Archive 29.11.2017

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Humanoids 2017 photo competition and winners

The Humanoids 2017 conference earlier this month hosted an excellent photo competition. I was lucky to be one of the judges, along with Erico Guizzo from IEEE Spectrum, and Giorgio Metta as awards chair.

The decision, which was tough given the excellent submissions, was based on social media votes and scores for originality, creativity, photo structure, and tech or fun factor.

The overall winner for Best Humanoid Photo featured a pensive iCub and was entitled “To be, or not to be” by Pedro Vicente from the Vislab in Lisbon.

Title: “To be, or not to be”
Robot: iCub
Photo by: Pedro Vicente, Vislab@ISR-Lisboa

Finalists, in no particular order, were:

Title: “One who doesn’t throw the dice can never expect to score a six. One who doesn’t throw the ball can never expect to learn to juggle.”
Robot: NICO ( Neuro-Inspired COmpanion )
Photo by: Erik Strahl, Universität Hamburg (University of Hamburg, Germany).
Title: “Ready to explore (TORO accompanied by LRU, two experimental robots for verifying concepts for planetary exploration)”
Robot: Toro, LRU
Photo by: Maximo A. Roa, Christian Ott, Johannes Englsberger, Bernd Henze, Alexander Werner, Oliver Porges, DLR – German Aerospace Center
Title: “Sweaty goes Japan”
Robot: Sweaty
Photo by: Heitz, Benjamin, University Offenburg

The winner for Best Funny Humanoid was this picture of a frustrated SABIAN entitled “If only I had a self-driving car” by Marco Moscato at the Biorobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.

Title: “If only I had a self-driving car.”
Robot: SABIAN (Sant’Anna BIped humANoid)
Photo by: Marco Moscato, The Biorobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna

Finalists, in no particular order, were:

Title: “NAOs’ Kindergarten :) “
Robot: Nao
Photo by: Mohsen Kaboli, Technical University of Munich (TUM).
Title: Ain’t easier than imagenet
Robot: iCub
Photo by: Lorenzo Natale, Elisa Maiettini, Vadim Tikhanoff, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia
Title: “The Humanoids deadline is in six hours- I need those results!”
Robots: Talos and Nao
Photo by: Aljaž Kramberger, Barry Ridge, Robert Bevec, Miha Deniša, Miha Dežman, Rok Goljat and Andrej Gams, Jožef Stefan Institute.

You can see all the other photos below. Congratulations to all the participants, and to the Humanoids 2017 team for the organisation!

Title: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (千里之行,始於足下) ,
Robot: SABIAN (Sant’Anna BIped humANoid)
Photo by: Marco Moscato, The Biorobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna
Title: “Ready for the match of the year: Baxter VS McGregor”
Robot: Baxter
Photo by: Alessandro Albini and Simone Denei, DIBRIS (Univiersity of Genoa, Italy)
Title: “Valkyrie preparing to use a drill”
Robot: Valkyrie
Photo by: Nicholas Thoma, NASA
Title: “DYROS JET Ready for Action”
Photo by: Jaehoon Sim, Seoul National University, South Korea
Title: “What’s up bro”
Photo by: Jaehoon Sim, Seoul National University, South Korea
Title: “JET prefer riding”
Photo by: Jaehoon Sim, Seoul National University, South Korea
Title: “Walking to the future”
Photo by: Mathew Schwartz, Seoul National University
Title: “Machine Learning”
Photo by: Jaehoon Sim, Seoul National University, South Korea
Title: “The Creation of Vizzy”
Robot: iCub [left], Vizzy [right]
Photo by: João Avelino, VisLab, Institute for Systems and Robotics, Instituto Superior Técnico
Title: Dialogue of generations
Robots: Romeo & HRP2
Photo by: Mehdi Benallegue, CNRS-LAAS, France
Title: Discussing the fate of humanity
Robots: Romeo & HRP2
Photo by: Mehdi Benallegue, CNRS-LAAS, France
Title: NimbRo-OP2 vs. Sweaty (RoboCup 2017 AdultSize Final)
Robots: NimbRo-OP2
Photo by: Sven Behnke, University of Bonn
Title: NimbRo-OP2 kicking
Robot: NimbRo-OP2
Photo by: Sven Behnke, University of Bonn
Title: They grow up so fast
Robot: NimbRo-OP2
Photo by: Sven Behnke, University of Bonn
Title: Posing with NimbRo-OP2
Robot: NimbRo-OP2
Photo by: Aimee Han, ROBOTIS.
Title: “Yes, I’m drunk.”
Robot: iCub
Photo by: Daniele Pucci, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia
Title: “I’ve lost my mind for the conference”
Robot: iCub
Photo by: Daniele Pucci, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia
Title: “Don’t look at me, I’m naked!!”
Robot: iCub
Photo by: Daniele Pucci, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia
Title: “Discobolus”
Robot: Talos
Photo by: Carlos Viva, PAL Robotics
Title: “Walk like an egyptian”
Robot: Talos
Photo by: PAL Robotics
Title: “Soccer Champion”
Robot: Nao
Photo by: Mathew Schwartz, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Title: “Brace yourselves. iCub is coming.”
robot: iCub, the Night King
Photo by: Marco Randazzo, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), Genova, Italy.
Title: “Blessed among women: life is not so hard when you are a broken robot”
Robot: iCub
Photo by: Brice Clement, INRIA Nancy, France
Title: “Fainting robot (TORO getting tired of doing experiments)”
Robot: Toro
Photo by: Maximo A. Roa, Christian Ott, Johannes Englsberger, Bernd Henze, Alexander Werner, Oliver Porges, DLR – German Aerospace Center
Title: “Challenging Yoga pose (Toro getting ready for transportation)”
Robot: Toro
Photo by: Maximo A. Roa, Christian Ott, Johannes Englsberger, Bernd Henze, Alexander Werner, Oliver Porges, DLR – German Aerospace Center
Title: “Pick and install (TORO picks a part for installation on an airplane frame – project COMANOID)”
Robot: Toro
Photo by: Maximo A. Roa, Christian Ott, Johannes Englsberger, Bernd Henze, Alexander Werner, Oliver Porges, DLR – German Aerospace Center.
Title: “I could work faster, if only I had ten fingers.”
Robot: Nao
Photo by: Aljaž Kramberger, Barry Ridge, Robert Bevec, Miha Deniša, Miha Dežman, Rok Goljat and Andrej Gams, Jožef Stefan Institute.
Title: “(He)iCub and “integration””
Robots: Nao and HeiCub
Photo by: Yue Hu, Optimization, Robotics and Biomechanics (ORB), ZITI, Heidelberg University
Title: “I want a head” – the (!)sad story of a headless iCub”
Robots: Nao and HeiCub
Photo by: Yue Hu, Optimization, Robotics and Biomechanics (ORB), ZITI, Heidelberg University.
Title: If I had a robot…. – Elementary school students draw what they would like a robot do for them.
Robots: Pepper, iCub, Nao
Photo by: Wibke Borngesser, Institute for Cognitive Systems, TU München.
Title: Sweaty supports exhausted coach during RoboCup Soccer
Robot: Sweaty
Photo by: Sandra Lutz-Vogt, Univ. Appl. Sci. Offenburg

#ERW2017: “Robot Discovery” central event in tweets

The European Robotics Week 2017 (ERW2017) Central Event organised in Brussels saw the “Robots Discovery” exhibition hosted by the European Committee of the Regions on 20-23 November, where robotics experts from 30 European and regionally-funded projects outlined the impact of their work on society.

