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What's New In Robotics This Week - Jul 01

Emmet Cole
by Emmet Cole. Last updated on Jul 01, 2016 7:01 AM
Posted on Jul 01, 2016 7:00 AM. 8 min read time

Cobots open new fronts in automation; Floka's big debut; Rolls-Royce's robo-boat control center; Robots at KFC; 5 trends to watch; "Robot goddess"... 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!  

Collaborative Robots Open New Fronts in Automation (Japan Today)


Collaborative robots are putting advanced automation within reach of small-to-medium size businesses for the first time, reports Japan Today. In fact, growth in the cobot sector alone is expected to grow from $116 million in 2015 to $11.5 billion by 2025, according to estimates from capital goods analysts at Barclays --roughly equivalent to the size of the entire industrial robotics market today. 

“By 2020 it will be a game-changer,” said Stefan Lampa, head of robotics of Germany’s Kuka, during a panel discussion organised by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) at the Automatica trade fair in Munich.

[...] the market leader and pioneer is Denmark’s Universal Robots, a start-up that sold its first cobot in 2009 and was acquired by U.S. automatic test equipment maker Teradyne for $285 million last year.

“We are approximately doubling every year, in terms of units. That’s our ambition and we have almost hit our ambition every year for six straight years,” co-founder Esben Ostergaard told Reuters in an interview. 

Service Robot Floka’s Big Debut (Universität Bielefeld)


There's a new service robot on the scene. Developed by researchers in Germany, and dubbed "Floka," the robot is designed to act as a social companion, with the help of what the development team call a "social robotic head" whose facial expressions can signal happiness, worry, interest, or anger.

"The social robotic head has the most important features of a human face -- eyes, eyebrows, and mouth -- and with its cartoonish face, it has a friendly appearance," says Privatdozent Dr. Sven Wachsmuth, who heads the CITEC Central Lab Facilities. "With its facial expressions, the social robotic head can show attention and give feedback," explains the computer scientist. "We can also vary the appearance of the robotic head to make a feminine one look more masculine, or make an older head appear younger."

Rolls-Royce Designed a Robot Boat Control Center (The Verge


The team at Rolls-Royce's Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWAI) has released a white paper outlining its vision for autonomous and remotely operated ships of the future --and it features some futuristic user interfaces and gesture controls.

Speaking at the Symposium Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce, Vice President of Innovation – Marine, said: “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist. The AAWA project is testing sensor arrays in a range of operating and climatic conditions in Finland and has created a simulated autonomous ship control system which allows the behaviour of the complete communication system to be explored. We will see a remote controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade.”  

Commercial applications of the technology are expected by "the end of the decade," so lots to look forward to in the next few years. 


East Meets West: Robots Serving KFC in Shanghai (Robot Magazine)


KFC has joined the ranks of fast food companies testing the use of robots, with news that the company (in partnership with Chinese search engine giant Baidu) has just opened the world’s first human-free fast food restaurant in Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center. 

The interior is designed in a traditional Chinese garden style with bamboo, flowers, and jade accents. Customers enter via a spacious circular courtyard. Most remarkable, however, are the restaurant’s workers:  small, pear-shaped robots named Du Mi, who take orders and process payments. Du Mi are a patron’s only interaction with restaurant staff. As such, the bots are designed to be cordial and engaging, while processing customers’ purchases. It is this kind of cutting-edge concept that has made KFC a runaway success in China.

What’s Happening in Robotics? Five Trends to Watch (Robohub)


China's appetites, collaborative robots, robots as a service, logistics and material handling, and investment in robotics are the five key trends driving growth and development within the robotics industry, says Frank Tobe.

Regarding cobots, Tobe writes: "The major benefits of these new co-bots are their flexibility, safety, ability to be rapidly deployed, and ease of training. Improvements on each of these benefits will keep pressure on pricing as can be seen by the new low-cost Franka robots and the forthcoming rebranded Roberta robot. Also, at AUTOMATICA, held in Munich this June, every robot manufacturer was touting their safe collaborative robots even when, by any stretch of the imagination, they didn't really have one.

Turning co-bots into a commodity may not be good for profits but it is good for businesses, particularly those wanting to take their first step into using robots." 

Much more at the link


Fear of Robots as “Electronic Persons” in Europe Wildly Exaggerated (ArsTechnica UK


A group of European parlimentarians have released a draft report about civil law rules around robotics --another milestone along the way to widespread deployment and availability of robots throughout Europe. Of course, this didn't stop some scare-mongering surfacing about robots being granted person hood rights with all that would entail --from robots nibbling at our lunch when we're not looking to failing to perform tasks efficiently, to taking over the world.


Turns out that the reality is much less dramatic:

The report recommends that a register of advanced robots should be set up and notes that the US, Japan, China, and South Korea are considering or have taken some regulatory action on robotics and AI.

“Until such time, if ever, that robots become or are made self-aware, Asimov's laws must be regarded as being directed at the designers, producers, and operators of robots,” the report said.

The proposal isn't legally binding and must be reviewed by various committees before being put to the vote of all 751 MEPs.

Stand down, people: the European Parliament won't be issuing a statement "Welcoming Our Robot Overlords" any time soon.

Well thank goodness for that. 


China Humanoid Earns "Robot Goddess" Nickname (AsiaOne Digital)

It may be just me, but I find these "robot goddess"-type comments that follow female humanoid robots around to be cute for about ten seconds before it all descends into weirdness. 

On the second floor of the massive convention centre hosting this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) conference, participants came face-to-face with a well-groomed, white-robed Chinese lady by the name of Jia Jia.

When addressed in Mandarin, Jia Jia is able to converse, seen by lip movements, and show "micro" facial expressions. She can also decipher your age and gender, earning her the nickname of "robot goddess," a nod to her good looks and intelligence.

My conclusion? Robots are magnificent examples of the latest and greatest technology; fascinating intelligent machines that are set to transform our world. Humans, on the other hand, are still pretty weird! 

And Finally... 









Human Or Machine: Can You Tell Who Wrote These Poems? (NPR

Sony is working on a robot that can 'form an emotional bond' with people (The Verge

Meet Cobots, the 'affordable' robots (Times of India

The brave escape and untimely demise of one Russian robot (Washington Post

Three-quarters of drivers would cede wheel to robot (The Detroit Times

This Cloud-Enabled Robot Could Be Your Next Coworker (PSFK

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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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