Toyota Invests $1 Billion in AI and Robots, Will Open R&D Lab in Silicon Valley

By Erico Guizzo and Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  Today in Tokyo, Toyota announced that it is investing US $1 billion over the next five years to establish a new R&D arm headquartered in Silicon Valley and focused on artificial intelligence and robotics. The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) plans to hire hundreds of engineers to staff a main facility in Palo Alto, Calif., near Stanford University, and a second facility located near MIT in Cambridge, Mass.
Former DARPA program manager Dr. Gill Pratt, an executive technical advisor at Toyota, was named CEO of TRI, which will begin operations in January. Toyota president Akio Toyoda said in a press conference that the company pursues innovation and new technologies “to make life better for our customers and society as a whole,” adding that he wanted to “work with Gill not just because he’s an amazing researcher and engineer, but because I believe his goals and motivations are the same as ours.”  Cont'd...

Skype founders invent self-driving robot that can deliver groceries for £1

By Sophie Curtis, video by Robert Midgley:  You've heard of Amazon's plan to deliver packages using drones; now a new company called Starship is promising to disrupt local delivery with the launch of a self-driving robot that can deliver groceries to customers' doors in under 30 minutes for less than £1.

The Starship robot has been developed by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. It drives on pavements at an average speed of 4mph, and uses proprietary mapping and navigation technology to avoid crashing into obstacles, (check out the video we made).  Cont'd...

 

Leeds could become the first 'self-repairing city' with a fleet of robotic civil servants

By Chloe Olewitz for Digital Trends:  Most people don’t know a whole lot about the city of Leeds other than its distinct regional accent, but believe it or not, local Leeds University is actually known for being a pioneering research leader in the field of robotics. The university’s School of Civil Engineering has put together a key research team that is currently developing a fleet of civil service robots and drones that would effectively turn Leeds into a self-repairing city.

The robotics research project is funded with £4.2M ($6.5M) of national funds, focusing on autonomous machines that would fix infrastructure issues across the city of Leeds, and perhaps, eventually, beyond. Leeds’ robot fleet will focus on robotic fixes for citywide issues like burst or damaged utility pipes, broken or nonfunctional street lights, and road fractures that disturb drivers on their way to anywhere.

Three main branches of the project cover the functions of the Leeds robots: Perch and Repair; Perceive and Patch; and Fire and Forget. The Perch and Repair segment covers research into robotic drones that can land, or “perch” like birds atop tall structures like street lamps or building-mounted civil structures. The Perceive and Patch team leads research into drones that can survey popular roads or even particularly dangerous ones in order to identify and repair potholes where they exist, and in the future, even prevent them before they occur.  Cont'd...

Driverless Taxi Experiment to Start in Japan

By JUN HONGO for The Wall Street Journal: Japan’s cabinet office, Kanagawa prefecture and Robot Taxi Inc. on Thursday said they will start experimenting with unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The service will be offered for approximately 50 people in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo, with the auto-driving car carrying them from their homes to local grocery stores.

According to the project organizers, the cabs will drive a distance of about three kilometers (two miles), and part of the course will be on major avenues in the city. Crew members will be aboard the car during the experiment in case there is a need to avoid accidents.

Robot Taxi Inc., a joint venture between mobile Internet company DeNA Co. and vehicle technology developer ZMP Inc., is aiming to commercialize its driverless transportation service by 2020. The company says it will seek to offer unmanned cabs to users including travelers from overseas and locals in areas where buses and trains are not available.  Cont'd...

euRathlon 2015 Challenge

Sixth day of euRathlon 2015 - euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge - Part 2
25 September 2015, Piombino, Italy.

View euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge - Part 1. Day Five

View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Two-domain Scenarios. Day Four.

View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Two Domain Trials - Day Three

View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Single Domain Trials - Day Two

View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Single-domain trials - Day One

WowWee brings expensive university bots to store shelves

By Corinne Iozzio for Scientific American:  Hong Kong–based WowWee's success stems from bringing university research projects to life that might otherwise languish in the prototype stage. A licensing agreement with the Flow Control and Coordinated Robotics Labs at the University of California, San Diego, for example, provides WowWee with access to patents and the labs with a healthy cash infusion. The collaboration has already netted a series of toy robots that balance like Segways. More recently, the avionics lab at Concordia University in Montreal began working with the company to perfect flight algorithms for a four-rotor drone. Next, chief technology officer Davin Sufer says he has his eye on the Georgia Institute of Technology and its work with swarming behaviors, which would allow a group of robots to function in tandem.