The exhibiting projects showed robots assisting during surgery or providing support for elderly care, how robots can help students develop digital skills, monitor the environment and apply agricultural chemicals with precision and less waste or how they can save lives after disasters. The #ERW2017 hashtag has reached over 1 million impressions on social media. Here’s a look at how the “Robots Discovery” central event was portrayed.

Day 1, 20 November – exhibition of robotics projects for healthcare

Day 2, 21 November – exhibition of education robotics projects

The robot bus of the Sohjoa Baltic project has arrived to the European Committee of the Regions.

The day ended with a reception hosted by First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula, and a concert by the Logos Robots Orchestra.

Day 3, 22 November – exhibition of robotics projects related to the environment

The Sohjoa Baltic robot bus met the public on the Esplanade of the European Parliament.

The day ended with a high-level dinner hosted by MEP Martina Werner at the European Parliament.

Day 4, 23 November – exhibition of robots for international cooperation

Day 5, 24 November – Robotics classes for children

Baudouin Hubert held robotics classes for children at the Euro Space Center:

During the #ERW2017 we also had plenty of fun with REEM C from PAL Robotics playing the piano.

Thank you to all exhibitors, organisers and event partners!

See you at European Robotics Week 2018 #ERW2018!

Robots and the two-edged blade of new technology

There’s a scare-tactic video going around on social media, and I wanted to weigh in on it—this particular video has gone from 500,000 views to almost 2 million in the past 10 days. As a matter of principle, I will not link to it. It presents a scary future in which killer robotic drones—controlled by any terrorist organization or government—run rampant.

The twin issues of killer robots and robots taking our jobs are the result of the two-edged blade of new technology, i.e., technologies that can be used for both good and evil. Should these new technologies be stopped entirely or regulated? Can they be regulated? Once you see a video like this one, one doubts whether they can ever be controlled. It’s fearful media that doesn’t say it is fake until far beyond the irresponsible level.

Videos like this one—and there are many—are produced for multiple purposes. The issues often get lost to the drama of the message. They are the result of, or fueled by, headline-hungry news sources, social media types and commercial and political strategists. This particular shock video—fake as it is—is promoting a longer, more balanced documentary and non-profit organization on the subject of stopping autonomous killing machines. Yet there are other factual videos of the U.S. military’s Perdix drones swarming just like in the shock video. Worse still, the same technologists that teach future roboticists at MIT are also developing those Perdix drones and their swarming capabilities.

My earlier career was in political strategy and I know something about the tactics of fear and manipulation—of raising doubts for manipulative purposes, as well as the real need for technologies to equalize the playing field. Again, the two-edged sword.

At the present time, we are under very real threat militarily and from the cyber world. We must invest in countering those threats and inventing new preventative weaponry. Non-militarily, jobs ARE under threat—particularly the dull, dirty and dangerous (DDD) ones easily replaced by robots and automation. In today’s global and competitive world, DDD jobs are being replaced because they are costly and inefficient. But they are also being replaced without too much consideration for those displaced.

It’s hard for me as an investor and observer (and in the past as a hands-on participant) to reconcile what I know about the state of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence today with the future use of those very same technologies.

I see the speed of change, e.g.: for many years, Google has had thousands of coders coding their self-driving system and compiling the relevant and necessary databases and models. But along comes George Hotz and other super-coders who single-handedly write code that writes code to accomplish the same thing. Code that writes code is what Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking fear, yet it is inevitable and soon will be commonplace. Ray Kurzweil named this phenomenon and claims that the ‘singularity’ will happen by 2045 with an interim milestone in 2029 when AI will achieve human levels of intelligence. Kurzweil’s forecasts, predicated on exponential technological growth, is clearly evident in the Google/Hotz example.

Pundits and experts suggest that when machines become smarter than human beings, they’ll take over the world. Kurzweil doesn’t think so. He envisions the same technology that will make AIs more intelligent giving humans a boost as well. It’s back to the two-edged sword of good and evil.

In my case, as a responsible writer and editor covering robotics, automation and artificial intelligence, I think it’s important to stay on topic, not fan the flames of fear, and to present the positive side of the sword.

Uber buys 24,000 Volvos, trolley problems get scarier, and liability

Uber and Volvo announced an agreement where Uber will buy, in time, up to 24,000 specially built Volvo XC90s which will run Uber’s self-driving software and, presumably, offer rides to Uber customers. While the rides are some time away, people have made note of this for several reasons.

  • This is a pretty big order for Volvo — it’s $1B of cars at the retail price, and 1/3 of the total sales of XC90s in 2017.
  • This is a big fleet — there are only 12,000 yellow cabs in New York City, for example, though thanks to Uber there are now far more hailable vehicles.
  • In spite of Volvo’s fairly major software efforts, they will be entirely on the hardware side for this deal, and it is not exclusive for either party.

I’m not clear who originally said it — I first heard it from Marc Andreesen — but “the truest form of a partnership is called a purchase order.” In spite of the scores of announced partnerships and joint ventures announced to get PR in the robocar space, this is a big deal, but it’s a sign of the sort of deal car makers have been afraid of. Volvo will be primarily a contract manufacturer here, and Uber will own the special sauce that makes the vehicle work, and it will own the customer. You want to be Uber in this deal, But what company can refuse a $1B order?

It also represents a big shift for Uber. Uber is often the poster child for the company that replaced assets with software. It owns no cars and yet provides the most rides. Now, Uber is going to move to the capital intensive model of owning the cars, and not having to pay drivers. There will be much debate over whether it should make such a shift. As noted, it goes against everything Uber represented in the past, but there is not really much choice.

First of all, to do things the “Uber” way would require that a large number of independent parties bought and operated robocars and then contracted out to Uber to bring them riders when not being used by their owners. Like UberX without having to drive the car. The problem is, that world is still a long way away. Car companies have put their focus on cars that can’t drive unmanned — much or at all — because that’s OK for the private car buyer. They are also far behind companies like Waymo and Uber in producing taxi capable vehicles.

If Uber waited for the pool of available private cars to get large enough, it would miss the boat. Other companies would have moved into its territory and undercut it with cheaper and cooler robotaxi service.

Secondly, you really want to be very sure about the vehicles you deploy in your first round. You want to have tested them, and you need to certify their safety because you are going to be liable in accidents no matter what you do. You can get the private owners to sign a contract taking liability but you will get sued anyway as the deep pocket if you do. This means you want to control the whole experience.

The truth is, capital is pretty cheap for companies like Uber. Even cheaper for companies like Apple and Google that have the world’s largest pools of spare capital sitting around. The main risk is that these custom robocars may not have any resale value if you bet wrong on how to build them. Fortunately, taxis wear out in about 5 years of heavy use.

Uber continues to have no fear of telling the millions of drivers who work “for” them that they will be rid of them some day. Uber driver is an unusual job, and nobody thinks of it as a career, so they can get away with this.

Trolley problem gets scarier

Academic ethicists, when defending discussions of the Trolley Problem claim that while they understand the problems are not real, they are still valuable teaching tools to examine real questions.

