Is Velo3D Plotting a 3-D Printed Robot Revolution?

Tekla S. Perry for IEEE Spectrum:   Velo3D, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has $22.1 million in venture investment to do something in 3-D printing: That makes it fourth among 2015’s best-funded stealth-mode tech companies in the United States, according to CB Insights. This dollar number is about all the hard news that has come out of this startup, founded in 2014 by Benyamin Butler and Erel Milshtein. But job postings, talks at conferences, and other breadcrumbs left along Velo3D's development trail—has created a sketchy outline of this company’s plans. Consider which 3-D printing technology is ready for disruption: metal. 3-D printing of plastics took off after 2009, when a key patent that covered the deposition technology expired; we now have desktop printers for 3-D plastic objects as cheap as $350. Printing of metal objects—done regularly in industry, particularly aerospace—uses a different, and, to date, far more expensive technology: selective laser sintering. This technology melts metal powders into solid shapes; it requires high temperatures, and far more complicated equipment than what’s found in the layering sort of printers used for plastic. The patent for this technology expired in early 2014—just before the formation of Velo3D. At the time, industry experts indicated that there wouldn’t be cheap metal printers coming anytime soon, but rather, would only come after “a significant breakthrough on the materials side,” OpenSLS’s Andreas Bastian told GigaOm in 2014. Could Velo3D’s founders have that breakthrough figured out?   Cont'd...

U.S. official sees more cyber attacks on industrial control systems

Jim Finkle for Reuters:  A U.S. government cyber security official warned that authorities have seen an increase in attacks that penetrate industrial control system networks over the past year, and said they are vulnerable because they are exposed to the Internet. Industrial control systems are computers that control operations of industrial processes, from energy plants and steel mills to cookie factories and breweries. “We see more and more that are gaining access to that control system layer," said Marty Edwards, who runs the Department of Homeland Security's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT. ICS-CERT helps U.S. firms investigate suspected cyber attacks on industrial control systems as well as corporate networks. Interest in critical infrastructure security has surged since late last month when Ukraine authorities blamed a power outage on a cyber attack from Russia, which would make it the first known power outage caused by a cyber attack.   Cont'd...

Thoughts turn to revolution in Davos

By Matthew Allen for SWI:  Intelligent robots and drones, 3D printers, self-driving vehicles, data mountains, smart production lines, fintech and blockchain – the fourth industrial revolution is here. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual Davos meeting will ponder the potential, limitations and societal impacts of “Industry 4.0”. Will the transformation of the workplace create jobs or unemployment? Will it close the gap between industrialised and developing economies, rich and poor - or widen it? For Swiss firms, can the new technological revolution ease the pressures of the strong franc? Speaking ahead of the annual meeting in Davos, WEF founder Klaus Schwab called on world leaders to revise policies to accommodate the coming changes. “We are not yet sufficiently prepared for this fourth industrial revolution that will come over us like a tsunami and will change whole systems,” he said. “My fear is that if we are not prepared we will create a world where particularly the middle class is frozen out. That would lead to a new problem of social exclusion that we absolutely have to avoid.”  Cont'd...

New Ultrasonic 3D Printing Process Can Create and Print High-Tech Composite Materials

Scott J Grunewald for  A team of engineers from the University of Bristol — comprising Thomas M. Llewellyn-Jones, Bruce W. Drinkwater and Richard S. Trask — have developed a new hybrid type of 3D printing that can both assemble and print with composite materials using a combination of desktop 3D printer technology, light-curable resins and ultrasonic waves. This new process can allow super strong and lightweight composites like the variety used to produce tennis rackets, golf clubs, professional bicycles or even airplane parts to be used with additive manufacturing technology. Needless to say these new material options will offer entire new industries the ability to incorporate 3D printing into their manufacturing workflow. And the best part is that for the most part the process was made using existing 3D printing technology. Composite materials are made by combining micro-structures of glass or carbon fibers with a plastic material. The carefully arranged fibers lock together and give the new material its strength and durability, while the plastic ensures that the resulting material will be lightweight. Currently, composite materials are manufactured as thin sheets that are then layered and cut into the desired shape and thickness. The problem with using this as a 3D printing material is the small fibers in the composite materials. In order to produce the desired strength the fibers need to be aligned in a very precise structure, which is currently not possible to reproduce using a 3D printer.   Cont'd.. .

Factory Automation Will Speed Forward with A.I., Says Bernstein

By Tiernan Ray for Barron's:   Bernstein Research’s Alberto Moel, who follows tech-industrial companies such as Corning(GLW) and AU Optronics (AUO), this afternoon offered up a thinks piece on robotics andfactory automation, arguing that some of the costs of automation beyond the basic cost of the robot are about to get dramatically cheaper, thanks in large part to artificial intelligence akin to what Alphabet (GOOGL) and others are doing. Moel notes that the basic components of factory robots are only falling by perhaps 6% per year, their cost reduction bounded by things such as casings and servomotors and reduction gears that don’t rapidly fall in cost. But, writes Moel, the cost to install and adjust these machines on a factory floor is ten times their component cost and that stuff can be reduced more dramatically: How much this integration costs varies widely. An often-cited rule of thumb is that a $50,000 robot will need $500,000 of integration costs before it is all said and done. Of course, these integration costs can be amortized over many robots, so perhaps a better estimate would be 3-5x the robot cost [...] But I do believe we are at an inflection pointthat will materially increase the capability of automation systems and substantially reduce programming, setup, and fixturing costs which are the largest cost element in most automation efforts. So instead of a measly 6% YoY cost reduction , we get 25-30% YoY declines, and automation Nirvana.   Cont'd...

