These Five Exponential Trends Are Accelerating Robotics

Alison E. Berman for Singularity Hub:  If you've been staying on top of artificial intelligence news lately, you may know that the games of chess and Go were two of the grand challenges for AI. But do you know what the equivalent is for robotics? It's table tennis. Just think about how the game requires razor sharp perception and movement, a tall order for a machine.

As entertaining as human vs. robot games can be, what they actually demonstrate is much more important. They test the technology's readiness for practical applications in the real world—like self-driving cars that can navigate around unexpected people in a street.

Though we used to think of robots as clunky machines for repetitive factory tasks, a slew of new technologies are making robots faster, stronger, cheaper, and even perceptive, so that they can understand and engage with their surrounding environments. Consider Boston Dynamic’s Atlas Robot, which can walk through snow, move boxes, endure a hefty blow with a hockey stick by an aggressive colleague, and even regain its feet when knocked down. Not too long ago, such tasks were unthinkable for a robot.

At the Exponential Manufacturing conference, robotics expert and director of Columbia University’s Creative Machine Labs, Hod Lipson, examined five exponential trends shaping and accelerating the future of the robotics industry.   Cont'd...

Artistic Style Transfer for Videos

From Manuel Ruder, Alexey Dosovitskiy, Thomas Brox of the University of Freiburg:

In the past, manually re-drawing an image in a certain artistic style required a professional artist and a long time. Doing this for a video sequence single-handed was beyond imagination. Nowadays computers provide new possibilities. We present an approach that transfers the style from one image (for example, a painting) to a whole video sequence. We make use of recent advances in style transfer in still images and propose new initializations and loss functions applicable to videos. This allows us to generate consistent and stable stylized video sequences, even in cases with large motion and strong occlusion. We show that the proposed method clearly outperforms simpler baselines both qualitatively and quantitatively... (pdf paper)

 

Scientists develop bee model that will impact the development of aerial robotics

Phys.org:  Scientists have built a computer model that shows how bees use vision to detect the movement of the world around them and avoid crashing. This research, published in PLOS Computational Biology, is an important step in understanding how the bee brain processes the visual world and will aid the development of robotics.

The study led by Alexander Cope and his coauthors at the University of Sheffield shows how bees estimate the speed of motion, or optic flow, of the visual world around them and use this to control their flight. The model is based on Honeybees as they are excellent navigators and explorers, and use vision extensively in these tasks, despite having a brain of only one million neurons (in comparison to the human brain's 100 billion).

The model shows how bees are capable of navigating complex environments by using a simple extension to the known neural circuits, within the environment of a virtual world. The model then reproduces the detailed behaviour of real bees by using optic flow to fly down a corridor, and also matches up with how their neurons respond.  Cont'd...

Billions Are Being Invested in a Robot That Americans Don't Want

Keith Naughton for Bloomberg Technology:  Brian Lesko and Dan Sherman hate the idea of driverless cars, but for very different reasons.  Lesko, 46, a business-development executive in Atlanta, doesn’t trust a robot to keep him out of harm’s way. “It scares the bejeebers out of me,” he says.

Sherman, 21, a mechanical-engineering student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, trusts the technology and sees these vehicles eventually taking over the road. But he dreads the change because his passion is working on cars to make them faster.

“It’s something I’ve loved to do my entire life and it’s kind of on its way out,” he says. “That’s the sad truth.”

The driverless revolution is racing forward, as inventors overcome technical challenges such as navigating at night and regulators craft new rules. Yet the rush to robot cars faces a big roadblock: People aren’t ready to give up the wheel. Recent surveys by J.D. Power, consulting company EY, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Canadian Automobile Association, researcher Kelley Blue Book and auto supplier Robert Bosch LLC all show that half to three-quarters of respondents don’t want anything to do with these models.  Cont'd...

The US service-sector jobs at risk from a robot revolution

Sam Fleming for Financial Times:  When Andy Puzder, chief executive of restaurant chains Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s, said in March that rising employment costs could drive the spread of automation in the fast-food sector, he tapped into a growing anxiety in the US.

From touchscreen ordering systems to burger-flipping robots and self-driving trucks, automation is stalking an increasing number of professions in the country’s service sector, which employs the vast majority of the workforce.