The problem is the public doesn’t understand this, and is morbidly fascinated beyond all rationality with the idea of machines deciding who lives or dies. This has led Barack Obama to ask about it in his first statement on robocars, and many other declarations that we must figure out this nonsense question before we deploy robocars on the road. The now-revoked proposed NHTSA guidelines of 2016 included a theoretically voluntary requirement that vendors outline their solutions to this “problem.”

This almost got more real last week when a proposed UK bill would have demanded trolley solutions. The bill was amended at the last minute, and a bullet dodged that would have delayed the deployment of life saving technology while trying to resolve truly academic questions.

It is time for ethical ethicists to renounce the trolley problem. Even if, inside, they still think it’s got value, that value is far outweighed by the irrational fears and actions it triggers in public debate. Real people are dying every day on the roads, and we should not delay saving them to figure out how to do the “right” thing in hypothetical situations that are actually extremely rare to nonexistent. Figuring out the right thing is the wrong thing. Save solving trolley problems for version 4, and get to work on version 0.2.

There is real ethical work to be done, covering situations that happen every day. Real world safety tradeoffs and their morality. Driving on roads where breaking the vehicle code is the norm. Contrasting cost with safety. These are the places where ethical expertise can be valuable.

Simulators take off

For a long time I have promoted the idea of an open source simulator. Now two projects are underway.

The first is the project Apollo simulator from Baidu and a new entrant called Carla is also in the game.

This is good to see, but I hope the two simulators also work together. One real strength of an open platform simulator is that people all around the world can contribute scenarios to it, and then every car developer can test their system in those scenarios. We want every car tested in every scenario that anybody can think of.

Waymo has developed its own simulator, and fed it with every strange thing their cars have encountered in 5M kilometers of real world driving. It’s one of the things that gives them an edge. They’ve also loaded the simulator with everything their team members can think of. This way, their driving system has the experience of seeing and trying out every odd situation that will be encountered in many lifetimes of human driving, and eventually on every type of road.

That’s great, but no one company can really build it all. This is one of the great things to crowdsource. Let all the small developers, all the academics, and even all the hobbyists build simulations of dangerous scenarios. Let people record and build scenarios for driving in every city of the world, in every situation. No one company can do that but the crowd can. This can give us the confidence that any car has at least at some level encountered far more than any human driver ever could, and handled it well.

Unusual liability rule

Some auto vendors have proposed a liability rule for privately owned robocars that will protect them from some liability. The rule would declare that if you bought a robocar from them, and you didn’t maintain it according to the required maintenance schedule then the car vendor would not be liable for any accident it had.

It’s easy to see why automakers would want this rule. They are scared of liability and anything that can reduce it is a plus for them.

At the same time, this will often not make sense. Just because somebody didn’t change the oil or rotate the tires should not remove liability for a mistake by the driving system that had no relation to those factors.

What’s particularly odd here is that robocars should always be very well maintained. That’s because they will be full of sensors to measure everything that’s going on, and they will also be able to constantly test every system that can be tested.
Consider the brakes, for example. Every time a robocar brakes, it can measure that the braking is happening correctly. It can measure the temperature of the brake discs. It can listen to the sound or detect vibrations. It can even, when unmanned, find itself on an empty street and hit the brakes hard to see what happens.

In other words, unexpected brake failure should be close to impossible (particularly since robocars are being designed with 2 or 3 redundant braking systems.)

More to the point, a robocar will take itself in for service. When your car is not being used, it will run over for an oil change or any other maintenance it needs. You would have to deliberately stop it to prevent it from being maintained to schedule. Certainly no car in a taxi fleet will remain unmaintained except through deliberate negligence.

Robohub Podcast #248: Semi-active Prosthesis, with Peter Adamczyk

In this episode, Audrow Nash interviews Peter Adamczyk, Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, on semi-active foot and ankle prostheses. The difference is that active below-knee prostheses work to move the person’s weight, emulating the calf muscle, while semi-active devices use small amounts of power to improve the performance of the prosthesis. Adamczyk discusses the motivation for semi-active devices and gives three examples: shiftable shapes, controllable keels, and alignable ankles.

Peter Adamczyk

Peter Adamczyk directs the UW Biomechatronics, Assistive Devices, Gait Engineering and Rehabilitation Laboratory (UW BADGER Lab) which aims to enhance physical and functional recovery from orthopedic and neurological injury through advanced robotic devices. We study the mechanisms by which these injuries impair normal motion and coordination, and target interventions to encourage recovery and/or provide biomechanical assistance. Our work primarily addresses impairments affecting walking, running, and standing. One core focus is advanced semi-active foot prostheses for patients with lower limb amputation. Additional research addresses assessment and rehabilitation of balance impairments, hemiparesis, and other neurologically-based mobility challenges.




European Robotics Week 2017: Live coverage

We hope you’re enjoying the European Robotics Week! If you’re still looking for events to attend over the weekend, make sure to check out the map of 1000 happenings all over Europe.

One highlight was the European Robotics League competition focused on service robotics with teams from Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and Portugal. The teams had to show how their robots can assist old people in their daily life, all in an attrezzo that simulates a home.

The central event of the week was held in Brussels, and featured a “Robots Discovery” exhibition hosted by the European Committee of the Regions, where robotics experts from 30 European and regionally-funded projects outlined how their work could impact society. Exhibiting projects are listed below.

