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:

UCSD to create robots that see, think and do

By Gary Robbins for the San Diego Union Tribune:  UC San Diego is creating a robotics institute that will develop machines that can interpret everything from subtle facial expressions to walking styles to size up what people are thinking, doing and feeling.

The “See-Think-Do” technology is largely meant to anticipate and fulfill people’s everyday needs, especially the soaring number of older Americans who want to live out their lives in their own homes.

Engineers envision robots that are so good at sizing up people, places and situations that they could help evacuate crowds from dangerous areas and pick through the rubble of an earthquake to look for survivors.

The newly created Contextual Robotics Institute will be formally announced on Friday when some of the nation’s top scientists meet at UC San Diego to discuss the future of robotics. The campus has already lined up support from such San Diego companies as Qualcomm, which needs new markets for its computer chips, and Northrop Grumman, which develops unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Our plan is to do the research and development that’s needed to realize robots of the future — robots that are safe, useful and autonomous in any environment,” said Albert Pisano, dean of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering.  Cont'd...

Six-axis robotic arm called Eva, which weighs 2.3 kilograms and will cost $3,000

Suryansh Chandra claims the affordable robotic arm his company Automata is developing could lead to robots becoming as ubiquitous as desktop 3D printers.
"Today, every design studio has a 3D printer," Chandra says. "Soon, we hope to get to the point where every design studio has a robotic arm."

Chandra founded Automata together with Mostafa Elsayed five months ago, after they became frustrated by the expense and complexity of industrial robots while working at the research division at Zaha Hadid Architects.

"If you're out to get a robot today, you'd have to spend 50 or 60 thousand dollars," Chandra explains. "Our goal is to democratise robotics through a low cost hardware platform and easy to use software."

Automata's first product is a plastic six-axis robotic arm called Eva, which weighs 2.3 kilograms and will cost $3,000 (£2,000).

"Unlike industrial robots that are heavy and expensive, Eva is low cost and lightweight," Chandra says. "She can pick up 750 grams when fully outstretched and about a kilogram in a more recessed position."  Cont'd...

Rob Scharff's Soft Robotics 3D-printed hand responds to human grip

Dutch Design Week 2015: Delft University of Technology graduate Rob Scharff has created a soft robotic limb that can shake hands with people.

The hand was created as part of Scharff's Soft Robotics research project – which focuses on the ways robots can be integrated with more tactile materials, and so improve robot-human interactions.  Cont'd...

Robot Can Pick and Sort Fruit

A robotics breakthrough by product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants is set to boost productivity across the food chain – from the field to the warehouse. It paves the way for robots to take on complex picking and sorting tasks involving irregular organic items – sorting fruit and vegetables, for example, or locating and removing specific weeds among crops in a field.

“Traditional robots struggle when it comes to adapting to deal with uncertainty,” said Chris Roberts, head of industrial robotics at Cambridge Consultants. “Our innovative blend of existing technologies and novel signal processing techniques has resulted in a radical new system design that is poised to disrupt the industry.”

 

Robots Learning Judo Techniques to Fall Down Without Exploding

By Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  The best and worst part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals waswatching all of those huge expensive humanoids topple over in a series of epic faceplants. Faceplants are called faceplants because you’re planting your face into the ground as a means of breaking your fall, which usually also breaks your face, among other things. This tends to happen when you’re unprepared for falling, which with most robots, is 100 percent of the time. Now researchers at Georgia Tech want to teach humanoid robots to fall more safely with techniques adapted from judo, which might protect them enough to actually be able to get up again.

Falling safely (or, as safely as you can), assuming that you have very little control over the nature of your fall, is all about controlling exactly when and how your body crashes down. During a fall, your body is busy converting potential energy to kinetic energy, all of which has to go somewhere when you hit the ground. If your face hits the ground first, then that’s where all the energy goes at once, but if you can manage to contact the ground with a bunch of different parts of your body at different times on the way down, the energy will be spread out. Ideally, the energy gets spread out to the point where each individual impact doesn’t do enough damage to hurt you in a permanent sort of way.  Cont'd...

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