Stealthy Startup Aims to Reinvent AI for Manufacturing

Some 400 engineers are working under the radar at AutoLab AI with former Autodesk CEOs leading the pack Illustration: iStockphoto What exactly is the “future of autonomous manufacturing?” According to venture capitalist and AutoLab AI cofounder Lior Susan, stealth startup AutoLab AI is building it, but isn’t defining it yet, at least not publicly. That kind of cryptic chatter doesn’t usually get Silicon Valley talking—more likely yawning, or at most mumbling about vaporware. But AutoLab AI, according to Axios, already has 400 employees and some serious funding. It’s not clear where those employees are hiding; the Palo Alto address for the company points to a small suite of offices at best. And the breadcrumbs the company has left to date are remarkably sparse. But some dots are starting to connect. SEC filings indicate that manufacturing giant Flex is a major funder, along with Eclipse Ventures; the company closed a Series Continue reading Stealthy Startup Aims to Reinvent AI for Manufacturing

Houston Mechatronics Raises $20M to Bring NASA Expertise to Transforming Robot Submersibles

Engineers from NASA’s Robonaut and Valkyrie projects team up with industry veterans to develop transforming underwater vehicles Image: HMI Deep ocean robotics is not generally an area where we expect to see much in the way of significant innovation. When we do write about submersible robots, they’re usually confined to very near-surface operations. This isn’t a total surprise: It seems like the only people who really worry about what’s going on in the deep ocean (meaning hundreds or thousands of meters beneath the surface) are the military, the occasional scientist, and the oil and gas industry. Robots are important to these folks, even critical in some cases, but the technology has been more or less stagnant for decades, which is why we don’t write about it very frequently.  To be fair, there are some very good reasons why it’s hard to innovate when it comes to submersible robotics. The environment Continue reading Houston Mechatronics Raises $20M to Bring NASA Expertise to Transforming Robot Submersibles

Robots Continue Attempting to Master Ikea Furniture Assembly

These robots are slow, careful, and successful, making them way better than humans at assembling an Ikea chair Image: NTU Apparently, one of the standards by which we should be measuring the progress of useful robotic manipulation is through the assembly of Ikea furniture. With its minimalistic and affordable Baltoscandian design coupled with questionably creditable promises of effortless assembly, Ikea has managed to convince generations of inexperienced and desperate young adults (myself included) that we can pretend to be grownups by buying and putting together our own furniture. It’s never as easy as that infuritatingly calm little Ikea manual dude makes it look, though, and in terms of things we wish robots would solve, Ikea furniture assembly has ended up way higher on the priority list than maybe it should be.  We’ve seen a variety of robotic systems tackle Ikea in the past, but today in Science Robotics is (perhaps Continue reading Robots Continue Attempting to Master Ikea Furniture Assembly

Agility Robotics Raises $8 Million for Commercial Bipedal Robots

Playground Global leads a sizeable round with the goal of turning walking robots into useful tools Photo: Agility Robotics Today, Agility Robotics is announcing US $8 million in Series A funding “to accelerate product, technology, and business development.” Leading the round is Playground Global, founded by Android co-creator and ex-Google Robotics head Andy Rubin, and also joining in is Sony Innovation Fund. We don’t write about funding rounds all that often, but this could be the first robotics company to get such a significant amount of VC funding to develop a realistic commercial bipedal robot. There are certainly other well-funded companies working on bipeds, including Boston Dynamics and Schaft. But while it’s not that clear what commercial applications these companies are targeting, Agility Robotics is very specifically and deliberately working on a legged robot that can make deliveries. From the press release: Agility Robotics is solving the mobility problem faced by mobile Continue reading Agility Robotics Raises $8 Million for Commercial Bipedal Robots

XPRIZE’s $10 Million Telepresence Robot Challenge Is Not Challenging Enough

The Avatar XPRIZE is a compelling idea, but it needs to recalibrate in order to significantly advance the technology Image: XPRIZE At the South by Southwest festival last week, XPRIZE announced the launch of the $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE, “a four-year global competition to develop real-life avatars.” The idea is to bring together many different kinds of remote robotic technologies to create an easy to use, effective, and immersive remote experience. Challenges like these have proved very effective in the past—DARPA in particular has sponsored massive advances in both self-driving cars and humanoid robots. Part of the reason that DARPA was able to do this is by carefully asking for what is almost, but not quite, impossible. Or what former DARPA program manager Gill Pratt used to call “DARPA hard.” XPRIZE, on the other hand, seems to be asking for the definitely possible, and in some cases, the already achieved. The $10,000,000 ANA Continue reading XPRIZE’s $10 Million Telepresence Robot Challenge Is Not Challenging Enough