  • EurEyeCase will design instrumenation and control techniques to improve clinical outcome for a selection of relevant and urgent eye surgery procedures for certain pathologic conditions, affecting over 16 million elderly persons worldwide.
  • MURAB has the ambition to drastically improve precision and effectiveness of the biopsy gathering for cancer diagnostic operations. Through a robotic device which can autonomously scan the target area and optimally acquire data, the use of expensive Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) will be reduced to a minimum.
  • SoftPro project will study and design soft synergy-based robotics technologies to develop new prostheses, exoskeletons, and assistive devices for upper limb rehabilitation, which will greatly enhance the efficacy and accessibility for a greater number of users. SoftHand Pro: a prosthetic hand that is robust, versatile, usable, strong, and delicate.
  • IoT and robotic technologies are two complementary domains with large potential for improving our daily life quality. The two showcased projects are: imec.WONDER, where a Nao robot engages in personalized interactions with people suffering from dementia, tracking behavioral disturbances by means of environmental sensors; and imec.ROBOCURE, where social robots are interfacing with networked glucose meters for improved diabetes education and follow-up therapy at home.
  • BabyRobot’s ambition is to create robots that can establish communication protocols, form collaboration plans on the fly, and create an impact beyond the consumer and healthcare application markets. BabyRobot focuses on special education for children with autism. 
  • The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is involved with many different robotics initiatives ranging from local projects (Brubotics/VUB Exoskeleton), spinoffs (Axiles), and international collaborations (CYBERLEGs). These projects are focused on assistive technologies and human-robot interactions, developing new exoskeleton technologies, commercializing new prosthetic devices such as the Axiles ankle prosthesis, and developing new powered prosthetic devices to assist those who may not be able to use current designs.
  • Early diagnosis with a non-invasive and painless endoscopic technique to eradicate colorectal cancer? Yes, a new solutions exists: the Endoo medical platform. The Endoo European Project aims to develop an active colonoscopic platform for robotic guidance of a painless, innovative, smart, and soft-tethered device, in order to achieve accurate and reliable diagnosis and therapy of colonic pathologies, with high acceptance by patients for preventive mass screening.
  • The Educational Robotics for STEM (ER4STEM) project aims to turn curious children into young adults passionate about science and technology through a hands-on platform using robotics The project’s research is aimed at developing an open operational and conceptual framework that involves pedagogical methods as well as technologies and tools for educational robotics, including a web repository of educational robotics in Europe.
  • The European Robotics League (ERL), a novel model for competitions funded by the European Commission, brings a common framework for three robotics challenges: ERL Industrial Robots, ERL Service Robots and ERL Emergency Robots, allowing teams to test their robots’ ability to face real-world situations. The ERL local and major tournaments are based in Europe and are open to international participation. European cities can apply to host an ERL tournament.
  • LUVMI is a small, lightweight rover being designed to explore polar regions of the Moon and drive into a Permanently Shadowed Region (PSR), believed to hold vast stores of water. Instruments carried by the rover will look specifically for this water which may be potentially game-changing for future manned missions to the moon.
  • Makeathons and hackathons are excellent tools to foster collaborations and co-creation in a world of complex and disruptive solutions. To connect the possibilities and the need for robots and artificial intelligence between companies, startups and academic groups, the InQbet makeathon takes place simultaneously in Brussels, New York and Singapore. More than 100 attended the kick-off, and 50 experts members are developing solutions with startups.
  • Using robotics to teach children about programming and other digital skills, improves motivation, makes programming tangible and naturally links together different topics in science and engineering. Dwengo has developed several tools and teaching materials to be used during classroom activities. Moreover, international projects such as WeGoSTEM and Udavi brought robot education to socio-disadvantaged children worldwide!
  • In the IDLab at UGent – imec has developed multiple quadruped robots over the past decade. By building and programming quadruped robots, one can really understand the underlying principles of movement and cognition.
  • Asbestos materials were used in many installations, flats, and offices in the past. Even though their hazardous effects to the human health are well known, the material is still present in many buildings. The Bots2ReC Project aims at the development of a robotic system for the efficient automated removal of asbestos contamination, without putting human workers at risk.
  • The CoCoRo project aimed at creating a swarm of interacting, cognitive, autonomous robots. The swarm of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are able to interact with each other in order to achieve environmental monitoring, search and exploration of underwater habitats.
  • DexROV develops technologies for executing sub-sea dexterous interventions (maintenance of infrastructures, geology, biology, archaeology) with underwater robots (ROVs) from a remote control center, through a satellite communication link. The remote control center is featured with a double arm, and double hands allowing the pilot to instruct dexterous operations. DexROV will be demonstrated in 2018 at 1,000 meters deep in the Mediterranean sea, while being operated from Zaventem, in Belgium.
  • The BADGER autonomous underground robotic system will be able to drill, maneuver, localise, map and navigate in the underground space, and will be equipped with tools for constructing horizontal and vertical networks of stable bores and pipelines. The proposed robotic system will operate in domains of high societal and economic impact including trenchless constructions, cabling and pipe installations, geotechnical investigations, large-scale irrigation installations, search and rescue operations, remote science and exploration applications.
  • SAGA is an ECHORD++ experiment. The goal of the project is to prove the applicability of swarm robotics to precision farming. 
  • The ICARUS project proposes a comprehensive and integrated set of unmanned search and rescue tools which consist of assistive unmanned air, ground, and sea vehicles, equipped with victim-detection sensors. The unmanned vehicles collaborate as a coordinated team, communicating via ad hoc cognitive radio networking.
  • The H2020-SafeShore project, has as a main goal to cover existing gaps in coastal border surveillance, increasing internal security by preventing cross-border crime such as trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of drugs. It is designed to be integrated with existing systems and create a continuous detection line along the border.
  • The TIRAMISU project aims at providing the foundation for a global toolbox that will cover the main mine action activities, from the survey of large areas to the actual disposal of explosive hazards, including mine risk education and training tools.
  • The goal of SHERPA is to develop a mixed ground and aerial robotic platform to support search and rescue activities in a real-world hostile environment like the alpine scenario.
  • Disaster response and other tasks in dangerous and dirty environments can put human operators at risk. The ECHORD++ HyQ-REAL experiment will bring to the real world IIT’s four-legged robot, capable of a wide repertoire of indoor/outdoor motions ranging from running and jumping to carefully walking over rough terrain.
  • Co4Robots is a European-wide collaboration between industry and academia that aims to build a systemic, integrated methodology with which to accomplish complex tasks given to a group of robots in various environments such as a hotel, an office, a hospital, or a warehouse.

For more news, follow #ERW2017 on twitter or below.

30+2 research reports forecast significant growth for robot industry

Press releases for this batch of 30 research reports all agree that most segments of the robotics industry are expected to grow at a double-digit pace at least through 2022.

Although these reports vary widely in their forecasts – often on the same topic, they all seem to agree that the global robotics industry is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the teens or greater.

Unmanned mobile air, land and sea vehicles (commercial and military)

  • Commercial UAV Report
    Aug 2017, Interact Analysis, free
    Industry revenues for commercial-use drones are forecast to reach $15 billion by 2022, up from just $1.3 billion in 2016. This includes revenues from hardware, software/analytics and drone services. Rapidly increasing penetration rates into a huge number of commercial applications are driving a six-fold increase in drone shipments, surpassing 620,000 units in 2022. Only the trend of using drone service providers rather than purchasing hardware will temper this growth.
  • Global driverless tractors market
    Nov 2017, 109 pages, QY Research, $3,500
    Describes offerings from John Deere, Autonomous Tractor, AGCO/Fendt and CNH/Cash IH.
  • Nov 2017, 127 pages, Tractica, $4,200
    Tractica forecasts that worldwide shipments of enterprise robots will grow from approximately 83,000 units in 2016 to 1.2 million units in 2022, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 57% during that period.  Worldwide revenue for the enterprise robotics market will increase from $5.9 billion in 2016 to $67.9 billion in 2022.
  • Global indoor robots market
    Oct 2017, 223 pages, BIS Research, $4,499
    The global indoor robots market, which consists of cleaning, medical, security & surveillance, public relations, education, entertainment, and personal assistant robots, generated $3.7 billion in 2016 and has exhibited a high growth rate.
  • Global defense counter-UAS technologies
    Oct 2017, Frost & Sullivan, $1,500
    Over 50 global defense companies now offer some sort of counter unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS).
  • Sep 2017, 186 pages, Reports n Reports, $5,650
    The military robots market is expected to grow from an estimated $16.79 billion in 2017 to $30.83 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 12.92%. Drivers for military robots include rising number of terrorist activities, increasing need of systems that can conduct remote operations for a longer time, and technological developments in unmanned systems. Mine clearance is expected to witness the highest growth during the forecast period.
  • Sep 2017, 101 pages, Absolute Reports, $4,000
    The Global Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Robot market is valued at $5.98 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $8 billion by the end of 2022, growing at an annual CAGR of 4.6%.
  • Autonomous underwater vehicle market
    Aug 2017, Markets and Markets, $5,650
    The market for autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) is expected to grow from $362.5 million in 2017 to $1,206.9 million by 2023, at a CAGR of 22.20% between 2017 and 2023.