MesoGlue: Room Temperature Metallic Glue

From Hanchen Huang of Northeastern University: MesoGlue is our revolutionary joining solution that lets you attach items together with a metal bond, at room temperature. This is like welding or soldering, but without the heat! The patented process gives you the strength and thermal/electrical conductance of a metal bond, with the ease of attachment of glue or tape. Surfaces are merely pressed together to form a very strong connection. Our MesoGlue technology can be applied to nearly any flat surface. The surface can be rigid or flexible, and roll-to-roll processing is possible. We currently offer coating of two joining surfaces at our state of the art processing facility. Items of up to approximately 1 cubic foot can be accommodated. MesoGlue Silver: A pure silver bond offering the highest electrical and thermal conductivity. Formation of the bond requires moderate pressure. MesoGlue Eutectic: A bond made of primarily copper with other metals added to help the process. Formation of the bond requires only fingertip pressure. (MesoGlue Homepage)

For Advanced Manufacturing, Success Demands Innovation, Education and Public-Private Partnership

MICHAEL D. WHEELER for  Global manufacturing has undergone enormous changes in the past decade as many developing countries have joined the club of tier-one manufacturing nations, a recession stalled demand, and employment fell precipitously in leading economies. Yet manufacturing remains critical to the future of both developing and advanced worlds, driving innovation, productivity and competitiveness, and offering a pathway out of poverty. Recent attention has focused on “advanced manufacturing,” which replaces traditional labor-intensive processes with ones based on the newest technologies. It encompasses a family of activities that depends on information, computation, software, sensing and networking, while making use of cutting-edge materials and emerging capabilities such as nanotechnology. Advanced manufacturing is an especially potent propellant of future economic growth, distinguished by continual process improvement and rapid new product introduction. These critical features will lead to the building of lighter, more fuel-efficient automobiles, the creation of “needleless” tests for medical conditions like diabetes, and the fabrication of semiconductors with 10 times the current processing power.   Cont'd...

What Robots and AI Learned in 2015

By Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  The  robots didn’t really take over in 2015, but at times it felt as if that might be where we’re headed. There were signs that machines will soon take over manual work that currently requires human skill. Early in the year details emerged of a contest organized by Amazon to help robots do more work inside its vast product fulfillment centers. The Amazon Picking challenge, as the event was called, was held at a prominent robotics conference later in the year. Teams competed for a $25,000 prize by designing a robot to identify and grasp items from one of Amazon’s storage shelves as quickly as possible (the winner picked and packed 10 items in 20 minutes). This might seem a trivial task for human workers, but figuring out how to grasp different objects arranged haphazardly on shelves in a real warehouse is still a formidable challenge for robot-kind.   Cont'd...

Google to incubate its robotics and drone divisions under Google X

By Mike Wheatley for SiliconAngle:  Google is planning an organizational reshuffle that will see its secretive robotics department and drone business folded into its Google X labs. Google’s robotics division, and the drone group it created when it acquired Titan Aerospace in 2014, will both fall under the Google X umbrella when the reshuffle takes place some time next year, Re/Code reported. Google X is the secretive part of Google that develops some of its most futuristic, bleeding edge technologies. These include its famous self-driving cars, Project Loon (Wi-Fi hot air balloons), and its airborne wind turbines. Google X operates as a standalone company under Google’s parent Alphabet Inc., which was created following Google’s corporate restructuring earlier this year. Google X’s projects are largely experimental and extremely uncertain in terms of a business model. Nevertheless, Google obviously deems it the best place to be for its robotics division, which has been left leaderless ever since Andy Rubin quit the Web giant last year. Previously, there was speculation that the robotics division may become a standalone company under Alphabet, but today’s news would indicate that’s not going to happen any time soon.   Cont'd...

Building the Steam Controller

From Valve: When we first started designing hardware at Valve, we decided we wanted to try and do the manufacturing as well. To achieve our goal of a flexible controller, we felt it was important to have a similar amount of flexibility in our manufacturing process, and that meant looking into automated assembly lines. It turns out that most consumer hardware of this kind still has humans involved in stages throughout manufacturing, but we kind of went overboard, and built one of the largest fully automated assembly lines in the US. Our film crew recently put together a video of that assembly line, showcasing exactly why robots are awesome.