Ava Robotics Introduces Autonomous Telepresence Robot

Founded by ex-iRobot engineers, this startup is building a remote presence robot powered by sophisticated sensors and autonomous navigation Photo: Ava Robotics Seven years ago, iRobot introduced us to Ava, a sort of tech demonstrator designed to show how robots were capable of doing things like—well, the company wasn’t entirely sure, but telepresence was one of the ideas. The robot’s autonomous navigation was certainly impressive, and Ava could avoid moving obstacles at the speed of a brisk walk, which wasn’t something we’d seen a lot of back in 2011. In 2012, iRobot announced RP-VITA, a medical telepresence robot based on the Ava platform. And in 2013, iRobot and Cisco collaborated on the Ava 500, a commercial telepresence system with integrated autonomous navigation. We haven’t heard too much about it since then, but today a startup called Ava Robotics is coming out of stealth mode to announce its plans to bring Continue reading Ava Robotics Introduces Autonomous Telepresence Robot

Diligent Robotics Bringing Autonomous Mobile Manipulation to Hospitals

Autonomous mobile manipulation is the cutting edge of robotics right now, but Diligent Robotics is already bringing it to market Photo: Carla Diana To experience the state-of-the-art in autonomous mobile manipulation, you’ll want to find some well-funded academic lab to visit. Or maybe check out Google, or Amazon, or Toyota Research, or drop in on the RoboCup@Home competition. Really, the only other place you’re likely to find an autonomous mobile manipulator is in a relatively structured environment in a factory or warehouse, and even that is pretty rare. Mobile manipulation is super hard, especially when you try to do it in a less structured environment which may be full of all sorts of horribly unpredictable things (like humans). Diligent Robotics, a startup founded by Andrea Thomaz and Vivian Chu, is undaunted by the challenge of autonomous mobile manipulation in semi-structured environments. Over the past year, they’ve been testing a one-armed Continue reading Diligent Robotics Bringing Autonomous Mobile Manipulation to Hospitals

Bevy of Robot Swans Explore Singaporean Reservoirs

Swanbots monitor water quality while blending in with their surroundings Photo: NUS When Singapore decided that they needed a new smart water assessment network to track pollution in their reservoirs, they obviously went with a robot, because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about it here. They also decided that the robot had to be “aesthetically pleasing” in order to “promote urban livability.” But how to do that? The answer came from researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS), who proposed developing a Smart Water Assessment Network: Yes, that’s right, a SWAN. The researchers, from NUS Environmental Research Institute and Tropical Marine Science Institute, had developed and tested a version of the swanbots back in 2016. Now they’ve decided to deploy them full time across five different reservoirs in Singapore, where water is a particularly precious resource. The researchers named their new flock of swanbots   “ NUSwan. ” In the past, water monitoring was done by humans Continue reading Bevy of Robot Swans Explore Singaporean Reservoirs

AI Startup Using Robots and Lidar to Boost Productivity on Construction Sites

Doxel’s lidar-equipped robots help track construction projects and catch mistakes as they happen Photo: DoxelDoxel’s lidar-equipped robots help track construction projects and catch mistakes as they happen. Doxel is a startup that came out of stealth this week with a US $4.5 million funding round. Their business is making construction cheaper, and their secret (as with so many startups now) is combining massive amounts of data with deep learning techniques. Using lidar-equipped robots, Doxel scans construction sites every day to monitor how things are progressing, tracking what gets installed and whether it’s the right thing at the right time in the right place. You’d think that construction sites would be doing this by themselves anyway, but it turns out that they really don’t, and in a recent pilot study on a medical office building, Doxel says it managed to increase labor productivity on the project by a staggering 38 percent. Continue reading AI Startup Using Robots and Lidar to Boost Productivity on Construction Sites

Harvard’s milliDelta Robot Is Tiny and Scary Fast

It may be small, but it’s one of the fastest moving robots we’ve ever seen Image: HarvardHarvard’s milliDelta is a millimeter-scale delta robot based on origami-inspired engineering that can reach velocities of 0.45 m/s and accelerations of 215 m/s². In terms of sheer speed and precision, delta robots are some of the most impressive to watch. They’re also some of the most useful, for the same reasons—you can see them doing pick-and-place tasks in factories of all kinds, far faster than humans can. The delta robots that we’re familiar with are mostly designed as human-replacement devices, but as it turns out, scaling them down makes them even more impressive. In Robert Wood’s Microrobotics Lab at Harvard, researcher Hayley McClintock has designed one of the tiniest delta robots ever. Called milliDelta, it may be small, but it’s one of the fastest moving and most precise robots we’ve ever seen. Delta robots Continue reading Harvard’s milliDelta Robot Is Tiny and Scary Fast