Two-fifths of US employees are in occupations where at least half their time is spent doing activities that could be automated by adapting technology already available, according to research from the McKinsey Global Institute. These include the three biggest occupations in the country: retail salespeople, store cashiers and workers preparing and serving food, collectively totalling well over 10m people.

Yet evidence of human obsolescence is conspicuous by its absence in the US’s economic statistics. The country is in the midst of its longest private-sector hiring spree on record, adding 14.4m jobs over 73 straight months, and productivity grew only 1.4 per cent a year from 2007 to 2014, compared with 2.2 per cent from 1953 to 2007. Those three big occupations all grew 1-3 per cent from 2014 to 2015.  Cont'd...

Innovators offered chance to develop their ideas with world leading robotics manufacturer ABB Robotics

Full Press Release:  The IdeaHub, is once again recruiting robotics and software innovators worldwide to take on the challenge of improving the way we work and interact with the next generation of industrial robots. Working on behalf of ABB Robotics, IdeaHub will help successful applicants pitch their ideas and secure uniquely tailored support packages to maximise their venture's commercial potential, including investment, mentoring and access to cutting edge hardware. 
The IdeaHub is a cross sector, open innovation platform that connects visionaries worldwide with funding and support from global corporations. In 2015 they ran their first programme for ABB Robotics, attracting over 130 applicants with 12 finalists selected for a pitch day in London, with 6 entrepreneurs receiving an offer of support. For 2016 they are partnering with ABB Robotics once again to bring more solutions to solve three core challenges in the world collaborative industrial robotics: 
1.) Simplicity: How to simplify robotics 
2.) Intelligence: How to enable robots to learn and apply that learning
3.) Digitalization: How smart 
connectivity will enhance digital factories. 

Zero Zero Hover Camera drone uses face tracking tech to follow you

Lee Mathews for Geek:  Camera-toting drones that can follow a subject while they’re recording aren’t a new thing, but a company called Zero Zero is putting a very different spin on them. It’s all about how they track what’s being filmed.

Zero Zero’s new Hover Camera doesn’t require you to wear a special wristband like AirDog. There’s no “pod” to stuff in your pocket like the one that comes with Lily, and it doesn’t rely on GPS either. Instead, the Hover Camera uses its “eyes” to follow along.

Unlike some drones that use visual sensors to lock on to a moving subject, the Hover Camera uses them in conjunction with face and body recognition algorithms to ensure that it’s actually following the person you want it to follow.

For now, it can only track the person you initially select. By the time the Hover Camera goes up for sale, however, Zero Zero says it will be able to scan the entire surrounding area for faces.  Cont'd...

Bring 3D printed robots to life with 'Ziro' hand-controlled robotics kit

Benedict for 3Ders.org:  Tech startup ZeroUI, based in San Jose, California, has launched an Indiegogo campaign for Ziro, the “world’s first hand-controlled robotics kit”. The modular kit has been designed to bring 3D printed creations to life, and has already surpassed its $30,000 campaign goal.
It would be fair to say that the phenomenon of gesture recognition, throughout the wide variety of consumer electronics to which it has been introduced, has been a mixed success. The huge popularity of the Nintendo Wii showed that—for the right product—users were happy to use their hands and bodies as controllers, but for every Wii, there are a million useless webcam or smartphone functions, lying dormant, unused, and destined for the technology recycle bin.  Full Article:
 

Face2Face: Real-time Face Capture and Reenactment of RGB Videos

From Justus Thies, Michael Zollhöfer, Marc Stamminger, Christian Theobalt and Matthias Nießner:

We present a novel approach for real-time facial reenactment of a monocular target video sequence (e.g., Youtube video). The source sequence is also a monocular video stream, captured live with a commodity webcam. Our goal is to animate the facial expressions of the target video by a source actor and re-render the manipulated output video in a photo-realistic fashion. To this end, we first address the under-constrained problem of facial identity recovery from monocular video by non-rigid model-based bundling. At run time, we track facial expressions of both source and target video using a dense photometric consistency measure. Reenactment is then achieved by fast and efficient deformation transfer between source and target. The mouth interior that best matches the re-targeted expression is retrieved from the target sequence and warped to produce an accurate fit. Finally, we convincingly re-render the synthesized target face on top of the corresponding video stream such that it seamlessly blends with the real-world illumination... (full paper)

 

Obama and Merkel open HANNOVER MESSE

"We want to build on the spirit of innovation in the USA," said POTUS Barack Obama in his opening speech. This spirit has been driven by Germany and HANNOVER MESSE, especially over the past 70 years. Obama added that the USA has now created new production facilities, subsidy schemes and jobs in recent years to help reach this goal.

