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

MICHAEL D. WHEELER for Photonics.com:  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...

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:

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