Robotics, automation, and how a strong network is needed to connect it all up

Manish Sablokk for IoTTech:  Cutting-edge robots and other advanced smart machines are set to be added into the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, which is projected to reach 25 billion devices by 2020. Robotics has already been used in manufacturing to great effect for over a decade, performing delicate and precise tasks with a higher success rate than humans. With advancements such as 'deep learning' robots, delivery drones and ubiquitous knowledge-sharing between machines, widespread robotics adoption is becoming far more feasible. In healthcare, there are already robotic services in operation with automated pharmacy dispensing and robotic trolleys - robots that can navigate between floors and even call the lift using a Wi-Fi sensor. The hospitality sector has also been a keen adopter of robotics to deliver services and in education, robots are being deployed successfully as a tutor, tool or peer in learning activities, providing language, science and technology education.   Cont'd...

Artificial muscle for soft robotics: Low voltage, high hopes

Phys.org:  Soft robots do a lot of things well but they're not exactly known for their speed. The artificial muscles that move soft robots, called actuators, tend to rely on hydraulics or pneumatics, which are slow to respond and difficult to store. Dielectric elastomers, soft materials that have good insulating properties, could offer an alternative to pneumatic actuators but they currently require complex and inefficient circuitry to deliver high voltage as well as rigid components to maintain their form—both of which defeat the purpose of a soft robot. Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a dielectric elastomer with a broad range of motion that requires relatively low voltage and no rigid components. They published their work recently in Advanced Materials.   Cont'd...

Ford's new robots can build cars, make coffee

Ford Motor Company announced today its early testing of a new type of assembly line robot that were co-developed with German robotics company KUKA Roboter GmbH with the intention of assisting human line workers. Two of these three-foot-tall machines are in use at the Cologne, Germany factory, where they assist human workers to install shock absorbers on Ford Fiestas. These workers would have originally had to juggle the shocks and tools to install them, but now the robot helps them position and install the parts.   More...

Standardizing Collaborative Robots: What is ISO/TS 15066?

Samuel Bouchard for Engineering.com:  Collaborative robots (also known as cobots) are changing how robots and humans interact in our factories and manufacturing facilities.  No longer separated by cages, humans and cobots can work beside each other on complex tasks from picking and placement to assembly and logistics.  Human-cobot systems bring together the best of human capabilities (complex reasoning, ease of learning new tasks, pattern and object recognition in cluttered environments) and robot functionality (the ability to perform complex, tedious tasks 24/7 and with high precision).  The close proximity between humans and cobots and its advantages are exciting for manufacturers, SMEs, and the robotics industry, but it also brings a unique set of safety challenges. Enter ISO/TS 15066 – the world's first specifications of safety requirements for collaborative robot applications.   Cont'd...

Rise in Robotics Requires New Tax Approach, EU Report Warns

Linda A. Thompson for Bloomberg:  European lawmakers warn that the growing use of robots and artificial intelligence may cause job losses across the continent, threatening to result in plummeting tax revenues if current tax frameworks aren't revised to account for the rise of the robotic workforce. Practitioners told Bloomberg BNA that taxing robots as “electronic persons,” as the EU contemplates in a recent report, would hinder innovation and that other ways of taxing the value that robotics create should be explored. The recent European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs draft reportrecommends the European Commission adopt a resolution to require companies to report on “the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions.” Its first paragraph references Frankenstein, and comes amid mounting concerns that the rise in automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace will fundamentally alter economies, destroy jobs and jeopardize social welfare programs such as social security.   Cont'd...

China's Midea buys nearly half of German robotics firm Kuka

The Star:  Chinese appliances giant Midea moved a step closer to fulfilling its ambition to acquire German industrial robotics firm Kuka with two weekend deals raising its stake to nearly a majority.  Two of Kuka’s biggest German shareholders – technology company Voith and entrepreneur Friedhelm Loh – said they had decided to take up Midea’s offer of €115 (RM512) per share and sell their stakes.  German news agency DPA reported that Voith had agreed to sell its stake of 25.1% for €1.2bil (RM5.34bil).  And Loh told the business daily Handelsblatt he had decided to sell his stake of 10% for nearly €500mil (RM2.22bil).  Combined with its existing holding of 13.5% in Kuka, the two purchases mean Midea now holds 48.5%, or not far from the outright majority, in the Augsburg-based robot builder.   Cont'd.. .

Boston Dynamics posts video of one of the quietest robots ever being built

John DiPietro for NHVoice:  Lately, Boston Dynamics has released a new video of its robot called Mini Spot. In the video, the robot is seen running around outside, planning around objects in a home and climbing up stairs. The best part of the video is how delicately the robot picks up a wine glass and puts into the dishwasher. The wine-glass act has been highlight as it could be judged as to how much skilled is the robot in handling delicate things. For robots to safely operate around humans they need to be able to sense their environment and capable of knowing how mighty they are. Mini Spot weighs 55 lbs and is all electric and runs for around 90 minutes on a charge depending on what is it doing. The robot is having many sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro and proprioception sensors in its limbs.   Cont'd...

