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What's New In Robotics This Week - Sep 19

Emmet Cole
by Emmet Cole.
Posted on Sep 16, 2016 7:00 AM. 7 min read time

Micro-robot restores patient's sight in world first; cobots advance; sewing robot; China invests in robot component manufacturing facilities, 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!   


Robot Operates Inside Eye in World First (BBC News)

Does human-robot collaboration get any better than this?

In a world first, UK surgeons have used a tiny, joystick-controlled robot to perform a sight-restoring eye operation.

Surgeons used the device -- a prototype Preceyes surgical robot developed by a Dutch company, a spin-out of Eindhoven University of Technology-- to remove a membrane a mere one hundredth of a millimeter thick from the eye of Bill Beaver, a 70 year old curate.

Beaver described having his sight restored as a "fairytale".



Prof MacLaren said: "There is no doubt in my mind that we have just witnessed a vision of eye surgery in the future.

"We can certainly improve on current operations, but I hope the robot will allow us to do new more complex and delicate operations that are impossible with the human hand."


Maarten Beelen from Preceyes said: "In the future we could see this being used in an office based setting, where only the robot would touch the eye and it would be fully automated, which would improve efficiency and reduce costs."

Meet Your Robot Colleague: The Advance of Collaborative Robotics (ZDNet

Demand for cobots continues to rise and the future of the sector is bright, according to Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), in an interview with ZDNet this week.


"We're seeing companies [that might] have never utilized automation before take their first step by integrating collaborative robots," Burnstein said. "This is for many reasons, notably they are typically cheaper and are faster to set up and integrate into a system. They also can take up much less floor space than a 'traditional' industrial application."

A3 has seen multiple industries find success with collaborative robots. "Facilities that have space constraints may find that a collaborative robot is suited for them because it can take up less space," Burnstein said. "Laboratories are a great place [for] collaborative robots. And also industries where the robot could tend a machine for a period of time, then move it to tend another machine. This multiple use of a single robot enables the ROI [return on investment] to be faster."

In other cobot news, cobot safety expert Roberta Nelson Shea has joined Universal Robots as Global Technical Compliance Officer. Roberta Nelson Shea chaired the U.S. National Robot Safety Committee for 23 years, spent 35+ years within manufacturing automation, and is Convenor of the ISO committee publishing technical specifications on risk assessments of collaborative robots. She is also one of the experts featured in our ISO/TS 15066 Guide, which you can download here.

Sewbo Claims Breakthrough with First Robotically Sewn Garment (The Industry London)

Seattle-based startup Sewbo has developed a technique that enables an off-the-shelf Universal Robots UR5 cobot to sew an entire garment. Traditionally, robots have had difficulty handling fabric, due to its soft and flexible nature. 

Sewbo's clever workaround involves using water-soluble stiffener on the fabric, making it easier to mold and weld before being sewn together. 




Inventor of the technology Jonathan Zornow said the new technology would allow manufacturers “to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time” than ever before.

“Avoiding labour issues and shortening supply chains will help reduce the complexity and headaches surrounding today’s intricate global supply network. And digital manufacturing will revolutionize fashion, even down to how we buy our clothes by allowing easy and affordable customization for everyone,” Zornow added.

Elsewhere, Georgia-based SoftWear Automation has developed a sewing robot that uses high-speed cameras to overcome some of the challenges traditionally associated with robotic fabric handling and sewing. 

New Center to Build up Robot Parts Capabilities (China Post)

The Chinese government plans to construct 40 facilities to boost Chinese companies' production capability in key robot components by 2025, according to China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology, Miao Wei.

Miao said the center would focus on developing speed reducers, drive and control devices, as well as other key robot components that China currently imports from other countries.

"The center will be established by leading robotics firms and research institutes and it is designed to reduce repetitive investments by pooling best resources together," Miao said.

A source at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology told China Daily that the center would be co-funded by companies and governments.

"But the investment size has not been decided yet," he said.

DeepMind A.I. Bridges the Gap Between Robot and Human Voices (Inverse

DeepMind, the Google-developed AI which has grabbed headlines by beating the world's top-ranked Go player and slicing its power bill in half, has managed a new feat --making robot voices sound more realistic.

The result is a new technology called WaveNet that can be used to generate speech, music, and other sounds more accurately than was previously possible.


While speech synthesis programs traditionally rely on “a very large database of short speech fragments [..] recorded from a single speaker and then recombined to form complete utterances,” WaveNet uses the “raw waveform of the audio signal” to create more realistic voices and sounds.

This means that WaveNet is working with the individual sounds created when a human speaks instead of using complete syllables or entire words. Those sounds are then run through a “computationally expensive” process that DeepMind has found “essential for generating complex, realistic-sounding audio” with machines.

The result of all that extra work is a 50 percent improvement to synthesized speech in U.S. English and Chinese Mandarin.

Listen to WaveNet samples here.

And Finally... 












Industrial robot production to triple by 2020 (CCTV
Analytics and big data: how artificial intelligence could deliver genuine social impact (The Telegraph
Easing the Integration of Robotic Automation (Modern Machine Shop Online)
Sarcos Robotics raises $10.5M from Microsoft, Caterpillar and GE for heavy-duty robotics technology (Geek Wire
Will The First Robot In the Boardroom Be A “Woman”? (The Huffington Post
The Ethics of Human Enhancement (MIT Technology Review
Robotiq launches DoF: A community for robotics professionals (Robohub
Yes, We Can Build Industry in Space—And We Should Start Now (Fortune)
World’s first driverless bus service begins service in French city of Lyon (Impact Lab
Lightweight robots in manual assembly (Fraunhofer

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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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