Industrial, collaborative and sensors

  • July 2017, IDC, subscription service
    IDC forecasts worldwide purchases of robotics, including drones and robotics-related hardware, software and services, will total $97.2 billion in 2017, an increase of 17.9% over 2016. IDC expects robotics spending to accelerate over the next five years reaching $230.7 billion in 2021 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.8%.
  • Nov 2017, Energias Market Research, $4,895
    The Global Collaborative Robots market is expected to increase from $177.2 million in 2016, to $4,238.3 million in 2023, at a significant CAGR of 57.4% from 2017 to 2023. Increasing investments in automation by industries to support industry 4.0 revolution (smart production), low price of collaborative robots and high return on investment (ROI) rates are the factors attributing towards the growth of the global collaborative market during the forecast period.
  • Dec 2017, 350 pages, Data Bridge Market Research, $4,200
    The Global Industrial Robots Market accounted to $38.20 billion in 2016 growing at a CAGR of 9.54% during the forecast period of 2017 to 2024. The upcoming market report contains data for historic years 2015, the base year of calculation is 2016 and the forecast period is 2017 to 2024.
  • Global industrial and service robots market
    Nov 2017, 125 pages, QY Research, $3,560
    No forecasts available for this report.
  • Oct 2017, 87 pages, TechNavio, $2,500
    TechNavio forecasts that the market will grow steadily at a CAGR of around 12% through 2021.
  • Jul 2017, 81 pages, TechNavio, $2,500
    TechNavio forecasts the global industrial robotics rental market to grow at a CAGR of 13.58% during the period 2017-2021.
  • Oct 2017, 114 pages, Variant Market Research, $3,746
    Variant forecasts this market to reach $77.7 billion by 2024 growing at an annual CAGR of 9.3% from 2017 to 2024.
  • Mar 2017, 70 pages, TechNavio, $3,500
    For blind robots to pick an object those objects must be properly positioned – a niche industry that is forecast to grow at a 7% CAGR.
  • Nov 2017, 104 pages, QY Research, $3,500
    No forecasts available for this report.
  • Global collaborative robots market
    2017, Inkwood Research, $2,500
    Global Collaborative Robots market is expected to grow at 49.14% CAGR during the forecast period 2017-2025; North America collaborative robots market was valued at $74 million in 2016 and is estimated to generate a net revenue of approximately $1592 million by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 40.93%.
  • Oct 2017, 120 pages, ReportLinker, $4,795
    Forecasts the global packaging robot market to grow at a CAGR of 13.9% from 2017 to 2023.
  • Oct 2017, GMI Research, $4,786
    The market for collaborative robots is expected to grow at a CAGR of 56.6% from 2017 to 2023. Drivers are towards automation as well as growing demand for compact, lightweight and dexterous robots along with low average selling price and higher returns by investing on collaborative robots.
  • Sep 2017, 108 pages, QY Research, $4,000
    The report reviews the major drive providers (Nabtesco, Harmonic Drive, Sumitomo) and four new Chinese providers as well (an important factor since there is a major backlog in harmonic drive production and much of the demand is for robots in China).
  • Oct 2017, Frost & Sullivan, $6,950

    Low power, smaller, lighter sensors with enhanced performance attributes and minimal false alarms is driving innovations in the sensors space for safety systems, wearables, drones, radar and intrusion detection.

Professional, agricultural, commercial and consumer service robots

  • Sep 2017, Energias Market Research, $4,895
    The global Agriculture Robot market is expected to increase from $1.03 billion in 2016, to $4.7 billion in 2023, at a CAGR of 24.31% from 2017 to 2023. The overall Agriculture Robots market is mainly driven by the focus on technological innovations such as precision farming to enhance the yield of crops.
  • Sep 2017, 127 pages, Market Insights Reports, $2,900
    Europe was the largest production market with a market share of 48.63% in 2016, it is also the biggest consumption market with a market share of 59.44% in 2016. North America ranked the second markets with the production market share of 33.28% in 2016 and with the consumption share of 32.52% in 2016.
  • Oct 2017, Transparency Market Research, $5,950
    The global commercial robotics market is set to rise to $17.6 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 24.4% beginning at $5.9 billion by the end of 2017, 40% of which is medical robotics.
  • Sep 2017, 205 pages, Allied Market Research, $3,840
    The global agricultural robots market is estimated to account for a market revenue of $2,927 million in 2016 and is expected to reach to $11,050 million in 2023.
  • Oct 2017, 203 pages, Meticulous Market Research, $4,175
    Global Food Robotics Market is expected to reach $2.2 billion by 2022 supported by a CAGR of 12.5% during the forecast period of 2017 to 2022. Drivers include lack of skilled workforce, increasing food safety regulations, rising demand for advanced food packaging and growing demand to improve productivity.
  • Oct 2017, 241 pages, Berg Insight AB, $1,890
    Ten major segments hold great market potential for next decade: floor cleaning robots, robot lawn mowers, milking robots, telepresence robots, surgical robots, automated guided vehicles, autonomous mobile robots, unmanned aerial vehicles and humanoid, assistant and social companion robots. The installed base of service robots in these segments reached 29.6 million worldwide at the end of 2016.
  • Humanoid Robot Market
    Oct 2017, 133 pages, ReportsnReports, $5,650
    The humanoid robot market is expected to reach $3.9 billion by 2023 from $320.3 million in 2017, at a CAGR of 52.1% between 2017 and 2023. This growth can be attributed to the introduction of advanced features in humanoid robots, the increasing use of humanoids as educational robots, and growing demand from the retail industry for personal assistance.
  • Nov 2017, 126 pages, QY Research, $4,000
    Covers top manufacturers Softbank, Robotis, Hanson, Ubtech, Hasbro, Wowwee, Qihan and basic uses for this type of robot in education, entertainment, space, R&D, personal assistance, caregiving, search & rescue and PR.

Two International Federation of Robotics Annual Reports

The fact-based backbone for many of the research reports shown above are the International Federation of Robotics’ (IFR) annual World Robotics Industrial Robots and World Robotics Service Robots reports. These two books represent the official tabulation and analysis from all the robot associations around the world and cover all aspects of industrial and service robotics.The 2017 reports cover 2016 activity.

Industrial Robots: By 2020 the IFR estimates that more than 1.7 million new industrial robots will be installed in factories worldwide. In 2017 robot installations are estimated to increase by 21% in the Asia-Australia region. Robot supplies in the Americas will surge by 16% and in Europe by 8%.

Service Robots: The IFR estimated that sales of all types of robots for domestic tasks – e.g. vacuum cleaning, lawnmowing, window cleaning – could reach almost 32 million units in the period 2018-2020, with an estimated value of about $11.7 billion. At the same time total unit sales of professional service robots are estimated to reach a total of almost $18.8 billion – about 400,000 units will be sold.

The two reports can be purchased from the IFR for $2,100 (€1800 + VAT where applicable). The reports can also be purchased separately: the industrial report in pdf format costs $1,400 (€1200)​ and the service report $700 (€600).

