Japanese Robotics Giant Gives Its Arms Some Brains

Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  The big, dumb, monotonous industrial robots found in many factories could soon be quite a bit smarter, thanks to the introduction of machine-learning skills that are moving out of research labs at a fast pace. Fanuc, one of the world’s largest makers of industrial robots, announced that it will work with Nvidia, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that specializes in artificial intelligence, to add learning capabilities to its products. The deal is important because it shows how recent advances in AI are poised to overhaul the manufacturing industry. Today’s industrial bots are typically programmed to do a single job very precisely and accurately. But each time a production run changes, the robots then need to be reprogrammed from scratch, which takes time and technical expertise.   Cont'd...

Google Canceled the Launch of a Robotic Arm After it Failed the 'Toothbrush Test'

Mark Bergen for Bloomberg:  Google published research this week detailing how its software enables robots to learn from one another. To demonstrate, the company’s scientists showed videos featuring robotic arms whirling inside its labs. Google’s robotics group built those machines and wanted to sell them to manufacturers, warehouse operators and others. However, executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc. nixed the plan because it failed Chief Executive Officer Larry Page’s "toothbrush test," a requirement that the company only ship products used daily by billions of people, according to people familiar with the situation.   Cont'd...

Omnidirectional Mobile Robot Has Just Two Moving Parts

Byron Spice for Carnegie Mellon University:  More than a decade ago, Ralph Hollisinvented the ballbot, an elegantly simple robot whose tall, thin body glides atop a sphere slightly smaller than a bowling ball. The latest version, called SIMbot, has an equally elegant motor with just one moving part: the ball. The only other active moving part of the robot is the body itself.        The spherical induction motor (SIM) invented by Hollis, a research professor in Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, and Masaaki Kumagai, a professor of engineering at Tohoku Gakuin University in Tagajo, Japan, eliminates the mechanical drive systems that each used on previous ballbots. Because of this extreme mechanical simplicity, SIMbot requires less routine maintenance and is less likely to suffer mechanical failures.    Cont'd...

Reviving Japan's Dairy Industry, One Milking Robot at a Time

Aya Takada for Bloomberg:  Jin Kawaguchiya gave up a career in finance to help revive Japan’s ailing dairy industry -- one robot at a time. In a country that relies increasingly on imported foods like cheese and butter, Japan’s milk output tumbled over two decades, touching a 30-year low in 2014. Costs rose faster than prices as the economy stagnated, eroding profit, and aging farmers quit the business because they couldn’t find enough young people willing to take on the hard labor of tending to cows every day. But technology is altering that dynamic. On the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan’s top dairy-producing region, Kawaguchiya transformed the 20-cow farm he inherited from his father-in-law 16 years ago into Asia’s largest automated milking factory. Robots extract the white fluid from 360 cows three times a day and make sure the animals are fed and healthy. The machines even gather up poop and deposits it in a furnace that generates electricity.   Cont'd...

Could the future of pizza be in the hands of robots?

CARTER EVANS for CBS:   In this emerging age of drone deliveries, anddriverless cars​, technology now brings us -- robo-pizza.  Silicon Valley is at the forefront of reinventing the pie. The kitchen at Zume Pizza is where technology and culinary arts collide. Humans and robots work side-by-side at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, California. Veteran restaurateur Julia Collins founded the delivery-only pizza company with Alex Garden, the former president of online gaming company, Zynga. “I saw an opportunity to go after the $40 billion domestic delivery pizza market,” Garden said.   Cont'd...

Deep-Diving Robots Zap, Kill Invasive Lionfish

Mindy Weisberger for Live Science:  The robotics company iRobot, known for creating the autonomous and endearing Roomba vacuums, is taking steps to make a clean sweep of lionfish in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with a robot designed to target and dispatch the invasive fish. A diving robot will enable individuals on the ocean surface to remotely zap and kill lionfish with electrical charges. The effort is meant to help curb the fast-growing populations of these voracious predators, which are recognized by environmental officials as a serious threat to marine ecosystems in the western Atlantic. The initiative to launch the lionfish-targeting robot is called Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE) and represents an iRobot partnership with organizations and volunteer experts in the fields of robotics, engineering and conservation.   Cont'd...

Autonomous mobile robots can accomplish a variety of tasks.

Bob Violino for ZDNet:  Autonomous robots can perform actions or complete tasks with a high degree of autonomy, which makes them ideal for applications such as space exploration or cleaning your living room carpet. Mobile robots are capable of moving from place to place. Put these capabilities together and you got a powerful machine that can handle lots of tasks in industrial environments such as factories, as well as in hospitals, hotels, and other areas. And, in fact, one of the more prominent trends in robotics today is the growing popularity of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), with new vendors jumping into the market and sales on the rise. AMRs are modular, self-driving mobile robots that can be used for a variety of business applications, such as locomotion, mapping, navigation, and inspection.   Cont'd...

Robot Sews First Complete Garment

From Sewbo:   Sewbo Inc. on Thursday announced that it has achieved the long-sought goal of automated sewing, by using an industrial robot to sew together a T-shirt. This milestone represents the first time that a robot has been used to sew an entire article of clothing. Despite widespread use in other industries, automation has failed to find a place in apparel manufacturing due to robots’ inability to handle limp, flexible fabrics. Sewbo avoids these hurdles by temporarily stiffening fabrics, making it easy for conventional robots to build clothes as if they were made from sheet metal. Afterwards, the process is reversed to produce soft, fully assembled garments. “Our technology will allow manufacturers to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time than ever before,” said Jonathan Zornow, the technology’s inventor. “Avoiding labor issues and shortening supply chains will help reduce the complexity and headaches surrounding today’s intricate global supply network. And digital manufacturing will revolutionize fashion, even down to how we buy our clothes by allowing easy and affordable customization for everyone.” Sewbo performed their feat using an off-the-shelf industrial robot, which they taught to operate a consumer sewing machine. Having successfully proved its core concept, Sewbo is now expanding its team and working towards commercializing its technology... ( company webpage , MIT article )