In the case of Switchbot, WowWee adapted a locomotion system developed in part by former U.C. San Diego student Nick Morozovsky. The robot moves on tank-tread legs either horizontally to navigate uneven terrain or on end to stand and scoot fully upright. Morozovsky built his prototype with off-the-shelf parts, including a set of $50 motors. The motors were a compromise; each one had the size and torque he wanted but not the speed. Over the past few years he has worked with WowWee to customize a motor with the exact parameters needed and to cut the final cost of the part down to single digits.

That back and forth yields low-cost, mass-producible parts, which means university-level robotics could become available to everyday people. “One of the reasons I went into mechanical engineering was so I could create real things that have a direct impact,” Morozovsky says. “I didn't expect that to necessarily happen in the process of grad school.”  Cont'd...

5 Robotics Stocks to Watch

Chad Fraser for The Street:  Soon, robots could be doing much more than just vacuuming your house or assembling your next car-they could also invade your investment portfolio. If you're looking for the industry's fastest growth, you'll want to pay particular attention to what's happening on the consumer/office side, where sales are set to grow at a 17% compound annual rate between 2014 and 2019, according to a May report from Business Insider -- seven times quicker than the industrial-robot market. In addition, a number of radical new applications for robotics are emerging in the medical and defense markets, as outlined in this presentation from Investing Daily.

Even though the automation trend is clearly set, there still aren't many pure ways for investors to play it. But that doesn't mean there are no intriguing options out there. Here are five robot makers to keep on your radar screen:

Soft Robotics Project Exo-Biote 3D Prints Living Movement

BY HANNAH ROSE MENDOZA for 3DPrint.com:  Soft robotics is a relatively new field of research that aims to create flexible robots that are more easily adaptable to human interaction. Often, the forms of these creations and the mechanics of their movement are inspired by a close study of nature in an effort to ‘go organic’ with machines. 3D printing with flexible filament is one way in which this integration of robot and movement is taking on a flexible aspect.
For this particular installation, titled Exo-biote, the National Institute for Research in Computer and Control and the Department of Science and Visual Culture at the Imaginarium worked together, with support from Neuflize Bank, to create a robot organism that embodied the formal typologies and demonstrated the possibilities for movements in soft robots. After all, some of nature’s most amazing machines have nearly entirely soft bodies – think of the octopus, for example, able to lift, carry, walk, swim, shape change, camouflage itself, and fit through a tube no bigger than a quarter!  Cont'd...

Toyota hires robotics expert for AI push

Richard Waters for FT.com:  Toyota has hired the top robotics expert from the US defence department’s research arm and promised $50m in extra funding for artificial intelligence research, as it steps up the race between the world’s biggest carmakers to pioneer new forms of computer-assisted driving.

However, the Japanese carmaker maintained on Friday that completely driverless cars were still years away, and that AI and robotics would have a more complex effect on the relationship between humans and their vehicles than Google’s experiments with “robot cars” suggest.

Gill Pratt, who stepped down recently from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), will move to Silicon Valley to head Toyota’s robotics efforts, the company said. Darpa played a key role in stimulating interest in driverless cars with a competition in 2005 — the leader of the winning entry, Sebastian Thrun, who was then a professor at Stanford University, went on to found Google’s driverless car programme.  Cont'd...

Robotics Enter Hybrid Instruction

By Dian Schaffhauser for Campus Technology:  A doctoral program at Michigan State University has begun experimenting with the use of robots to pull on-campus and off-campus students closer together in class. The Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) doctoral program focuses on the study of human learning and development and diverse technologies supporting learning and teaching. During a spring course in 2015 all but one student participated by being present in the form of an Apple iPad affixed to a swivel robot that was stationary; one student was on a robot that could move around the classroom.

As Christine Greenhow, the faculty member who led the seminar course, explained, the experiment was intended to expand beyond traditional Web presence of online students. "When you are using videoconferencing, it's very common to see all these different faces on the screen if you're here in the classroom and not really know where to look. It creates this distance between the speaker who's online and the speakers in the class," she said in a video about the project. "What if we could put online students in the classroom in a robot? How would their presence change?"  Cont'd...

Why being able to 3-D print glass objects is such a big deal

By Dominic Basulto for the Washington Post:  Researchers at MIT have just unveiled the ability to 3-D-print beautiful glass objects. While humanity has been forming, blowing and molding glass objects for more than 4,500 years, this is the first time that a 3-D printer has been used to process glass from a molten state to an annealed product.

