Shockingly, Robots Are Really Bad at Waiting Tables

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  According to Chinese newspaper Workers’ Daily, two restaurants in Guangzhou, China, that gained some amount of notoriety for their use of robotic waiters have now been forced to close down. One employee said, “the robots weren’t able to carry soup or other food steady and they would frequently break down. The boss has decided never to use them again.” Yeah, we can’t say we’re surprised.

As far as I can tell, all of these waiter robots can do essentially one thing: travel along a set path while holding food. They can probably stop at specific tables, and maybe turn or sense when something has been taken from them, but that seems to be about it. “Their skills are somewhat limited,” a robot restaurant employee told Workers’ Daily. “They can’t take orders or pour hot water for customers.” Those are just two of the many, many more skills that human servers have, because it’s necessary to have many, many more skills than this to be a good server.  Cont'd...

SCHAFT Unveils Awesome New Bipedal Robot at Japan Conference

From Evan Ackerman at IEEE Spectrum:  Right now, the New Economic Summit (NEST) 2016 conference is going on in Tokyo, Japan. One of the keynote speakers is Andy Rubin. Rubin was in charge of Google’s robotics program in 2013, when the company (now Alphabet) acquired a fistful of some of the most capable and interesting robotics companies in the world. One of those companies was SCHAFT, which originated at the JSK Robotics Laboratory at the University of Tokyo...

... SCHAFT co-founder and CEO Yuto Nakanishi climbed onstage to introduce his company’s new bipedal robot. He explains that the robot can climb stairs, carry a 60-kg payload, and step on a pipe and keep its balance. It can also move in tight spaces, and the video shows the robot climbing a narrow staircase by positioning its legs behind its body (1:22). In a curious part of the demo (1:36), the robot is shown cleaning a set of stairs with a spinning brush and what appears to be a vacuum attached to its feet... (article)

Toyota Expands AI, Robotics Research to Third Facility

Kirsten Korosec for Fortune:  Toyota  will expand the footprint of its artificial intelligence and robotics research center by adding a third facility in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, made the announcement on Thursday during his keynote speech at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in San Jose. The Ann Arbor facility will be located near the University of Michigan, where it will fund research in artificial intelligence, robotics, and materials science.

Last year, the world’s largest automaker said it would invest $1 billion over the next five years in a research center for artificial intelligence to be based in Palo Alto, Calif. The institute aims to bridge the gap between research in AI and robotics in order to bring this technology to market. The technology is largely being developed for self-driving cars, but the institute is also researching and developing AI products for the home.  Cont'd...

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...

Efficient 3D Object Segmentation from Densely Sampled Light Fields with Applications to 3D Reconstruction

From Kaan Yücer, Alexander Sorkine-Hornung, Oliver Wang, Olga Sorkine-Hornung:

Precise object segmentation in image data is a fundamental problem with various applications, including 3D object reconstruction. We present an efficient algorithm to automatically segment a static foreground object from highly cluttered background in light fields. A key insight and contribution of our paper is that a significant increase of the available input data can enable the design of novel, highly efficient approaches. In particular, the central idea of our method is to exploit high spatio-angular sampling on the order of thousands of input frames, e.g. captured as a hand-held video, such that new structures are revealed due to the increased coherence in the data. We first show how purely local gradient information contained in slices of such a dense light field can be combined with information about the camera trajectory to make efficient estimates of the foreground and background. These estimates are then propagated to textureless regions using edge-aware filtering in the epipolar volume. Finally, we enforce global consistency in a gathering step to derive a precise object segmentation both in 2D and 3D space, which captures fine geometric details even in very cluttered scenes. The design of each of these steps is motivated by efficiency and scalability, allowing us to handle large, real-world video datasets on a standard desktop computer... (paper)

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...

Robotics makes baby steps toward solving Japan's child care shortage

Roy Bishop for The Japan Times:  Child care is a hard job, but somebody, or something, has got to do it.

Japanese researchers have developed androids to meet that need, which includes happily reading that fairy tale again and again and again.

The androids, which were created by a team of education and robotics specialists at a research facility in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, are part of a larger system called RoHo Care. Short for Robotic Hoikujo (day care center), RoHo is being touted as a high-tech solution to the staffing crisis that forced the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to announce emergency measures this week.

“I never thought I’d see this day, but we’re now confident that RoHo could blaze a trail for child care worldwide,” said team leader Makoto Hara.