Locus Robotics raises $25 million for warehouse RaaS

Locus Robotics, a Wilmington, MA-based startup, raised $25 million in a Series B funding led by Silicon Valley Scale Venture Partners, with additional participation from existing investors. Locus plans to use the funds to expand into international markets and build up its growing subscription-based robot fleet. Locus business model uses Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) which allows customers to use Locus’ solutions without a large-scale capital investment.

The story of how Locus came to be is almost as interesting as why their mobile robots and RaaS business mode are getting so much attention and acceptance.

In March 2012, in an effort to make their distribution centers (DCs) as efficient as possible, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems for $775 million and almost immediately took them in-house. There was a year of confusion after the acquisition whether Kiva would continue providing DCs with Kiva robots. It became clear that Amazon was taking all Kiva’s production and that, at some future date, Kiva would stop supporting their existing client base and focus entirely on Amazon – which happened in April 2015 when Amazon renamed Kiva to Amazon Robotics and encouraged prospective users of Kiva technology to let Amazon Robotics and Amazon Services provide fulfillment within Amazon warehouses using Amazon robots.

Locus Robotics came to be because its founders were early adopters of Kiva Systems robotics technology. When they couldn’t expand with Kiva because Kiva had been taken off the market by Amazon, they were inspired to engineer a system they thought better and which empowered human pickers with mobile robots. The Locus mobile robot and related software are their solution.

We built a robot care assistant for elderly people – here’s how it works

Credit: Trinity College Dublin

By Conor McGinn, Trinity College Dublin

Not all robots will take over human jobs. My colleagues and I have just unveiled a prototype care robot that we hope could take on some of the more mundane work of looking after elderly and disabled people and those with conditions such as dementia. This would leave human carers free to focus on the more personal parts of the job. The robot could also do things humans don’t have time to do now, like keeping a constant check on whether someone is safe and well, while allowing them to keep their privacy.

Our robot, named Stevie, is designed to look a bit (but not too much) like a human, with arms and a head but also wheels. This is because we need it to exist alongside people and perform tasks that may otherwise be done by a human. Giving the robot these features help people realise that they can speak to it and perhaps ask it to do things for them.

Stevie can perform some of its jobs autonomously, for example reminding users to take medication. Other tasks are designed to involve human interaction. For example, if a room sensor detects a user may have fallen over, a human operator can take control of the robot, use it to investigate the event and contact the emergency services if necessary.

Credit:Trinity College Dublin

Stevie can also help users stay socially connected. For example, the screens in the head can facilitate a Skype call, eliminating the challenges many users face using telephones. Stevie can also regulate room temperatures and light levels, tasks that help to keep the occupant comfortable and reduce possible fall hazards.

None of this will mean we won’t need human carers anymore. Stevie won’t be able to wash or dress people, for example. Instead, we’re trying to develop technology that helps and complements human care. We want to combine human empathy, compassion and decision-making with the efficiency, reliability and continuous operation of robotics.

One day, we might might be able to develop care robots that can help with more physical tasks, such as helping users out of bed. But these jobs carry much greater risks to user safety and we’ll need to do a lot more work to make this happen.

Stevie would provide benefits to carers as well as elderly or disabled users. The job of a professional care assistant is incredibly demanding, often involving long, unsocial hours in workplaces that are frequently understaffed. As a result, the industry suffers from extremely low job satisfaction. In the US, more than 35% of care assistants leave their jobs every year. By taking on some of the more routine, mundane work, robots could free carers to spend more time engaging with residents.

Of course, not everyone who is getting older or has a disability may need a robot. And there is already a range of affordable smart technology that can help people by controlling appliances with voice commands or notifying caregivers in the event of a fall or accident.

Credit: Trinity College Dublin

Smarter than smart

But for many people, this type of technology is still extremely limited. For example, how can someone with hearing problems use a conventional smart hub such as the Amazon Echo, a device that communicates exclusively through audio signals? What happens if someone falls and they are unable to press an emergency call button on a wearable device?

Stevie overcomes these problems because it can communicate in multiple ways. It can talk, make gestures, and show facial expressions and display text on its screen. In this way, it follows the principles of universal design, because it is designed to adapt to the needs of the greatest possible number of users, not just the able majority.

The ConversationWe hope to have a version of Stevie ready to sell within two years. We still need to refine the design, decide on and develop new features and make sure it complies with major regulations. All this needs to be guided by extensive user testing so we are planning a range of pilots in Ireland, the UK and the US starting in summer 2018. This will help us achieve a major milestone on the road to developing robots that really do make our lives easier.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The advantage of four legs

Shortly after SoftBank acquired his company last October, Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics confessed, “I happen to believe that robotics will be bigger than the Internet.” Many sociologists regard the Internet as the single biggest societal invention since the dawn of the printing press in 1440. To fully understand Raibert’s point of view, one needs to analyze his zoo of robots which are best know for their awe-striking gait, balance and agility. The newest creation to walk out of Boston Dynamic’s lab is SpotMini, the latest evolution of mechanical canines.

Big Dog, Spot’s unnerving ancestor, first came to public view in 2009 and has racked up quite a YouTube following with more than six and one half million views. The technology of Big Dog led to the development of a menagerie of robots, including: more dogs, cats, mules, fleas and creatures that have no organic counterparts. Most of the mechanical barn is made up of four-legged beasts, with the exception of its humanoid robot (Atlas) and the bi-ped wheeled robot (Handle). Raibert’s vision of legged robotics spans several decades with his work at MIT’s Leg Lab. In 1992, Raibert spun his lab out of MIT and founded Boston Dynamics. In his words, “Our long-term goal is to make robots that have mobility, dexterity, perception and intelligence comparable to humans and animals, or perhaps exceeding them; this robot [Atlas] is a step along the way.”​ The creepiness of Raibert’s Big Dog has given way to SpotMini’s more polished look which incorporates 3D vision sensors on its head. The twenty-four second teaser video has already garnered nearly 6 million views in the few days since its release and promises viewers hungry for more pet tricks to “stay tuned.”

There are clear stability advantages to quadrupeds over other approaches (bipeds, wheels and treads/track plates) across multiple types of terrains and elevations. At Ted last year, Raibert demonstrated how his robo-pups, instead of drones and rovers, could be used for package delivery by easily ascending and descending stairs or other vertical obstacles. By navigating the physical world with an array of perceptive sensors, Boston Dynamics is really creating “data-driven hardware design” According to Raibert, “one of the cool things of a legged robot is its omnidirectional” movements, “it can go sideways, it can turn in place.” This is useful for a variety of work scenarios from logistics to warehousing to working in the most dangerous environments, such as the Fukushima nuclear site.

Boston Dynamics is not the only quadruped provider; recent upstarts have entered the market by utilizing Raibert’s research as an inspiration for their own bionic creatures. Chinese roboticist Xing Wang is unabashed in his gushing admiration for the founder of Boston Dynamics, “Marc Raibert … is my idol,” he said a recent interview with IEEE Spectrum Magazine. However, his veneration for Raibert has not stopped him from founding a competitive startup. Unitree Robotics aims to create quadruped robots that are as affordable as smartphones and drones. While Boston Dynamics has not sold its robots commercially, many have speculated that their current designs would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the spirit of true flattery, Unitree’s first robot is, of course, a quadruped dog named Laikago. Wang aims to sell Laikago for under $30,000 dollars to science museums and eventually as companion robots. When comparing his product to Raibert’s, Wang said he wanted to “make quadruped robots simpler and smaller, so that they can help ordinary people with things like carrying objects or as companions.” Wang boasts of Laikago’s 3-degrees-of-freedom (forward, backward, and sideways), its ability to scale rough terrain, and pass anyone’s kick test.

