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What's New in Robotics This Week - May 05

Emmet Cole
by Emmet Cole. Last updated on May 05, 2017 7:00 AM
Posted on May 05, 2017 7:00 AM. 12 min read time

Manufacturing & cobot roundup, MIT's house-building bot, 'Look, No Sensors!' (Meet the Ostrich Bot), this AI can copy any voice, and much more. We hope that the news we have selected will interest and amuse you. Enjoy!

Manufacturing & Cobot Roundup 

SMEs are especially attracted to cobots that are a) cost-effective and b) accompanied by useful educational materials, says Asian Robotics Review:

LESSON #1:Better have an easy-to-use cobot for sale at a fair price, or else. That “or else” being sales leadership going to the producer of the best robot at the best price, with $25k looking to be the magic number for buyers.

LESSON #2: Every robot manufacturer better have a really good online education and teaching program for prospective cobot buyers (especially non-engineer types), or else.

Robotiq got a shout out too. (Thanks ARR!) 

Any SME seriously contemplating buying a cobot should make Robotiq’s cobot media center stop number one. Cobot hunters will come away with easy-to-understand product info, peace of mind, plus ideas on how to save some money.

Amazingly, Robotiq offers over forty (40) free, downloadable eBooks. Forty! No robot manufacturer has as many. It’s a veritable library on cobots and robotics all available just for the asking.

The Guardian reported on 1,200 new jobs created in Amazon's highly-automated warehouse: 


The Amazon teams are dedicated to innovating in our fulfillment centers to increase efficiency of delivery while enabling greater selection at lower costs for our customers,” said Stefano Perego, director of UK customer fulfillment at Amazon UK.

IT security specialists Trend Micro published "Rogue Robots," a report that demonstrates "for the first time how [industrial] robots can be compromised, and suggests a way forward to a more secure future for the Fourth Industrial Revolution." 

This video shows how an attack on one of ABB's IRB 140 could be carried out:


From Trend Micro: 

So what’s to be done? As we discuss, the answer lies in a holistic effort requiring input from all stakeholders, including cybersecurity standards makers, software developers, vendors, and network defenders. This goes way beyond merely improving the quality of embedded software, which means it could be a long road. But we hope that research like this will help to kick start that process and develop a more secure Industry 4.0.

Inc. has an interesting feature about Baltimore-based Ready Robotics' TaskMate robotic platform, which the company plans to offer as part of its robotics-as-a-service model. 



Ready Robotics' solution is a robotic arm that can be swiftly programmed to perform new tasks and is packaged with an assortment of grippers, pneumatic air tools, and other peripherals that transform it into a kind of automated Swiss Army knife. 

TechCrunch reported on a spatial awareness system for industrial robots from Veo Robotics that's designed to give robots a "sixth sense for safely working around people." 


The Wall Street Journal looked at some of the ways in which AI is transforming the workplace, while New Scientist reported on the work of Song-Chun Zhu and his team at the University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers have developed a system that enables the Baxter cobot to respond to social cues "in a more natural way." (Hint: There are high fives involved.) 


In a piece for Manufacturing Global, Jeff Kavanaugh, senior partner, manufacturing practice, at Infosys Consulting argued that "smart manufacturers are automating processes": 

Savvy manufacturers will buck the offshore trend, use data to replace inventory, and experience enormous improvements in efficiency and reduction in costs as robots take over most of the assembling, moving, packaging, transporting and other physical tasks. Robots will be collaborative, working together and giving each other feedback. They will learn and improve and make smarter decisions—not just deterministic ones based on their programming, but proactive ones based on their experiences. 

 ABB released a short video showcasing some of its packaging automation technology... 



Elsewhere,  Abundant Robotics raised US$10m for its apple-harvesting bot (and featured in a Seattle Times piece about fruit-picking robots along with FFRobotics). As always, The Robot Report provided a full breakdown of last month's fundings, acquisitions, IPOs and failures. 

If you need to wind down after a busy week, consider following the example of Yaskawa Motoman's SDA20 Dual arm robot (a 15-axis robot designed for complex assembly and material handling applications).

This robot really knows how to relax.


MIT's House-Building Bot 

This house-building robot developed by researchers at MIT can 3D-print a building in a matter of hours. 


The Los Angeles Times reports: 

[The] Digital Construction Platform features hydraulic and electric robotic arms and can be loaded with all kinds of sensors to measure its environment, including lasers and a radiation-detecting Geiger counter.

In less than 13.5 hours, the robot was able to zip round and round, printing a 14.6-meter-wide, 3.7-meter-tall open dome structure out of a foam used as insulated formwork. 

Strange as it looks, this formwork could be filled with concrete. Since this is essentially what already happens in traditional construction, this 3-D printing process could be integrated into current construction techniques.

See also: Hard Hat Bots Take Over Construction Sites and IEEE Spectrum


"Look, No Sensors!" 


Researchers at Florida's Institute for Human and Machine Cognition have developed a novel mechanical design that enables a two-legged bot to get around and keep its balance without the need for sensors.  

The secret? The robot(aka the "Planar Elliptical Runner" and "The Ostrich Robot")'s mechanical design provides dynamic stability as it moves along. 



 Via MIT Technology Review

“All the intelligence is in the physical design of the robot itself,” says Jerry Pratt, a senior research scientist at IHMC who leads the team that developed the robot. [...] The robot runs at a few miles per hour, but if it were the size of a human it would travel at 10 to 15 miles an hour, the researchers say. 

By the way, the Planar Elliptical Runner isn't only new, ostrich-inspired robot design in town. In February, Agility Robotics released an ostrichoid delivery bot, dubbed "Cassie." 




This AI Can Copy Any Voice 

The Internet is all abuzz about Montreal-based AI startup Lyrebird's incredible software that's able to mimic a human voice after listening to just 60 seconds of audio. 

It's jaw-dropping stuff. 

Check out these artificially generated snippets of audio from Trump, Obama, and Clinton to find out what I mean: 



Extraordinary. What's the audio equivalent of the uncanny valley? I think I experienced it for a few milliseconds.  

Via Robotics Trends

The synthesized voices certainly aren’t perfect, they sound a little too robotics, but you can imagine the improvements the technology will make in the coming years. Lyrebird will eventually offer an API to developers to use the voice imitation technology for personal assistants, for reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios.

(Want more samples? Theres a large library on Lyrebird's soundcloud page.)  

I'll be back next week, using my real voice, with more news from the world of robotics. Until then, I hope you enjoy these videos and links! 
























DJI Mysteriously Turned Vast Swaths of Iraq and Syria Into Drone No-Fly Zones (Gizmodo
These hot robots will help us find life on icy moons (Popular Science)
How DIY Became A Driving Force of China's Robot Revolution (SCMP
Does AI pose a threat to society? (Robohub)
A robot that picks apples? (Seattle Times
Robot exoskeletons are finally here, and they’re nothing like the suits from Iron Man (Quartz
Delphi to spin off powertrain unit into separate company (Automation Mag
Meet The Robot That Can Turn Your Vehicle Into A Self-Driving Car (LiveScience
The Sky's The Limit For Medical Delivery Drones (YD
Meet Sally, The Salad-Making Robot (BBC

getting started with collaborative robots

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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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