Ford invests $1B in robotics startup in driverless car quest

Ford Motor Company announces it is investing $1 billion during the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company, to develop a virtual driver system for the automaker's autonomous vehicle coming in 2021 - and for potential license to other companies.  Founded by former Google and Uber leaders, Argo AI is bringing together some of the most experienced roboticists and engineers working in autonomy from inside and outside of Ford. The team of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence is led by Argo AI founders Bryan Salesky, company CEO, and Peter Rander, company COO. Both are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.  "The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous vehicles will have as significant an impact on society as Ford's moving assembly line did 100 years ago," said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields.   Full Press Release:

Trump's freeze on new regulation means that we won't get drone delivery anytime soon

April Glaser for RECODE:  When President Trump signed an executive order last week requiring two federal regulations to be rescinded for every new one passed, he simultaneously put the brakes on the future of drone delivery in the United States. While many industries see the prospect of less regulation as positive, the nascent drone industry actually needs regulations in order to grow. The reason drones need regulations is that in 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board classified drones as aircraft, which means drones need to abide by FAA regulations in order to fly. The problem is that many drone regulations don’t yet exist, and the FAA will have a hard time killing existing rules to make room for new ones. “If regulations for unmanned aircraft are held up or are stripped away, there’s actually no way for drones to access the airspace,” said Gregory McNeal, co-founder of Airmap, a drone mapping company.   Cont'd...

Inside Amazon's robot-run supermarket that needs just 3 human workers

Josh Kosman for NY Post:  If you’re a robot stealing somebody’s job, it’s best to stay hidden. That’s what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appears to be thinking, as his Seattle-based web giant has contemplated a two-story, automated grocery store in which a staff of robots on the floor upstairs grabs and bags items for shoppers below. The ground level of the futuristic prototype — a supermarket-sized version of its recently unveiled “Amazon Go” convenience store, with a bigger layout that could span anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 square feet — would be devoted to goods that shoppers typically like to touch, sources briefed on the plans told The Post.   Cont'd...

Watch a new robot fly just like a bat

Lindzi Wessel for ScienceMag:  Forget drones. Think bat-bots. Engineers have created a new autonomous flying machine that looks and maneuvers just like a bat. Weighing only 93 grams, the robot’s agility comes from its complex wings made of lightweight silicone-based membranes stretched over carbon-fiber bones, the researchers report today in Science Robotics. In addition to nine joints in each wing, it sports adjustable legs, which help it steer by deforming the membrane of its tail.    Full Article:

MIT Builds Invisible Fish Grabbing Robot

Matthew Humphries for PCMag:  Catching a fish can be tough, even if you are just trying to net a goldfish in a small tank. That's because the fish spots the danger and makes a swim for it. But what if you didn't need a net because you're controlling an invisible grabbing robot? That's what Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT succeeded in creating, but its applications go way beyond catching and releasing fish unharmed. The robot is constructed of a transparent hydrogel, which is strong and durable but mostly made of water. As the video below explains, each arm of the robot is constructed from 3D-printed hollow cubes of hydrogel, which are then linked together. By injecting water using a syringe it's possible to make the arms curl and uncurl quickly in a grabbing motion.   Cont'd...

A robotic barista is now serving - really fast

Jon Swartz for USA TODAY:  Something futuristic is brewing in a shopping complex here. The first robotic barista in the U.S., nicknamed "Gordon," started serving up to 120 coffee drinks an hour Jan. 30— ironically, just several thousand feet away from a Starbucks in the same complex. "A lot of us spend a lot of time in line waiting for coffee," says Henry Hu, CEO of Cafe X Technologies, the local start-up that created the robot. "And we decided to do something about it." For about a year, the firm built a toll-booth-sized Cafe X with a sleek industrial design. The automated cafe offers seven drinks like espresso and cafe latte for $2.25 to $2.95 per 8-ounce cup. An app allows for mobile orders. (A quick sample of drinks, each flavored with hazelnut, caramel or vanilla, can attest to quality. The robotic arm moved a cup between several stations — from beans freshly ground to the pouring of coffee).   Cont'd.. .

Swarm of Underwater Robots Mimics Ocean Life

UCSD:  Underwater robots developed by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego offer scientists an extraordinary new tool to study ocean currents and the tiny creatures they transport. Swarms of these underwater robots helped answer some basic questions about the most abundant life forms in the ocean—plankton. Scripps research oceanographer Jules Jaffe designed and built the miniature autonomous underwater explorers, or M-AUEs, to study small-scale environmental processes taking place in the ocean. The ocean-probing instruments are equipped with temperature and other sensors to measure the surrounding ocean conditions while the robots “swim” up and down to maintain a constant depth by adjusting their buoyancy. The M-AUEs could potentially be deployed in swarms of hundreds to thousands to capture a three-dimensional view of the interactions between ocean currents and marine life.   Cont'd...

