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.
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
By AINSLEY O'CONNELL for FastCompany: When hobbyist drone pilot Michael Kolowich ordered his Cinestar-8 octocopter in 2013, he traveled from Boston to Montana, where it had been assembled, to pick it up. "I went up there for four days of training in how to fly it safely, how to get great shots with it, the ins and outs of the platform," he says. "It really did take that much training to get the most out of it."
How the world has changed in just two years. "Almost every serious video drone then was somewhat custom-built," he says. Now, for a fraction of what Kolowich paid, aspiring drone pilots can pick up a "serious" drone at their local Best Buy. The drone community, circa 2015, is at an inflection point, with DIY tinkering giving way to mass-market distribution.
"A year or two ago it was far more custom builds. Now you see it standardizing quite a bit," says Dan Burton, CEO and cofounder of Dronebase, an online platform for booking commercial drone services. Burton was first introduced to drones while serving in the Marines; after returning to the U.S. and attending business school, he began helping commercial drone pilots manage their financials. Dronebase, which effectively allows pilots to outsource their sales and operations, is a natural extension of that hands-on experience.
Burton describes the drone community as comprised of "very passionate hobbyists." But increasingly, the community’s creative, maker mindset is directed toward the cinematics of operating the drone camera, rather than toward the construction of the flying robot itself. Cont'd...
Toyota is accelerating development of a robot that can perform tasks in the home to help elderly and disabled people lead independent lives.
The Human Support Robot (HSR) is its response to the rising demand for long-term elderly care. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2050, 22 per cent of the world’s population will be over 60 years old.
The HSR is compact and highly manoeuvrable, with a lightweight, cylindrical body and a folding arm. It can pick up objects off the floor, reach things down from shelves and perform a variety of other tasks.
Toyota is teaming up with a number of research bodies to set up the HSR Developers’ Community, making a combined effort to hasten development and early practical adoption of the HSR.
Artificial intelligence is not yet a substitute for human care, but the HSR will be able to be operated remotely by family and friends, with the operator’s face and voice being relayed in real-time. This will allow for genuine human interaction as the HSR goes about its work. Cont'd...
Companies are making human-like robots and they think they've stumbled on the biggest thing since the iPhone
Cadie Thompson for Business Insider: Downloading apps on your own personal robot may become as common as downloading apps on your smartphone.
Robot makers Jibo and Blue Frog Robotics are creating social robots that are aimed at living with humans and in order to entice consumers they are selling them for about the same cost as an iPhone.
Jibo’s robot called Jibo is priced at about $749 for pre-order and Blue Frog Robotics’ robot called Buddy is priced at $549.
But these companies are also promising consumers that these little live-in robots are going to become the biggest platform since Apple’s iPhone, capable of performing all kinds of functions via apps.
“It’s like the iPhone, if we want to reach the mainstream and have success we need many very interesting apps,” said Frack de Visme, the chief financial officer of Blue Frog Robotics.
“We are going to have an open system so many developers can develop and create amazing apps so that it become mainstream.” Cont'd...
The English-speaking receptionist is a vicious-looking dinosaur, and the one speaking Japanese is a female humanoid with blinking lashes.
“If you want to check in, push one,” the dinosaur says. The visitor still has to punch a button on the desk and type in information on a touch panel screen.
From the front desk to the porter that is an automated trolley taking luggage to the room, this hotel in south-western Japan, aptly called Weird Hotel, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labour costs.
Hideo Sawada, who runs the hotel as part of an amusement park, insists using robots is not a gimmick but a serious effort to use technology and achieve efficiency. Cont'd...
BY BRIAN KRASSENSTEIN for 3DPrint.com: There are several ways one can diversify their holdings within any market. An investor could simply research which firms are out there within a particular industry, like the 3D printing industry, and invest small amounts into each by purchasing shares. The easiest way, however, would be to find a fund that’s going to do all the work for you, managed by someone who likely has more experience in the market than you do. There is currently only one main fund which concentrates their efforts primarily on the 3D printing space, the 3D Printing and Technology Fund (TDPNX), managed by CEO Alan M. Meckler, and his son John M. Meckler.
