North Sea Deployment Shows How Quadruped Robots Can Be Commercially Useful

ANYmal spends a week doing inspection tasks on an offshore platform As much as we like writing about quadrupedal robots, it’s always been a little bit tricky to see how they might be commercially useful in the near term outside of specialized circumstances like disaster response. We’ve seen some hints of what might be possible from Boston Dynamics, which has demonstrated construction inspection with SpotMini, but that’s not necessarily a situation where a robot is significantly better than a human. In September, ANYbotics brought one of their industrial quadrupeds, ANYmal, to an offshore power distribution platform in the North Sea. It’s very remote, and nothing much happens there, but it still requires a human or two to wander around checking up on stuff, a job that nobody wants.

Robots Getting a Grip on General Manipulation

How a new generation of grippers with improved 3D perception and tactile sensing is learning to manipulate a wide variety of objects This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE. While robots have prepared entire breakfasts since 1961, general manipulation in the real world is arguably an even more complex problem than autonomous driving. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why, though. Closely watching the 1961 video suggests that a two-finger parallel gripper is good enough for a variety of tasks, and that it is only perception and encoded common sense that prevents a robot from performing such feats in the real world. Indeed, a recent Science article reminded us that even contact-intensive assembly tasks such as assembling a piece of furniture  are well within the realm of current industrial robots. The real problem is Continue reading Robots Getting a Grip on General Manipulation

Zume, the Robotic Pizza Company, Makes Pies Only a Robot Could Love

But Zume’s investors have given it unicorn status anyway Zume, the robotic pizza maker, is now valued at more than US $2 billion, thanks to its latest round of investment. According to The Wall Street Journal, this latest infusion of funds—$375 million—came entirely from SoftBank; and the Japanese conglomerate apparently has another $375 million at the ready should Zume need it. The valuation, in Silicon Valley terms, makes the new company a unicorn, one of the rare breed of startups thought to be worth over $1 billion. This is just wrong. Because it’s just not good pizza. Zume, based in Mountain View, Calif., launched three years ago. The company set out to revolutionize pizza delivery by turning pizza-making over to robots, and then cooking the pizza in the back of delivery vans in ovens controlled through cloud-based software. Zume has pitched van-based ovens as a vastly more efficient model for pizza Continue reading Zume, the Robotic Pizza Company, Makes Pies Only a Robot Could Love

Rethink Robotics, Pioneer of Collaborative Robots, Shuts Down

Rodney Brooks’ startup developed a new class of factory robots that could safely work alongside people. Then came the hardest part: selling them The Bad Boy of Robotics was in high spirits. Rodney Brooks had a lot to show us as we zigzagged through Rethink Robotics’ office in Boston on a June morning in 2012. That was the day Brooks introduced us to Baxter, a robot he said would transform manufacturing and “sell like hotcakes.” So it was with a bit of sadness that we found out last night that Rethink is shutting down. After a long 10-year run (the company was founded as Heartland Robotics, remember?) and US $150 million raised from investors, Rethink ran out of steam as sales fell short of the company’s goals. The news of the closing was first reported by the Robot Report yesterday.

Brad Porter, VP of Robotics at Amazon, on Warehouse Automation, Machine Learning, and His First Robot

Amazon’s chief roboticist discusses the latest advances in the field and how his team is using machine learning to make its robots smarter Starting with its acquisition of Kiva Systems for $775 million back in 2012, Amazon has been steadily investing in a robotic future. From delivery drones to a rumored home robot to a robotics picking challenge, Amazon definitely wants useful, practical robots to happen. We’re not always sure that they’re going about it the right way, but we are always in favor of companies with as much clout as Amazon has recognizing that robotics is worth focusing on, especially with an understanding that some problems are going to take years of work to solve. Photo: Amazon Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon. Brad Porter is the vice president of robotics at Amazon. He joined the company over a decade ago, initially working on Amazon’s web operations and e-commerce architecture. He Continue reading Brad Porter, VP of Robotics at Amazon, on Warehouse Automation, Machine Learning, and His First Robot

