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...

3D printing is not the miracle we were promised

Mike Murphy for Quartz:  3D printing has been hailed as the future of manufacturing for years now. Consumers and investors were sold on the idea of being able to print anything at any time from a little box in their houses. But that Jetsons-like vision hasn’t come to pass. The 3D printers available to consumers are great for making small prototypes or tchotchkes. But they’re still slow, inaccurate and generally only print one material at a time. And that’s not going to change any time soon. That reality is setting in for 3D printer makers. Stratasys, which owns MakerBot and is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial and industrial 3D printers, announced its fifth straight quarter of losses today. 3D Systems, which was founded by the man who invented 3D printing—Chuck Hull—isn’t faring much better. Wall Street’s interest in 3D printing seems to have peaked in the first week of 2014: The stock prices for both Stratasys and 3D Systems were at their highest on January 3 last year. Stratasys had completed the purchase of MakerBot—which has been called the “Apple” of 3D printing—about three months earlier, and it looked as if things were on the up. But a little over a year later, MakerBot laid off a fifth of its staff, closed its stores, and started focusing on selling to schools. As it stands, it seems that the market is retracting to industrial printers, for companies that benefit from rapidly prototyping objects. 3D printing makes a lot of sense when companies can quickly model and print their ideas—anything from new bike helmets to car doors or sprockets. These are where (relatively) cheap, disposable plastic models thrive, as companies can churn out all the models they need, and then turn to more traditional automated processes, like CNC milling or vacuum forming, to build their final product at scale, using materials that will actually last.   Cont'd...

Musk, Hawking, Chomsky: Why they want a ban on killer robots.

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...  

Fastbrick Robotics' bricklaying machine builds investor interest

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...

Why Drones are Ditching their DIY Roots

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 Accelerates Home Helper Robot Program

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...

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