In what is likely his last visit to Germany as President, Obama spoke in particular about the TTIP free trade agreement. He believes that there are too many obstacles restricting trade between the EU and the USA. Different regulations and standards lead to higher costs. Therefore, one of TTIP's aims is to establish harmonized high standards.

Obama also promoted the USA as a production location for European companies. Angela Merkel gladly took the opportunity to respond:  "We love competition. But we also like to win,"  replied the German Chancellor.

A challenge with a smile. In her speech, Merkel emphasized that cooperation is essential for the future of industrial production - in a transatlantic partnership. "We in the EU want to lead the way, together with the USA," said the Chancellor, referring above all to the development of global communication and IT standards for integrated industry.

However, the opening ceremony at HANNOVER MESSE 2016 was more than a meeting of Heads of State. Amidst musical numbers and dance performances by humans and machines, German Minister for Education and Research, Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, presented the coveted HERMES AWARD for industrial innovation. This year's winner is the Harting Group with its intelligent communication module, MICA.  Cont'd...

Dmitry Grishin Doubles Down on Robotics With New $100 Million Fund

Erico Guizzo for IEEE Spectrum:  Nearly four years ago, Dmitry Grishin launched a US $25 million fund to invest exclusively in consumer robots. Grishin, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Mail.ru, the Russian Internet giant, believed that robotics was going to be one of the next big technology revolutions, and he was willing to put his money where his mouth was.

Now the Russian investor is ready to double down on his vision. Or actuallydouble double down. Grishin Robotics has recently announced a second fund four times as large as the original one. The new $100 million fund will seek Series A and B deals and expand its focus to include startups in markets like connected devices, collaborative and material-handling robots, AI and data analytics, and industrial Internet of Things.  Cont'd...

US to sail submarine drones in South China Sea

Geoff Dyer for CNBC:  As it watches China build up its presence in the South China Sea, one reclaimed island at a time, the US military is betting on a new technology to help retain its edge — submarine drones.

During the past six months, the Pentagon has started to talk publicly about a once-secret program to develop unmanned undersea vehicles, the term given to the drone subs that are becoming part of its plan to deter China from trying to dominate the region.

Ashton Carter, US defense secretary, made special mention of drone subs in a speech about military strategy in Asia and hinted at their potential use in the South China Sea, which has large areas of shallower water.

The Pentagon's investment in subs "includes new undersea drones in multiple sizes and diverse payloads that can, importantly, operate in shallow water, where manned submarines cannot", said Mr Carter, who visited a US warship in the South China Sea on Friday.  Cont'd...

Over 1,000 Student-Led Robotics Teams Converge At VEX Worlds

VEX Worlds 2016 kicks off this week! Presented by the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation and the Northrop Grumman Foundation, this culminating event brings together the top 1,000 teams from around the world in one city and under one roof for one incredible celebration of robotics engineering, featuring the world's largest and fastest growing international robotics programs - the VEX IQ Challenge, the VEX Robotics Competition and VEX U. On April 20-23, at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., over 16,000 participants from 37 nations will come together to put their engineering expertise to the test as they seek to be crowned the Champions of VEX Worlds.   Follow the competition here:

9 open source robotics projects

Jason Baker for OpenSource:  Open source isn't just changing the way we interact with the world, it's changing the way the world interacts back with us. Case in point: open source robotics.

Robots are playing an increasing role in our world, and while we perhaps haven't reached the utopian future with robotic housekeepers imagined for us in the Jetsons, robotics are making advances in fields that fifty years ago would have been completely unimaginable.

While undoubtedly manufacturing has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the robot renaissance, we are seeing robots enter the mainstream as well. Many of us have robots that clean our floors, clear our gutters, mow our grass, and more.

And now, with the advances of self driving cars, drones, and other transport technologies, the line between what is a robot and what is a vehicle is steadily blurring.

But let's be honest: a lot of us have an interest in robotics simply because it's fun! And the good news is you don't need to be an electrical engineer to enjoy robotics as a hobby. Fortunately, there are a number of open source projects out there that can help even the most novice beginner get started.  Full Article:

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...

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