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...

Rob Scharff's Soft Robotics 3D-printed hand responds to human grip

Dutch Design Week 2015: Delft University of Technology graduate Rob Scharff has created a soft robotic limb that can shake hands with people. The hand was created as part of Scharff's Soft Robotics research project – which focuses on the ways robots can be integrated with more tactile materials, and so improve robot-human interactions.  Cont'd...

Robot Can Pick and Sort Fruit

A robotics breakthrough by product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants is set to boost productivity across the food chain – from the field to the warehouse. It paves the way for robots to take on complex picking and sorting tasks involving irregular organic items – sorting fruit and vegetables, for example, or locating and removing specific weeds among crops in a field. “Traditional robots struggle when it comes to adapting to deal with uncertainty,” said Chris Roberts, head of industrial robotics at Cambridge Consultants. “Our innovative blend of existing technologies and novel signal processing techniques has resulted in a radical new system design that is poised to disrupt the industry.”  

Interactive Video Annotation Tool for Computer Vision Research

From University of California, Irvine: VATIC is a free, online, interactive video annotation tool for computer vision research that crowdsources work to Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Our tool makes it easy to build massive, affordable video data sets and can be deployed on a cloud. After three years of research, vatic is now used by labs around the world to annotate the next generation of data sets. Features Crowdsource video annotation to Mechanical Turk Automatic quality assurance for good annotations Complex payment schedules and bonuses One-click worker compensation Optimized interface for video annotation Offline mode for expert annotator use (no MTurk) ( site ) ( github )

Cisco Teams Up with Robotics Firm Fanuc for IoT

by Zacks Equity Research:  Technology giant and Dow component Cisco Systems, Inc. recently entered into a strategic alliance with a robotics company Fanuc America, thereby stepping up its efforts to make itself a key player in the Internet of Things (IoT) space.  Per the alliance, Fanuc and Cisco have built an IoT system that enables Fanuc to monitor every robot on the factory floor. This way it can be determined whether a robot is likely to fail, so that a service technician can fix the equipment before it stops working. This could save companies hundreds of dollars of fixing cost. Per Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, downtime for these robots can cost a business $16,000 per minute. Therefore, the new system that offers predictive maintenance can be a big thing for some operations. The companies are currently testing the system in a channel that comprises around 1,800 robots and includes Fanuc customer, GM. In this testing period, Fanuc says its customer has saved $38 million. Fanus has plans to expand the system to 2,500 robots by the end of the year. Cont'd...

Technology gap gives foreign firms the edge in China robot wars

BY GERRY SHIH for Reuters:  In a cavernous showroom on the outskirts of this port city in northeastern China, softly whirring lathes and svelte robot arms represent Dalian Machine Tools Group's (DMTG) vision of an automated future for Chinese manufacturing. On closer inspection, however, most of the machines' control panels bear the logos of Japan's FANUC Corp or the German conglomerate Siemens. The imported control systems in DMTG's products – used in the assembly of everything from smartphones to cement trucks – are symbolic of the technology gap between Chinese and foreign industrial automation firms, just one of several challenges facing China's ambition to nurture a national robotics industry. Chinese robotics firms are also grappling with a weakening economy and slumping automotive sector, and industry insiders already predict a market bubble just three years after the central government issued policies to spur robotics development. "Last year everybody thought they could produce a robot," said Alan Lee, director of Asia sales and business development at Boston-based Rethink Robotics. "When you have market saturation you'll have filtering and M&A. These guys will be the first layer to suffer."  It is a storyline familiar from other new industries such as solar panels: Beijing's policies and subsides trigger a wave of low-margin, low-cost contenders to rush into the market, where, with no meaningful technology of their own, they struggle to compete on price alone.   Cont'd...

OMRON to Acquire U.S. Based Adept Technology

OMRON plans to acquire 100% of the outstanding shares of Adept common stock through an all cash tender offer followed by a second-step merger. OMRON will offer Adept investors $13.00 per share of Adept common stock, which represents a 63% premium over the closing price for Adept's common stock on September 15, 2015. This values Adept at approximately $200 million. OMRON will fund the tender offer through cash on hand.  Commenting on the acquisition, Yutaka Miyanaga, OMRON Industrial Automation Business Company President, said, "We are delighted Adept Technology, a world leader in robotics, has agreed to join OMRON. This acquisition is part of our strategy to enhance our automation technology and position us for long term growth. Robotics will elevate our offering of advanced automation."  Rob Cain, President and Chief Executive Officer of Adept, added, "We are excited about the opportunity to join OMRON, a global leader in automation. Together, our products will offer new innovative solutions to customers all around the globe."  Full Press Release:

Robot That Copies Artist's Exact Strokes To Replicate A Painting In 3D

From the Instapainting Blog: Over the past three weeks I’ve been working on a robotic painter to research the area of mechanical artwork reproduction and automated picture to painting creation for  Instapainting.com  and the print store e-commerce platform  A Manufactory . The initial prototype was built in about 3 weeks, and currently does mechnical reproductions. The AI painting mode which will paint a photograph will follow in the next post (putting some finishing touches on it)... ...The current prototype operates on 3 dimensions: X, Y, and a Z axis for pen pressure from the Wacom tablet. The artist can control the motion from a Wacom tablet and, for the most part, it’s lag-free. Every stroke is recorded so that it can be played back. You can see both the intitial painting and the playback in the video below... ( full post )

Humanoid robot negotiates outdoor, rough terrain with ease

Boston Dynamics have developed the "Atlas" robot a highly mobility, humanoid robot designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain.  Here is a video showing "Atlas" courtesy euronews.

