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What's New In Robotics This Week - Mar 04

Emmet Cole
by Emmet Cole. Last updated on Mar 10, 2016 1:07 PM
Posted on Mar 04, 2016 7:00 AM. 6 min read time

Teaching industrial robots by touch; When humans trust robots too much; Japan's driverless cab trials; Robotics in Russia; and much more... Find out what's happening in our robotics universe this week. We hope that the news we have selected will interest and amuse you. Enjoy! 



Workshop robots controlled by touch (Robohub

Fascinating article on Robohub this week about a European project created to develop industrial robots for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that can be easily trained by designers and co-workers (rather than engineers). If successful, the research, which is part of a suite of projects aimed at speeding up robot installs for SMEs, could help European SMEs compete more effectively against low wage economies, especially on projects requiring small batch production. To train these robots, humans simply grab the tool, or spindle and guide the robot to the parts. The robot memorizes these positions and trajectories, and then repeats the routine. It's all part of the EU funded HEPHESTOS project which has already developed the prototype of this demonstration controlled robot. If a designer sees the robot making a mistake, they can correct it on the fly.

‘With robots we can apply them for different operations,’ said Dr Surdilovic, who is based at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology in Berlin, Germany. ‘The idea for SMEs was how robots can be used to consider the problems of small-batch production.’

See also: the RECONCELL project (to develop customized robots that can help small businesses quickly set up new production lines) and the Factory-In-A-Day project (which aims to develop a system that enables SMEs to start manufacturing on the same day as the robot arrives). 


Humans Trust Robots In a Simulated Emergency—Even When the Robot Is Wrong (Motherboard)

Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech Research Institute have demonstrated (study link (PDF)) that in a simulated emergency, people were quite happy to follow a robot on a journey to an unknown location rather than simply escaping via an exit they were already familiar with: 

In the experiment, students were seated in a waiting room and instructed to fill out a form. Eventually, the hall outside the room filled with smoke and an alarm sounded. The student then had to decide whether to leave the way they came, or follow a robot indicating a previously unknown route.

The sample size of the study was small, with only 30 participants, but the results surprised the researchers. Twenty-six of the 30 students who participated in the study chose to follow the robot, despite the presence of a clearly marked exit that was already known to them.

The researchers believe that results may have been influenced partly because the robot was wearing a sign that said "Emergency Response Robot."  Seriously, humans? 

[Senior research engineer] Alan Wagner says the Georgia Tech team might have to change tacks after these results. “We wanted to ask the question about whether people would be willing to trust these rescue robots,” said Wagner. “A more important question now might be to ask how to prevent them from trusting these robots too much.”

Wagner and his team are planning several further human robot interaction experiments. It will be fascinating to see what they turn up.



Fujisawa field tests start for Robot Taxi’s driverless cabs (Japan Times

Japan’s Robot Taxi Inc. has begun field testing its driverless taxis in Fujisawa, Japan. It has one eye on the 2020 Olympics and the other on providing services to rural dwellers without access to public transport.

10 groups of participants will be transported on public roads between their homes and the Fujisawa outlet of the major Japanese retailer, Aeon Co, in two autonomous vehicles during the daytime on weekdays between now and March 11.

For the test, two vehicles equipped with cameras and sensors will be used.

During the test, the drivers will shift to automated driving on 2.4 km of public roads after confirming the safety.

The braking and steering systems will be controlled automatically by computers.

Fujisawa is home to one of the Japanese government's "National Special Strategic Zones" (NSSZ (PDF)) and is a hot bed of innovation. NSSZs are economic zones within Japan that were created in 2014 to encourage business-friendly conditions by enabling deregulation. These deregulated environments allow companies to test technologies that would be impossible to test under normal legal and regulatory conditions. It's all done with the aim of speeding up the innovation-to-market process. 


From Russia with Robots (TheDisruptory)

Albert Yefimov, Head of Skolkovo Robotics Center (SRC) has provided a fascinating brief overview of Russian robotics and the role of the SRC in supporting Russian robotic innovation.  

Russia has all of the prerequisites for the development of robotics: a small population facilitating demand for labor-saving technol­ogies, a high level of engineering and technical education, and many years of R&D in robotics and related fields. Due to the country’s current low level of industrialization, Russian roboticists are focusing their talents on human-centered robotics, creating solutions that do not replace humans but empower them. This is called “intelligent augmentation” or “intelligent amplification”.

According to my data, there are more than 200 companies in Russia that specialize in robotics and related technologies. One major area of robotics for Russians is service robotics. Over here, defense budgets take the lead. Over 150 companies out of 200 are involved in R&D and marketing of technologies involved in defense or emergency robotics (including de-mining and reconnaissance). There are around 130 to 150 startup companies in Russia that implement projects or conduct activities related to intellectual robotics and base technol­ogies.

Did you know that Arthur C. Clarke's work (including his “three laws”) was freely translated and available in the USSR, but Philip K. Dick's stories were not?   


Mercedes replaces robots with people on its assembly line (Engadget

Whoa. Steady there headline writer. That's not quite the full picture. Mercedes has reassigned some robots from some highly customized tasks they found difficult to handle, but rather than abandoning robotics, the company is busy developing robots that can collaborate with humans in industrial environments.

Robots aren't getting the boot from Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen factory entirely, though. The machines will work alongside humans instead of being confined behind glass. Mercedes, BMW and Audi are all working on sensor-packed robots that can operate safely alongside their living breathing colleagues. 

Sometimes the most interesting piece of a story is hidden away in the final paragraph. 

And Finally... 

IBM Watson battles Hollywood robot stereotypes with Carrie Fisher and Ridley Scott (Mashable)

Watch Google’s robot dog play with a real dog (via BGR)  

Volvo’s Trash Emptying Robot Finally Becomes Reality (PSFK


Would you buy meat from a robot butcher? (Robotics Tomorrow

Somerville robot maker gets funds for solar sailboat (Boston Globe

China struggles to transition beyond 'world's factory' (Nikkei Asian Review

How To Tame Your Robot (Carnegie Mellon University

A world where everyone has a robot: why 2040 could blow your mind (Nature

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Emmet Cole
Written by Emmet Cole
A freelance robotics writer since 2006, Emmet is an Economist contributor, and a regular contributor to Robotics Business Review and Robotics Trends. His writing on robots has also appeared in Wired, BBC Future, BBC Focus magazine, Space Quarterly, and numerous other outlets.
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