The Hunt for Robot Unicorns

The robotics industry is rapidly evolving and expanding—who will be the next robot unicorns? This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE. Earlier this month I was in Denmark speaking at the R-18 robotics fair. Denmark is quite remarkable as, despite its size, it had two exits of robotics startups over US $100 million: Universal Robots and MiR, both acquired by U.S. electronics testing equipment maker Teradyne (currently valued around $7 billion). The talk I gave covered our observations at HAX over the past five years from investing in over two dozen robotics startups, and meeting hundreds. I started with a little robot-focused quiz. Let’s see how you fare! Robot Quiz 1. Which is the #1 home robotics company in the world? 2. Which famous robot pet just got back on market? Continue reading The Hunt for Robot Unicorns

Moxi Prototype from Diligent Robotics Starts Helping Out in Hospitals

Diligent Robotics demos the latest version of their healthcare support robot Earlier this year, Diligent Robotics introduced a mobile manipulator called Poli, designed to take over non-care related, boring logistical tasks from overworked healthcare professionals who really should be doing better things with their time. Specifically, Diligent wants to automate things like bringing supplies from a central storage area to patient rooms, which sounds like it should be easy, but is actually very difficult. Autonomous mobile manipulation in semi-structured environments is hard at the best of times, and things get even harder in places like hospitals that are full of busy humans rushing around trying to save the lives of other humans. Over the past few months, Diligent has been busy iterating on the design of their robot, and they’ve made enough changes that it’s no longer called Poli. It’s a completely new robot, called Moxi.

New Guidelines for $10 Million Avatar XPRIZE Promise Compelling Robot Challenge

With some input from the robotics community, XPRIZE’s new guidelines will make this a robotics competition worth getting excited about Earlier this year, XPRIZE announced a new challenge: a four-year global competition to “develop real life avatars,” with a US $10 million prize sponsored by All Nippon Airways (ANA). We like robot challenges, especially robot challenges with prizes big enough to attract top-notch competition, and the idea of creating remote presence systems that can do more than just send back video is a compelling one, with all kinds of potential use cases. However, our first reaction to the sample of potential challenge scenarios published by XPRIZE was that they weren’t nearly difficult and compelling enough, meaning that the challenge wouldn’t promote the kind of cutting-edge innovation that we (and presumably XPRIZE) would like to see. To their credit, XPRIZE has put a lot of work into incorporating feedback from a Continue reading New Guidelines for $10 Million Avatar XPRIZE Promise Compelling Robot Challenge

Mobile Robots Cooperate to 3D Print Large Structures

A team of robot arms on mobile bases can 3D print large structures quickly What’s possible with 3D printing is largely driven by two things: How patient you are, since printing large or complex structures can take a while, and what kind of build volume you have to work with. Most 3D printers are boxes, and inside those boxes are smaller boxes, and inside those boxes are the area in which a thing can be printed. If your thing is larger than that box, you’ve either got to print it in pieces that can be assembled later, buy yourself a new printer, or give up entirely. You can certainly 3D print very large things, but there are still usually build volume constraints. We’ve seen examples of robot arms that can print anywhere they can reach, as well as gantry systems that can print structures like houses, as long as the Continue reading Mobile Robots Cooperate to 3D Print Large Structures

Boston Dynamics Is Getting Ready to Produce Lots of SpotMinis

But what are they going to do? At CEBIT back in June, Boston Dynamics’ CEO Marc Raibert mentioned in a talk that they’re currently building about 100 SpotMinis, and that they’re planning on scaling that up to be able to build something like 1,000 SpotMinis by the end of 2019. This has attracted some attention recently, since it seems like Boston Dynamics is ready to “productify” its robots on a commercial scale, and Raibert even mentioned some areas in which they’ve had interest from potential customers. “We’re trying to take what we already know, and reduce it to practice by making robot products,” he said. “Robot products are new for Boston Dynamics … we’ve been operating for a long time working on the future, and now we’re trying to make practical products.” Making practical robotic products is a very difficult thing to do, as Boston Dynamics knows. And Raibert did a good Continue reading Boston Dynamics Is Getting Ready to Produce Lots of SpotMinis