At a briefing on Thursday, Hara introduced a “care-droid” prototype named Or-B, the core component of RoHo’s vision for day care assistance, and said it will undergo a trial run this summer before full-scale implementation in 2018.  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...

Cafe X Robotic Barista

From LAUNCH Festival 2016:  CafeX unveils fully automated robotic cafe at Launch Festival; companion iOS & Android app will allow users to order drinks prior to arrival; works w/ local coffee growers in ea mkt; cafe is ~60 sq ft & is open 24 hrs/day.

 

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...

OpenROV Trident Pre-orders

From OpenROV:

OpenROV Trident Features:

Depth: Capable of 100m (will ship with a 25m  tether - longer tethers will be sold separately)
Mass: 2.9 kg
Top Speed: 2 m/s
Run Time: 3 hours

Connectivity

The data connection to Trident is a major evolution from the connection setup of the original OpenROV kit. It uses a neutrally buoyant tether to communicate to a towable buoy on the surface (radio waves don't travel well in water) and the buoy connects to the pilot using a long range WiFi signal. Using a wireless towable buoy greatly increases the practical range of the vehicle while doing transects and search patterns since a physical connection between the vehicle and the pilot doesn't need to be maintained. You can connect to the buoy and control Trident using a tablet or laptop from a boat or from the shore... (preorder $1,199.00)

 

America, Regulate Drones Now or Get Left Behind

Missy Cummings for Wired:  Drones are a big business and getting bigger, a reality that comes with both economic opportunities and risks. The UAV market is set to jump from $5.2 billion in 2013 to $11.6 billion in 2023. Opportunities for delivery services, cinematography, and even flying cell towers could introduce thousands of jobs and reinvigorate an ailing aerospace market.

At the same time, drone sales to hobbyists have exploded. Registered drone operators in the US now outnumber registered manned aircraft. In tandem with that growth, close calls with commercial aircraft have more than doubled in the past two years. An analysis of FAA reports by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone counts 28 instances in which pilots changed course in order to avoid a collision.  Cont'd...

Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat

Brad Stone and Jack Clark for Bloomberg Business:  The video, published to YouTube on Feb. 23, was awe-inspiring and scary. A two-legged humanoid robot trudges through the snow, somehow maintaining its balance. Another robot with two arms and pads for hands crouches down and lifts a brown box and delicately places it on a shelf -- then somehow stays upright while a human tries to push it over with a hockey stick. A third robot topples over and clambers back to its feet with ease.

Tens of millions of people viewed the video over the next few weeks. Google and the division responsible for the video, Boston Dynamics, were seemingly pushing the frontier in robot technology. 

But behind the scenes a more pedestrian drama was playing out. Executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc., absorbed with making sure all the various companies under its corporate umbrella have plans to generate real revenue, concluded that Boston Dynamics isn’t likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years and have put the unit up for sale, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans.

Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google and Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.  Full Article:

Robotics expert: Self-driving cars not ready for deployment

Joan Lowy for PHYS.org:  Self-driving cars are "absolutely not" ready for widespread deployment despite a rush to put them on the road, a robotics expert warned Tuesday.

The cars aren't yet able to handle bad weather, including standing water, drizzling rain, sudden downpours and snow, Missy Cummings, director of Duke University's robotics program, told the Senate commerce committee. And they certainly aren't equipped to follow the directions of a police officer, she said.

While enthusiastic about research into self-driving cars, "I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver's seat," Cummings said.

It's relatively easy for hackers to take control of the GPS navigation systems of self-driving cars, Cummings said.

"It is feasible that people could commandeer self-driving vehicles ... to do their bidding, which could be malicious or simply just for the thrill of it," she said, adding that privacy of personal data is another concern.  Cont'd...

Image Processing 101

Sher Minn Chong wrote a good introductory to image processing in Python:

In this article, I will go through some basic building blocks of image processing, and share some code and approaches to basic how-tos. All code written is in Python and uses OpenCV, a powerful image processing and computer vision library...

... When we’re trying to gather information about an image, we’ll first need to break it up into the features we are interested in. This is called segmentation. Image segmentation is the process representing an image in segments to make it more meaningful for easier to analyze3.

Thresholding

One of the simplest ways of segmenting an image isthresholding. The basic idea of thresholding is to replace each pixel in an image with a white pixel if a channel value of that pixel exceeds a certain threshold... (full tutorial) (iPython Notebook)

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