Obviously, there are some purely aesthetic applications here, as in the potential for epic blown glass art. Think museum-worthy glass objects worthy of Dale Chihuly. In fact, the MIT team — a collaborative team of researchers that includes the MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group, the MIT Glass Lab and MIT’s Mechanical Engineering Department — plan to display a few of their beautiful objects at an upcoming exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2016. 

But the applications go beyond just beautiful new designs that might be created via 3-D printers one day. As the MIT research team points out in a forthcoming paper for the journal 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, “As designers learn to utilize this new freedom in glass manufacturing it is expected that a whole range of novel applications will be discovered.” That’s the real future potential of glass 3-D printing — the ability to create objects and applications that do not exist today.  Cont'd...

Here comes the drone backlash

Mike Elgan for Computer World: Consumer drone technology is barely taking off, and already a harsh public backlash is growing.

Your typical garden variety consumer drone is lightweight, battery operated, has four propellers and is controlled by a smartphone. Most have cameras and beam back live video, which can be recorded for posterity. Some have high-quality HD cameras on them, and from that high vantage point can take stunning photos and videos.

Drones are fun. They're exciting. They're accessible. But increasingly, they're becoming unacceptable.

I'm sensing a growing backlash, a kind of social media pitchfork mob against drones and drone fans. It's only a matter of time, and not much time, before it will be politically incorrect to express any kind of enthusiasm for drones in polite company. I fear that many are about to embark on an "everybody knows drones are bad" mentality that will suppress the nascent industry and spoil this innovative and exhilarating technology.

Here's what's driving the coming backlash:  Cont'd...

Autonomous Drifting

From AMREL:

You know how the stuntmen make fast cars drift in action movies? Have you ever wanted to make a remote-controlled toy car drift like that? Of course you have.  If there ever were awards for endeavors that sound silly, but is actually technically interesting, then the folks at MIT’s Aerospace Controls Lab would surely be nominated.

Unmanned systems are rarely fully autonomous.  Instead, researchers are pursuing “sliding” autonomy, i.e. an operator retains control, while some behaviors are made autonomous. Aerospace Controls Lab decided to teach a remote-control toy car how to autonomously drift.

They started by running their learning algorithm through simulations.  Information from these simulations was transferred to performance modifiers. When the car was run through its drifting actions in reality, the algorithm was constantly modified. The result is a car that can maintain drifting in a full circle even when salt is added to the floor, or another vehicle interferes with it.

 

Auro Robotics: Driverless Shuttles for In-campus Travel

From Techcrunch:

Y Combinator-backed Auro Robotics is currently testing their driverless shuttle system at several universities, and is actually beginning to deploy shuttles on the campus of Santa Clara University.

The company is also planning to expand to other markets like amusement parks, retirement communities and small islands, with some projects in those spaces already set to take off “in the later part of this year.”

Auro has chosen to focus on these small, contained environments largely because they are controlled by private corporations, and thus are not subject to the heavy government regulation that Google and other companies are stuck behind with their driverless cars... (full article)

From Auro Robotics:

How does it work

Auro Prime uses latest technology to ensure safe navigation even on busy roads. The vehicle is equipped with Lasers, camera, Radar and GPS providing it complete 360 degree vision under all environment situations.

The shuttles relies on a prior 3D map of the environment, which is created once in the lifetime at the beginning. In all subsequent runs, it uses this 3D map to localise itself and interpret road topography.

Passengers can input their destinations through a simple to use touch screen mounted on the vehicle, or through their mobile app. The underlying software automatically figures out the optimum high-level route to reach safely to the destination... (more info)

 

 

Carnegie Mellon, GE Ventures bringing robotics accelerator program to Pittsburgh

By Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  A new accelerator program and a $20 million venture fund started by Carnegie Mellon University and GE Ventures could brand Pittsburgh as the official home of the globe’s growing robotics industry.

CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center and GE Ventures, the investment arm of Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric, have teamed up to create The Robotics Hub, an early-stage startup accelerator program designed to draw the nation’s best advanced robotics firms to Pittsburgh and to keep those started here firmly in place.

The for-profit Robotics Hub will provide funding through newly created Coal Hill Ventures and access to equipment at CMU and the NREC to chosen companies by 2016, in addition to putting their creations on a fast track toward commercialization.

“The strategy that’s most important to GE is to really get behind startups and help them scale. A lot of companies can come with the money, but what we bring is the ability to scale and the opportunity to commercialize quite quickly, said Alex Tepper, GE Ventures managing director.  Cont'd...

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