Robodex Ghost Robotics™ Launches Ghost Minitaur™ Direct-Drive Legged Robot Platform

Ghost Minitaur™ is a patent-pending medium-sized legged robot highly adept at perceiving tactile sensations. Its high torque motors, motor controllers, and specialized leg design allow this machine to run and jump over difficult terrain while actively balancing, climb fences, and rapidly reorient from falls. High-speed and high-resolution encoders let the robot see and feel the ground through the motors and adapt faster than the blink of an eye.  Full Press Release:

Ford, U-M Accelerate Autonomous Vehicle Research with Ford Researchers In-House at New Robotics Lab on U-M Campus

Ford and the University of Michigan today announce they are teaming up to accelerate autonomous vehicle research and development with a first-ever arrangement that embeds Ford researchers and engineers into a new state-of-the-art robotics laboratory on U-M's Ann Arbor campus.  While the new robotics laboratory opens in 2020, by the end of this year Ford will move a dozen researchers into the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC).  The announcement is the latest in a series of actions by Ford as it moves toward having fully autonomous SAE-defined level 4-capable vehicles available for high-volume commercial use in 2021. Autonomous vehicles are part of Ford's expansion to be an auto and a mobility company.    Full Press Release:  

Canada Is Using Lasers and Robots to Study a Mysterious Curling 'Frankenbroom'

From Martin Smith at Vice:   Inside a slightly shabby building on the outskirts of of Kemptville, near Ottawa, the World Curling Federation (WCF) has gathered a world-class team of scientists and premier curling talent to unravel a scientific mystery that is rattling the foundations of curling. At stake is nothing less than the future of one of the world’s oldest team sports. The aim of the tests at the so-called World Sweeping Summit, which runs from Wednesday to Friday, is to understand how controversial new brush heads—some have dubbed them ‘Frankenbrooms’—and new sweeping techniques are able to manipulate the trajectory of curling stones in radically unprecedented ways... (full story)   (supplemental video related to the "great" curling stone controversy of 1870)

A.I. and robotics could replace 6% of U.S. jobs by 2021

Sharon Gaudin  for ComputerWorld:  In just five years, intelligent systems and robots may have taken up to 6% of U.S. jobs, according to Forrester Research in a report released this week. As artificial intelligence (A.I.) advances to better understand human behavior and make decisions on its own in complicated situations, it will enable smart software and robots to take on increasingly challenging jobs.  That means robotics should be able to take over some jobs traditionally held by humans by 2021. For instance, Forrester predicts that smart systems like autonomous robots, digital assistants, A.I. software and chatbots will take over customer service rep jobs and eventually even serve as truck and taxi drivers.   Cont'd...

Safety solutions for intelligent human-robot collaboration

Fanny Platbrood for SafeToWork:  Human-robot collaboration (HRC) describes a work scenario in which humans and automated machines share and work in the same workspace at the same time. Driven by Industry 4.0, this model of collaboration promises highly flexible workflows, maximum system throughput and productivity, as well as economic efficiency. However, ensuring that HRC is actually able to live up to this promise requires exactly the right safety technology for the application in question. One of the major issues associated with Industry 4.0 is making work processes flexible. At the extreme end of the spectrum, this may involve manufacturing products in batch size 1 under industrial mass-production conditions – that is, manufacturing unique items on a conveyor belt.   Cont'd...

Swarms of Robots Manage to Not Run Into Each Other

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  At Georgia Tech, Li Wang and professors Aaron D. Ames and Magnus Egerstedt have been developing ways to allow infinitely large teams of mobile robots to move around each other without colliding, and also without getting in each other’s way. This is very important for people like me, who have 37Roombas at home, but also for anyone imagining a future where roads are packed with autonomous cars. The fundamental issue here is robot paranoia. When robots move around, they typically maintain a sensor-based “panic zone” for safety, and if anything enters that space, they panic, and stop moving. If you have only two robots moving around, they can keep clear of one another, but as the number of robots increases, the odds that two “panic zones” will intersect also increases, to the point where they overlap and you just end up with a completely paralyzing global robot freakout. Or as the Georgia Tech researchers put it (in a much fancier way), “as the number of robots and the complexity of the task increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to design one single controller that simultaneously achieves multiple objectives, e.g., forming shapes, collision avoidance, and connectivity maintenance.”  Cont'd...

LG Electronics To "Aggressively Invest" In Robotics

Joshua Swingle for Android Headlines:  LG is certainly no stranger when it comes to robotics and smart appliances, but until now, such products have had limited use. With the company’s latest announcement, this will change. The electronics giant has confirmed that it’s currently investing a lot of resources into robots in the hope of capitalizing on advanced AI, which could eventually be implemented into products that combine hardware with artificial intelligence in order to work with smart home appliances as well as to develop machines that could perform everyday tasks. “We will prepare for the future by aggressively investing in smart home, robots and key components and strengthen the home appliances business’s capabilities,” said Jo Seung-jin, head of LG’s appliances business. As of now, there’s no time frame for when we’ll see the results of these investments on the shelves, but LG already has plans for products that will work with air conditioners and washing machines, though combining AI with self-driving cars is also something the company is researching. Although such plans aren’t exactly detailed, the investment does hint at a change in the way LG is treating robotics. Up until now, the company has only experimented with products of limited use, but the new change in focus hints at robotics becoming one of LG’s main focus points, meaning that, for consumers, having a robot in their homes could become the norm. Currently, LG has not confirmed the amount of money it plans to invest in robotics.   Cont'd...

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