In additional to omnidirectional benefits, locomotion is a big factor for quadrupedal machines. Professor Marco Hutter at ETH Zürich, Switzerland is the inventor of ANYmal, an autonomous robot built for the most rugged and challenging environments. Using its proprietary “dynamic running” locomotion, Hunter has deployed the machine successfully in multiple industrial settings, including the rigorous ARGOS Challenge (Autonomous Robot for Gas and Oil Sites). The objective of ARGOS is to develop “a new generation of autonomous robots” for the energy industry specifically capable of performing ‘dirty & dangerous’ inspection tasks, such as “detecting anomalies and intervening in emergency situations.” Unlike a static human frame or bipedal humanoid, AnyMAL is able to perform dynamic maneuvers with its four legs to find footholes blindly without the need for vision sensors. While wheeled systems literally get stuck in the mud, Hunter’s mechanical beast can work continuously: above ground, underneath the surface, falling, spinning and bouncing upright to perform a mission with precise accuracy. In addition, AnyMAL is loaded with a package of sensors which coordinate movements, map point-clouds environments, detect gas leaks, and listen for fissures in pipelines. Hunter explains that oil and gas sites are built for humans with stairs and varying elevations which make it impossible for biped or wheeled robots. However, a quadruped can use its actuators and integrated springs to efficiently move with ease within the site through dynamic balance and complex maneuver planning. These high mobility legged systems can fully rotate joints, crouch low to the earth and flip in places to create foot-holes.  In many ways they are like large insects creating their own tracks, Hunter says while biology is a source for inspiration, “we have to see what we can do better and different for robotics” and only then we can “build a machine that is better than nature.”

The idea of improving on nature is not new, Greek mythology is littered with half man/half beast demigods. Taking a page from the Greeks, Jiren Parikh imagines a world where nature is fused with machines. Parikh is the Chief Executive of Ghost Robotics, the maker of “Minitaur” the newest four-legged creation. Minitaur is smaller than SpotMini, Laikago, or AnyMAL as it is specifically designed to be a low-cost, high-performance alternative that can easily scale over or under any surface, regardless of weather, friction, or footing. In Parikh’s view, the purpose of legged devices is “to move over unstructured terrains like stairs, ladders, fences, rock fields, ice, in and under water.” Minitaur can actually “feel the environment at a much more granular level and allow for a greater degree of force control for maneuverability.” Parikh explains quads are inherently more energy efficient using force actuation and springs to store energy by alternating movements between limbs. Minitaur’s smaller frame leverages this to maneuver more easily around unstructured environments without damaging the assets on the ground. Using an analogy, Parikh compares quad solutions to other mobile methods, “while a tank in comparison is the perfect device for unstructured terrain it only works if one doesn’t care about destroying the environment.” Ghost Robotics very aware of the high value its customers place on their sites, as Parikh is planning on distributing its low-cost solution to a number of “industrial, infrastructure, mining and military verticals.” Essentially, Minitaur is a “a mobile IoT platform” regardless of the situation on the ground, indoor or outdoor. In speaking with Parikh, long term he envisions a world where Ghost Robotics is on the forefront of retail and home use cases from delivery bots to family pets. Parikh boasts, “You certainly won’t be woken up at 5 AM to go for a walk.”

The topic of autonomous robots will be discussed at the next RobotLabNYC event on November 29th @ 6pm with New York Times best selling author Dan Burstein / Millennium Technology Value Partners and Rhonda Binda of Venture Smarter, formerly with the Obama Administration.

Announcing the shortlist for Robot Launch 2017

The Robotics Hub, in collaboration with Silicon Valley Robotics, is currently investing in robotics, AI and sensor startups, with checks between $250,000 and $500,000. Current portfolio companies include Agility Robotics, RoBotany, Travelwits and Ariel Precision Technologies.

A team of judges has shortlisted 25 robotics startups who all deserve mention. Eight startups will be in our public voting which will start on Dec 1st and continue till December 10 on Also eight startups are currently giving longer pitches to a panel of judges, so that the final winner(s) can be announced at the Silicon Valley Robotics investor showcase on December 14.

The Top 25 in alphabetical order are:

Achille, Inc.
Augmented Robots (spin-off from GESTALT Robotics)
Betterment Labs (formerly known as MOTI)
C2RO Cloud Robotics
Fruitbot, Inc.
INF Robotics Inc.
Kinema Systems Inc.
Kiwi Campus
KOMPAÏ robotics
krtkl inc.
Mothership Aeronautics
Northstar Robotics Inc
Rabbit Tractors, Inc
TatuRobotics PTY LTD
Woobo Inc.

The winners of last year’s Robot Launch 2016 startup competition, Vidi Systems, were acquired by Cognex earlier this year for an undisclosed amount. Some of the other finalists have gone on to expo at TechCrunch, and other competitions. Franklin Robotics raised $312,810 in a Kickstarter campaign, more than doubling their target. Business Insider called Franklin’s Tertill weed whacker ‘a Roomba for your garden’.

Modular Science were accepted into YCombinators Summer 2017 intake, and Dash Robotics, the spin off from Berkeley Biomimetics Lab, make the Kamigami foldable toy robots that are now being sold at all major retailers.


This year, the top 8 startups will receive space in the Silicon Valley Robotics Cowork Space @CircuitLaunch in Oakland. The space has lots of room for testing, full electronics lab and various prototyping equipment such as laser cutters, cnc machines, 3d printers. It’s located near Oakland International Airport and is convenient to San Francisco and the rest of Silicon Valley. There are also plenty of meeting and conference rooms. We also hold networking/mentor/investor events so you can connect with the robotics community.

Finalists also receive invaluable exposure on to an audience of robotics professionals and those interested in the latest robotics technologies, as well as the experience of pitching their startup to an audience of top VCs, investors and experts.

Robot Launch is supported by Silicon Valley Robotics to help more robotics startups present their technology and business models to prominent investors. Silicon Valley Robotics is the not-for-profit industry group supporting innovation and commercialization in robotics technologies. The Robotics Hub is the first investor in advanced robotics and AI startups, helping to get from ‘zero to one’ with their network of robotics and market experts.

Learn more about previous Robot Launch competitions here.

DART: Noise injection for robust imitation learning

Toyota HSR Trained with DART to Make a Bed.

By Michael Laskey, Jonathan Lee, and Ken Goldberg

In Imitation Learning (IL), also known as Learning from Demonstration (LfD), a robot learns a control policy from analyzing demonstrations of the policy performed by an algorithmic or human supervisor. For example, to teach a robot make a bed, a human would tele-operate a robot to perform the task to provide examples. The robot then learns a control policy, mapping from images/states to actions which we hope will generalize to states that were not encountered during training.

There are two variants of IL: Off-Policy, or Behavior Cloning, where the demonstrations are given independent of the robot’s policy. However, when the robot encounters novel risky states it may not have learned corrective actions. This occurs because of “covariate shift” a known challenge, where the states encountered during training differ from the states encountered during testing, reducing robustness. Common approaches to reduce covariate shift are On-Policy methods, such as DAgger, where the evolving robot’s policy is executed and the supervisor provides corrective feedback. However, On-Policy methods can be difficult for human supervisors, potentially dangerous, and computationally expensive.