Robotics firm GreyOrange raises $30 million, to expand overseas

GreyOrange, a robotics firm that is in the business of automating warehouses, has raised $30 million (Rs 191.6 crore) in a round led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from existing investors Blume Ventures. The funding, which the company says is one of the largest for robotics company globally, will be used to invest in developing new products, expand internationally into Asia Pacific, Middle East and Europe. The company says it has a 90% market share of India's warehouse automation market and it powers over 180,000 square feet of warehouse. "We are doubling our team size globally as we steer the company and our products beyond India and into international markets," said co-founder and CEO Samay Kohli, who founded the company with Akash Gupta in 2011. The company has two products: The Sorter and the Butler. The former is a high-speed system that consolidates orders and routes parcels. By Diwali, the company will have installed sortation capacity of 3 million parcels per day. The second product, the Butler, is an order-picking system that is tailored for high-volume, high-mix orders characteristic of e-commerce and omni-channel logistics fulfilment.   Cont'd..  

Giving robots a more nimble grasp

Engineers use the environment to give simple robotic grippers more dexterity. Engineers at MIT have now hit upon a way to impart more dexterity to simple robotic grippers: using the environment as a helping hand. The team, led by Alberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and graduate student Nikhil Chavan-Dafle, has developed a model that predicts the force with which a robotic gripper needs to push against various fixtures in the environment in order to adjust its grasp on an object.

Robo-Sabotage Is Surprisingly Common

By Matt Beane for MIT Technology Review:  I think perhaps there’s something else at work here. Beyond building robots to increase productivity and do dangerous, dehumanizing tasks, we have made the technology into a potent symbol of sweeping change in the labor market, increased inequality, and recently the displacement of workers. If we replace the word “robot” with “machine,” this has happened in cycles extending well back through the Industrial Revolution. Holders of capital invest in machinery to increase production because they get a better return, and then many people, including some journalists, academics, and workers cry foul, pointing to the machinery as destroying jobs. Amidst the uproar, eventually there are a few reports of people angrily breaking the machines. Two years ago, I did an observational study of semiautonomous mobile delivery robots at three different hospitals. I went in looking for how using the robots changed the way work got done, but I found out that beyond increasing productivity through delivery work, the robots were kept around as a symbol of how progressive the hospitals were, and that when people who’d been doing similar delivery jobs at the hospitals quit, their positions weren’t filled.   Cont'd...

Foxconn Seeks Manufacturing Sites in India

SEAN MCLAIN for WSJ.com:  Foxconn became the latest global giant to declare its intention to tap into India’s budding manufacturing potential. The company is looking for manufacturing sites in India. So far it hasn’t been able to settle on any in particular, Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou told a news conference in New Delhi. “India is a big, big country. Too many places, too many states, too many cities. The choice is difficult,” he said. Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer by revenue. The Taiwanese company—known officially as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.—is looking to tap India’s massive labor pool and has big ambitions for its Indian investments. It has long-term plans for Asia’s third-largest economy and hopes to do more in India than simply assemble smartphones and laptops. “We want to bring the whole supply chain here,” Mr. Gou said. Analysts say Foxconn is looking to diversify its global network of factories as the company faces more competition and rising wages in China, where it has most of its manufacturing operations.  Cont'd...

Chinese factory replaces 90% of humans with robots, production soars

By Conner Forrest for TechRepublic:  In Dongguan City, located in the central Guangdong province of China, a technology company has set up a factory run almost exclusively by robots, and the results are fascinating. The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan has automated production lines that use robotic arms to produce parts for cell phones. The factory also has automated machining equipment, autonomous transport trucks, and other automated equipment in the warehouse. There are still people working at the factory, though. Three workers check and monitor each production line and there are other employees who monitor a computer control system. Previously, there were 650 employees at the factory. With the new robots, there's now only 60. Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the company, told the People's Daily that the number of employees could drop to 20 in the future. The robots have produced almost three times as many pieces as were produced before. According to the People's Daily, production per person has increased from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces. That's a 162.5% increase.   Cont'd...

Musk, Hawking, Chomsky: Why they want a ban on killer robots.

A global arms race for killer robots? Bad idea. That’s according to more than 1,000 leading artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers, who have together signed an open letter, published Monday, from the nonprofit Future of Life Institute. The letter calls for a ban on autonomous offensive weapons as a means of preventing just such a disaster, and represents the latest word on the global conversation around the risks and benefits of AI weaponry.   Cont'd...  

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