial intelligence lab), and Google X have decided to allow their robots share their experiences. Sharing the learning process among multiple robots, the research team has considerably expedited general-purpose skill acquisition of robots.  Using an artificial neural network, we can teach a robot to achieve a goal by analyzing the result of its previous experiences. At first, the robot may seem to act randomly simply working based on trial and error. However, it examines the result of each trial and, if satisfactory, focuses on similar experiments during the next trials. Making a connection between each experience and the obtained result, the robot would be able to gradually make better choices.   Cont'd...

Japan's Rust Belt Counting on Robonomics to Run Assembly Lines

Yoshiaki Nohara, Toru Fujioka, and Daniel Moss for Bloomberg:  A withering factory town in Japan’s Rust Belt is looking for revival through a dose of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s "robot revolution." Kadoma’s population has declined 13 percent as the nation ages, prompting mergers among elementary schools and emergency services departments. Factories can’t find enough people to run assembly lines, further threatening an industrial base that includes titan Panasonic Corp. and smaller businesses like Izumo Co., a maker of industrial rubber. Yet Izumo President Tsutomu Otsubo doesn’t believe the solution involves finding more people. He’d rather find more machines to do the work so his company can capitalize on Abe’s plan to quadruple Japan’s robotics sector into a 2.4 trillion yen ($20 billion) industry by 2020.   Cont'd...

A Robotics ETF Tries to Find its Way

Brenton Garen for ETF Trends:  This year has seen another crowded field of new exchange traded funds come to market and within that group are plenty of niche funds, indicating that ETF issuers continue to slice and dice investment ideas into increasingly fine fund packages. The Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: BOTZ) is one of those niche funds. BOTZ provides exposure to companies involved in the adoption and utilization of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), including those involved with industrial manufacturing, medicine, autonomous vehicles, and other applications. BOTZ follows the Indxx Global Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic Index. The ETF, which debuted in September with the Global X FinTech Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: FINX) and the Global X Internet of Things Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: SNSR), holds 28 stocks with an average market cap of $8.8 billion, putting the ETF in mid-cap territory.   Cont'd...

BERNSTEIN: China's insane spending on robotics is fundamentally changing capitalism

Oscar Williams-Grut for Business Insider:  Analysts at global investment manager Bernstein believe the "age of industrialization is coming to an end," with robots set to destroy manufacturing jobs globally. That may not sound seismic. After all, the industrial revolution happened hundreds of years ago and manufacturing jobs have been the minority of all jobs in the West for decades. But Bernstein is arguing that the nature of capitalism is undergoing a fundamental change. Analysts Michael W. Parker and Alberto Moel argue that Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, the foundational textbooks of economics, is becoming redundant because of two trends: the rise of robotics and China's modernising economy.   Cont'd...

Robots won't kill the workforce. They'll save the global economy.

Ruchir Sharma for The Washington Post:  The United Nations forecasts that the global population will rise from 7.3 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, a big number that often prompts warnings about overpopulation. Some have come from neo-Malthusians, who fear that population growth will outstrip the food supply, leaving a hungry planet. Others appear in the tirades of anti-immigrant populists, invoking the specter of a rising tide of humanity as cause to slam borders shut. Still others inspire a chorus of neo-Luddites, who fear that the “rise of the robots” is rapidly making human workers obsolete, a threat all the more alarming if the human population is exploding. Before long, though, we’re more likely to treasure robots than to revile them. They may be the one thing that can protect the global economy from the dangers that lie ahead.   Cont'd...

Robotics startup Exotec raises $3.5 million to help warehouses pack and dispatch goods using mini robots

Paul Sawers for Venture Beat:  A French robotics startup has raised €3.3 million ($3.5 million) to build and grow a fleet of mobile robots that help warehouses prepare orders for delivery. The company was founded in 2015 by former GE Healthcare software architect Renaud Heitz and BA Systèmes technical director Romain Moulin,  and Exotec Solutions (“Exotec”) robots have already been tested across a number of industries. With $3.5 million more in its coffers, the company expects to launch its first robot — called Exo — into the wild in early 2017. The most recent round was raised from 360 Capital Partners, Breega Capital, and a handful of its existing investors. The miniature robots are being targeted at any logistics operator that relies on humans to traverse large warehouses picking items off shelves, and it promises to cut employees’ average daily distance covered from 15km to 4km per day and to “[double] the productivity” of each worker. The robots are controlled by what the company calls a “centralized intelligence system,” which liaises between the humans and the robots on the ground.   Cont'd...

Metallic glass gears make for graceful robots

Science Daily:  Throw a baseball, and you might say it's all in the wrist.  For robots, it's all in the gears.   Gears are essential for precision robotics. They allow limbs to turn smoothly and stop on command; low-quality gears cause limbs to jerk or shake. If you're designing a robot to scoop samples or grip a ledge, the kind of gears you'll need won't come from a hardware store. At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, technologist Douglas Hofmann and his collaborators are building a better gear. Hofmann is the lead author of two recent papers on gears made from bulk metallic glass (BMG), a specially crafted alloy with properties that make it ideal for robotics.   Cont'd...

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Industrial Robotics - Featured Product

IPR Robotics - Right-Sized 7th Axis Robot Linear Rails

IPR Robotics - Right-Sized 7th Axis Robot Linear Rails

IPR Robotics offers a wide range of servo-driven 7th axis linear rails for industrial robots. These rails come in ten different sizes and are constructed from modular high strength extruded aluminum sections to handle payloads of 100 kg to 1600 kg or from steel to handle 2000 kg payloads. This variety of rail sizes allows each application to be sized correctly, controlling the space required and the price point. The drive train design of these rails utilizes helical gear-racks and is proven over 10 years to be repeatable and reliable, even in tough foundry applications.