Think You Know Industrial Robots? Think Again

Jim Lawton for Forbes:  Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and in my experience there’s no industry where that wisdom holds more true than manufacturing. I’m not a hardened cynic, just a pragmatist, having spent the majority of my career bringing technology that disrupts the status quo – from inventory optimization and managing risk in the supply base to collaborative robots. Manufacturers are among the most skeptical buyers and for good reason – what they do is hard, complex and things are done the way they are done because it’s been proven to work. There are times though when the opportunity to transform the business is so compelling that – as Drucker said – executives need to spend whatever time is necessary to tear down the cultural barriers that are getting in the way of the strategy that capitalizes on the moment. In the category of robotics and industrial automation, now is one of those times. It’s been more than 50 years since Unimate went to work at a GM plant unloading heavy parts and welding them onto automobile frames. Manufacturing has changed a lot and today is on an evolutionary path toward the 4th industrial revolution. Unfortunately, while executives may be ready to move quickly toward the factories of the future for first mover advantage, many automation engineers remain entrenched in 20th century thinking about robots — when they were highly customized solutions, designed to perform one task over and over again, with a price tag to match.   Cont'd...

MIP Robotics Launches Its First Model of New Generation Industrial Robot "MIP Junior",

MIP robotics is a startup founded in 2015 and based on research conducted for many years. The company aims to provide accessible, industrial robots, especially for SMIs (small and medium industries). In other words, like 3D printing in recent years, MIP wants to democratize industrial robotics. The robots can be used to automate repetitive, arduous or dangerous tasks; indeed it is possible to set the standard gripper arms: suction cup, hook, screwdriver, blade etc. Application examples are numerous: storing goods in cartons, checking the tightening torque, making the automated cutting, removing non-compliant products etc. MIP allows its customers to increase their productivity (and hence margins) in order to improve the quality or reduce the hardship. The investment can be made profitable in only 6 month. The "Junior " is a robot called "SCARA" (that is to say a horizontal arm) operating on a range of 600mm and fixed on a vertical axis in a standard 400mm high. These dimensions can be adjusted on demand. Its speed reaches up to 250mm/s with an accuracy of 0.5mm and can move up to 5kg. Junior is also characterized by its ease of use: for instance you can teach the robot the movements to be carried out by manually moving the robotic arm. Finally, the robot stops in case of impact, enabling collaborative applications if all safety conditions are met. While prices often start around €20,000 on the market, Junior is available from €8000.   Full Press Release:

Drake: Robotics Planning, Control And Analysis Toolbox

From MIT: Drake ("dragon" in Middle English) is a toolbox maintained by the  Robot Locomotion Group  at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). It is a collection of tools for analyzing the dynamics of our robots and building control systems for them in MATLAB and C++, with a heavy emphasis on optimization-based design/analysis. Here is a quick summary of capabilities: Simulation Rigid-body dynamics including contact/collisions (hybrid+LCP) and kinematic loops Basic aerodynamics/fluid dynamics Sensor models (lidar, depth camera, imu, contact force/torque; cameras coming soon) Hand-derived models for many canonical control dynamical systems Easily add your own models/components Some support for stochastic models For all of the above we aim to expose sparsity and provide analytical gradients / symbolic analysis Primary limitations: code is optimized for analysis / planning / control design (as opposed to speed, generality)... ​... Most of these models/tools are described in  the companion textbook from an MIT course/MOOC . We've also recently started populating the  Drake Gallery  (contributions welcome!)... ( git repo )

Simbe Robotics launches new retail robot

By Silicon Valley Robotics via Robohub:   The area of service robotics is getting active, with a new retail robot startup launching today. Tally is one of several robotics startups launching today at Haxlr8r’s 7th Demo Day. Tally is an inventory tracking robot platform fromSimbe Robotics and the “world’s first robotic autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution” according to the press release. Tally is in trials with several North American retailers and will traverse aisles scanning and auditing merchandise to help stores maintain ideal product placement, fill inventory gaps, and find misplaced or mispriced items. Tally is also capable of autonomously returning to base to charge. “When it comes to the retail industry, shopper experience is everything. If a product is unavailable at the time the shopper wants to buy it, the retailer has missed an opportunity and disappointed their customer,” according to Brad Bogolea, CEO and Co-founder of Simbe Robotics. “Tally helps retailers address these challenges by providing more precise and timely analysis of the state of in-store merchandise and freeing up staff to focus on customer service.”   Cont'd...

Toyota Invests $1 Billion in AI and Robots, Will Open R&D Lab in Silicon Valley

By Erico Guizzo and Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  Today in Tokyo, Toyota announced that it is investing US $1 billion over the next five years to establish a new R&D arm headquartered in Silicon Valley and focused on artificial intelligence and robotics. The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) plans to hire hundreds of engineers to staff a main facility in Palo Alto, Calif., near Stanford University, and a second facility located near MIT in Cambridge, Mass. Former DARPA program manager Dr. Gill Pratt, an executive technical advisor at Toyota, was named CEO of TRI, which will begin operations in January. Toyota president Akio Toyoda said in a press conference that the company pursues innovation and new technologies “to make life better for our customers and society as a whole,” adding that he wanted to “work with Gill not just because he’s an amazing researcher and engineer, but because I believe his goals and motivations are the same as ours.”   Cont'd...

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