While the fund is currently down approximately 13% YTD, it has outperformed the two largest pure play 3D printing stocks, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS), significantly. 3D Systems is down over 44% on the year, and Stratasys down a staggering 58.5%.
Today the fund is making a major change, one that the Mecklers feel should increase opportunity for investors. Up until this point, the fund allocated at least 80% of their capital to what they defined as ‘3D printing companies’ and ‘technology companies’. Today this changed, along with the fund’s official name. The fund’s new name will now be ‘3D Printing, Robotics and Technology Fund,’ while going forward 80% of their capital will now be allocated to what they define as ‘3D printing companies,’ ‘robotics companies’ and ‘technology companies.’ Cont'd...
From Michael Porter at Clemson University:
Seahorse tails are organized into square prisms surrounded by bony plates that are connected by joints. Many other creatures, ranging from New World monkeys to rodents, have cylindrical tails.
Researchers wanted to know whether the square-prism shape gives seahorse tails a functional advantage.
To find out, the team created a 3D-printed model that mimicked the square prism of a seahorse tail and a hypothetical version that was cylindrical. Then researchers whacked the models with a rubber mallet and twisted and bent them.
Researchers found that the square prototype was stiffer, stronger and more resilient than the circular one when crushed. The square prototype was about half as able to twist, a restriction that could prevent damage to the seahorse and give it better control when it grabs things.
Both prototypes could bend about 90 degrees, although the cylindrical version was slightly less restricted... (cont'd)
by Patrick Davison, Director of Standards Development, Robotic Industries Association: Last week, an unfortunate fatality involving an industrial robot and a worker occurred at a Volkswagen plant in Baunatal, Germany. The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and its member companies express its deepest sympathies to the victim’s family, friends, and colleagues.
According to news sources, the worker was part of a contracting crew responsible for setting up the robot, and was working inside the safeguarded space when the incident occurred. A second member of the contracting crew was standing outside of the safeguarded space and was not harmed.
The international media response to the incident was aggressive, swift, and expounded on topics that were not relevant to the incident. AWashington Post article referenced the dangers of Artificial Intelligence and posed the question, “Should the world kill killer robots before it’s too late?” In another story, a Financial Times journalist with a name similar to a popular character in The Terminator franchise started a social media frenzy with a tweet. A video from Ireland expounds on random tweets regarding the incident with backdrop footage of the Honda ASIMO robot and manual automotive operations. Also, according to this article on an automotive news and gossip site, a Times of India article posted a photo of a gun-wielding toy robot beside the story. Cont'd...
By TIMOTHY AEPPEL and MARK MAGNIER for WSJ.com - Having devoured many of the world’s factory jobs, China is now handing them over to robots.
China already ranks as the world’s largest market for robotic machines. Sales last year grew 54% from a year earlier, and the boom shows every sign of increasing. China is projected to have more installed industrial robots than any other country by next year, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
China’s emergence as an automation hub contradicts many assumptions about robots and the global economy.
Economists often view automation as a way for advanced economies to keep industries that might otherwise move offshore, or even to win them back through reshoring, since the focus is on ways to reduce costly labor. That motivation hasn’t gone away. But increasingly, robots are taking over work in developing countries, reducing the potential job creation associated with building new factories in the frontier markets of Asia, Africa or Latin America. Cont'd...
Manny Salvacion for YIBADA: Robotics education and its important application in engineering has reportedly taken off in China over the past years, as robots have become increasingly popular among people, the China Daily reported.
Liang Yujun, head of the science education department at Beijing Youth Center, said that there are nearly 300 primary and middle schools in Beijing offering robotics-related curricula and activities now.
Liang is in charge of robotics education in the capital and also the general referee of the national youth robotics activity. According to Liang, only about 20 schools had such curricula and activities in the early 2000s.
The report said that about 3,000 registrants from 160 schools and extracurricular teams participated in the 2014 Beijing Student Robotic Intelligence Competition.
"We have to hold the competition in one of the city's largest sports fields now, which can accommodate the increasing number of players," said Liu Yi, who is charge of running the competition at the Youth Center in Haidian District.
Liu said that the competition, which began in 2012, reflects the dramatic growth of robotics education in the country. Cont'd...
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