Robotic Motion Planning

George Konidaris and Daniel Sorin of Duke University have developed a new technology that cuts robotic motion planning times by 10,000 while consuming a small fraction of the power compared to current options. Watch one of their robotic arms in action as they explain how their innovative solution works.

Teaching robots the physics of sliding and pushing objects

Jiaji Zhou for RoboHub:  The Manipulation Lab at the CMU Robotics Institute proposes a computational model that relates an applied robot action to the resultant object motion. Their research won the Best Conference Paper Award atICRA 2016.   Understanding the mechanics of manipulation is essential for robots to autonomously interact with the physical world. One of the common manipulation scenarios involves pushing objects in a plane subject to dry friction. We propose a planar friction (force-motion) model that relates an applied robot action to the resultant object motion.   Cont'd...

Amazon's $775 million deal for robotics company Kiva is starting to look really smart

Eugene Kim for Business Insider:  It wasn't until 2014 that Amazon really started to use the machines made by Kiva, the robotics company it bought for $775 million in 2012. Kiva makes robots that automate the picking and packing process at large warehouses. But in the short two years they've been deployed across Amazon's warehouses, Kiva's robots have been a real cost saver, according to a new note published by Deutsche Bank on Wednesday. The note says Kiva robots have cut operating expenses by about 20%, quoting Amazon exec Dave Clark, adding that it would translate to roughly $22 million in cost savings for each fulfillment center.  Additionally, Deutsche Bank estimates Amazon could cut another $800 million in one-time cost savings once it deploys more Kiva robots across the 110 fulfillment centers that don't have them yet. Amazon uses Kiva robots in only 13 of its fulfillment centers currently.   Cont'd...

Sushi Robots and Vending-Machine Pizza Will Reinvent the Automat

Leslie Patton  for Bloomberg:  Decades from now, historians may look back on 2016 as the year Earthlings ate pizza from vending machines, bought burritos from a box in New York’s Grand Central Terminal and devoured sushi rolled by robots. “Automation is coming whether we want it to come or not,” said Andy Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains. “It’s everywhere. It’s in everything.” At a time when more consumers are embracing hand-made artisanal foods, 24/7 Pizza Box, Burritobox and Sushi Station are headed in the other direction. Vending-machine pizza will start popping up in Florida later this year and chipotle-chicken burritos, accompanied by guacamole and salsa, can now be ordered from an automated box. Sushi-making robots from Japan are already operating in U.S. restaurants and university cafeterias.   Cont'd...

New Muscle-Inspired Actuators Hold Potential to Build Safer, Soft-Bodied Robots

Robots should be safer and softer in order to make them more cooperative and execute tasks in close contact with humans. George Whitesides, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), along with his team, has created a new actuator that moves like human skeletal muscles by using vacuum power for automating soft, rubber beams. These actuators are soft and shock absorbing similar to real muscles, and do not pose any danger to their surroundings or the human beings working along with them or the future robots containing them. This study was published in the June 1 issue of the Advanced Materials Technologies journal.  Cont'd...

Robot wars: Boston Dynamics fell out with Google over humanoid Atlas

Mary-Ann Russon for International Business Times:  When former Boston Dynamics employees released video of humanoid robot Atlas – walking unassisted over difficult terrain, such as rocks and snow – Google was reportedly displeased; despite the research receiving high praise from roboticists while wowing the public. And the real reason Google is selling off Boston Dynamics is, by and large, due to insiders telling Tech Insider that the robotics firm was unwilling to fall in line with the internet giant's vision of a consumer robot for the home. Google reportedly envisioned the firm as one of nine in a division called Replicant. Initially, under the guidance of Android co-founder Andy Rubin, the firms would continue with existing research and Google would see what ideas and innovations they came up with.   Cont'd...

Chrysalix partners with Dutch RoboValley on €100 million robotics fund

Terry Dawes for Cantech Letter:  Vancouver-based Chrysalix Venture Capital has announced a €100 million fund aimed at driving the global robotics revolution, in partnership withRoboValley, a centre for robotics commercialization based at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The RoboValley Fund is Chrysalix’s first robotics fund, and will concentrate on disbursing seed and Series A rounds of funding to early-stage companies developing component technology, intelligent software, and other breakthrough robotics technologies. “Robotics is predicted to be the next big step in the digital revolution having an unprecedented impact on the way that we live, and provides an answer to some of the grand challenges of the 21st Century,” said RoboValley managing director Arie van den Ende. “Together with Chrysalix long-standing expertise in commercializing early stage industrial innovations, the RoboValley Fund will bring much needed capital and accelerated paths to market for our most promising next generation robotics technologies.”   Cont'd...

Foxconn Replaces 60,000 Labourers With Robots in China

Subhrojit Mallick  for GIZMODO India:    Apple and Samsung phone manufacturer, Foxconn has already taken a step towards the dystopian future. The South China Morning Post reported the manufacturing giant has replaced 60,000 laborers with robots. The total strength of Foxconn factory workers reduced from 110,000 to 50,000, marking a huge shift towards automation of routine jobs.  The Foxconn technology group confirmed to the BBC that they are automating many of the manufacturing tasks associated with their operations by introducing robots. However, they maintained the move will not affect long-term job losses.    Cont'd...

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