Segway's 'mobility robot platform' to begin mass production

Liu Zheng for China Daily:  A China-made mobile robot is set to begin mass production for consumers later this year. Ninebot (Beijing) Tech Co Ltd, backed by Smartphone maker Xiaomi, unveiled its self-balancing two-wheeled robot on Thursday in Beijing. Named "Loomo", the robot was transformed from the Ninebot Mini series scooter, which was first launched in October 2015, months after the company made an announcement to acquire the 12-year-old US-based balancing-scooter pioneer Segway Inc, and became one of the largest patent holders in the industry. The acquisition followed an $80 million investment in Ninebot by Xiaomi, Sequoia Capital and other investors.   Cont'd...

US Military Unleashes Swarm of Micro Drones Over California

From Seeker:  The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones. The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction. Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and able to overwhelm opponents' defenses with their great numbers. The test of the world's largest micro-drone swarm in California in October included 103 Perdix micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement. "The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing," it said.   Cont'd...

Why Robotics Will Change Agriculture

Rob Trice & Seana Day via Forbes:  Last month as our Mixing Bowl colleagues Michael Rose and An Wang were interviewing Sonny Ranaswamy of the USDA’s NIFA to better understand current US food and agriculture labor issues, we were representing The Mixing Bowl in discussions on potential solutions to food production labor issues through automation and robotics. At this year’s RoboUniverse event in San Diego there was a full-day track on December 14th dedicated to the application of robotics to agriculture. The industry track, pulled together in great part by Nathan Dorn, CEO of Food Origins and an Advisor to The Mixing Bowl, featured a knowledgeable group of automation/robotics experts and food producers who drew on their experience to define the opportunities and sharpen focus on the challenges. Nathan authored a detailed summary of the day in a post on Agfunder. Our conclusion is that there is no denying that we are still in the early days of adoption of robotics in agriculture.   Cont'd...

Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots

Tom Simonite for MIT Technology Review:  Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board. Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically. Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.   Cont'd...

Amazon patents system to defend drones against hackers, jammers … and arrows

Alan Boyle for GeekWire:  If there are any Robin Hoods out there who are thinking about shooting down drones while they’re making deliveries, Amazon has a patented plan to stop you. The patent, filed in 2014 but published just last week, lays out countermeasures for potential threats ranging from computer hacking to lightning flashes to bows and arrows. If nothing else, the 33-page application illustrates how many things could possibly go wrong with an autonomous navigation system for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. The “compromise system” that Amazon’s engineers propose relies on an array of sensors to orient the drone based on the sun’s position in the sky, if need be. That’s in case the drone gets confused by, say, lightning or a muzzle flash.   Cont'd.. .

The Aggressively Flying Quadrotor

Steve Arar for All About Circuits:  Recently, Vijay Kumar’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with researchers from Qualcomm has unveiled a quadrotor which can fly aggressively through a window. You may think that you have seen similar robots before; however, there is a big difference between previously designed robots and this new technology. Generally, to exhibit challenging maneuvers, a quadrotor depends on an array of cameras mounted on the walls and some external processors. The image captured by the cameras is processed and the outcome is delivered to the robot. The computer can issue precise commands and the only thing that the robot needs to do is to follow the orders. However, the new robot performs both the image capturing and processing onboard. The quadrotor carries an IMU, a Qualcomm Snapdragon, and Hexagon DSP. With the onboard sensors and processors, the robot is able to perform localization, state estimation, and path planning autonomously.   Cont'd...

Robotics Veteran Raises Venture Capital to Build Exoskeleton

Alistair Blair for Bloomberg Technology:  The word "robot" conjures images of bulky, metal humanoid objects moving awkwardly. Robotics veteran Rich Mahoney is trying to change that perception by creating a robotic exoskeleton people can wear. After more than seven years running a robotics group at Silicon Valley research institution SRI International, Mahoney left about a year ago to form a startup called Superflex. On Tuesday, the company said it raised $9.6 million from investors including Japanese venture capital group Global Brain and Horizons Ventures, the VC fund of Asian billionaire Li Ka-shing. Superflex is developing a lightweight suit with electric "muscles" that help the elderly and other less-mobile people move around. The system, which will look a bit like a unitard, is designed to provide the wearer with extra strength to get up from a chair or stand for longer. The device has thin actuators built in that use battery power to contract at the same time as people's real muscles.   Cont'd...

An Open Source Driving Agent from comma.ai

From comma.ai:   Last week, we open sourced an advanced driver assistance system in order to help accelerate the future of self driving cars and provide a platform anyone can build on top of. We released both openpilot, driving agent research software, and NEO, a robotics platform capable of running openpilot, under the MIT license.   openpilot is an open source adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist system, both safety features available on modern cars. We would like to build the best ones on the market, and help you retrofit them to existing cars.   NEO is an open source robotics research platform. It is centered around an Android phone, similar to Android Based Robots. The modern smartphone is an incredible platform packed with sensors and processing power. NEO also includes a cooling solution and a CAN interface board. CAN is a networking protocol used in cars, trucks, power wheelchairs, golf carts, and many other robotics applications.   With a forthcoming openpilot release, it will become easier for researchers to add support for their own vehicle. On older cars, some actuators may be harder to control than others, but it should be very possible to control the gas electronically to have a gas only adaptive cruise control. It's also possible for researchers to add mechanical actuators for the controls that cannot be electronically actuated. Have fun, be safe, and let's usher in the future of self driving cars together... (Github repo) (Interview)

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