This post presents a robust Off-Policy algorithm called DART and summarizes how injecting noise into the supervisor’s actions can improve robustness. The injected noise allows the supervisor to provide corrective examples for the type of errors the trained robot is likely to make. However, because the optimized noise is small, it alleviates the difficulties of On-Policy methods. Details on DART are in a paper that will be presented at the 1st Conference on Robot Learning in November.

We evaluate DART in simulation with an algorithmic supervisor on MuJoCo tasks (Walker, Humanoid, Hopper, Half-Cheetah) and physical experiments with human supervisors training a Toyota HSR robot to perform grasping in clutter, where a robot must search through clutter for a goal object. Finally, we show how DART can be applied in a complex system that leverages both classical robotics and learning techniques to teach the first robot to make a bed. For researchers who want to study and use robust Off-Policy approaches, we additionally announce the release of our codebase on GitHub.

Read More

ANDROIDS through the eye of a 19th century wooden camera

Sophia, Hanson Robotics Ltd, Hong Kong 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx

Wanda Tuerlinckx and Erwin R. Boer have fused their scientific and photographic interests in robots and traveled the world since 2016 to visit roboticists to discuss and photograph their creations. The resulting set of photographs documents the technical robot revolution that is unfolding before us. The portfolio of photographs below presents the androids from Wanda’s collection of robot photographs.

But first, here’s a note from Erwin R. Boer, a scientist who connects humans and machines using symbiosis facilitating techniques mirrored after the way humans interact with each other in the here and now.

Man has created machines in the form of mechanical humans since antiquity. The sculpted faces of the early automatons gave us a glimpse of the future we currently live in. Today’s machines look like humans, move like humans, talk like humans, and at a rapidly increasing pace even think like humans. We marvel at the technological capabilities of these robots and how they are being integrated into our daily lives. The integration of robots into society requires vast technological advances. Successful interactions and communications with humans takes more than nimble technology and raw artificial intelligence – it requires the robot to have emotional intelligence, exhibiting empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and playfulness. At the same time, we fearfully watch how robots reach human potential. Human like robots come in many incarnations ranging from humanoids that have human forms but their bodies and faces are clearly robotic to androids that look in all aspects like humans and are hard to tell apart from humans. Today most androids act on the edge of the uncanny valley, a valley that reflects the fact that the complex behavior of androids, at times, is highly disturbing to humans; these disturbances are caused by unrealistic humanistic expectations of complete human ability projected onto these highly advanced androids that through interaction often gets broken by sometimes creepy realizations that they are not human. This valley is an extremely delicate space, where human and robot apparently overlap in appearance, movement and speech,. Researchers are working feverishly to remove the uncanny valley and create a flat playing field where robots are capable of producing emotions and become an integral part of society through tranquil harmonious cooperation, servitude and symbiotic interactions with humans.

Imagine seeing yourself in the mirror and then that mirror image takes on a reality that reflects your own and walks away to represent you around the world. This is what Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro envisioned when he created his HI-2 and later in life HI-4 geminoids; these geminoids are life size robotic replicates of himself. He created these geminoids to travel for him to far away conferences so that he could from the comfort of his home or office talk and act through these geminoids to give lectures and make appearances. A geminoid with its human twin offers a perfect test bed to explore the question that has inspired scientists and philosophers through the ages namely: what does it mean to be human? To be human also means to have emotional intelligence and thus to be able to understand emotions.

Humans understand emotions because when we see an emotion it triggers in us the feelings that we have when we produce that emotion and therefore we naturally project our feelings onto robots that are capable of producing emotions. Dr. David Hanson has produced a facial rubber called frubber that is perfectly suited to be pulled on the inside by little actuators as if a muscle underneath the skin contracts. His robots are capable of producing a series of emotions that elicit mirror emotions in us. The child like android Diego-san has been capable of instilling the joys of youth in many humans he interacted with. The emotional riches of Hanson’s androids help to create emotional robots that find tremendous value especially in the medical field where human compassion is critical for healing and where autistics children are benefitting from the unfailing compassion that these androids offer.

Recently, a recipient of the Nobel price of literature, Japanese author Natsume Sōseki (1867- 1916) was reincarnated in the form of his android who will give lectures at the university where professor Sōseki taught back in the 1880s. The fact that Wanda photographed android Sōseki with a camera that was used in Sōseki’s own time to take portraits of notable people creates a loop that not only transcends time but also connects two key industrial revolutions; the industrial revolution around 1900 and the robot revolution around 2000. The connection across a similar time scale is also beautifully embodied in Dr. Hanson’s android Einstein whose clones are currently being used as science teachers in many classrooms and homes around the world. Photography continues to enlighten use through imagery while robots enlighten us through physical embodied actions enriched by intelligent emotional sensitive speech.

Wanda Tuerlinckx is a photographer who connects humans and robots using a 180 year old photographic technique that mirrors how humans connect with each other across the boundaries of time through the soft understanding eye from our great grandfathers who have lived through earlier technological revolutions and presents these new technological marvels in a manner that exudes a comfortable familiarity that instills acceptance. The human element in science imposes its presence nowhere stronger than in the incarnation of a human robot that in many respects is indistinguishable from a human human. More information about Wanda and her work can be found here. You can also see her previous set of robot portraits here.

Geminoid F, Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, Osaka University, Japan 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Android Einstein, Hanson Robotics Ltd Hong Kong 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Android Einstein, Hanson Robotics Ltd Hong Kong 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Soseki Android, Nishogakusha University, Tokyo Japan 2017 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Android Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories. Osaka University. Japan 2017 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
F2, Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, Osaka University, Japan 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Erica. Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories. Osaka University. Japan 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Android baby. Babyclon Barcelona Spain 2017 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Diego-san, Qualcomm Institute University of California San Diego US 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Geminoid HI-4 and Hiroshi Ishiguro Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, Osaka University, Japan 2017. Styling Brian Enrico ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Han, Hanson Robotics, Hong Kong 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx
Sophia, Hanson Robotics Ltd, Hong Kong 2016 ©Wanda Tuerlinckx

Jibo personal robot tops Time’s Best Innovations of 2017

Credit: Photograph by Sebastian Mader for TIME

Jibo is a personal robot with a difference. It is unlike the stationary Amazon Alexa or Google Home. It attempts to offer the same repertoire of features while adding its physical presence and mobility to the mix.

Quoting Time Magazine, “Jibo looks like something straight out of a Pixar movie, with a big, round head and a face that uses animated icons to convey emotion. It’s not just that his body swivels and swerves while he speaks, as if he’s talking with his nonexistent hands. It’s not just that he can giggle and dance and turn to face you, wherever you are, as soon as you say, “Hey, Jibo.” It’s that, because of all this, Jibo seems downright human in a way that his predecessors do not. Jibo could fundamentally reshape how we interact with machines.”

Jibo can recognize up to six faces and voices yet it still has a lot to learn. Although he can help users in basic ways, like by summarizing news stories and taking photos, he can’t yet play music or work with third-party apps like Domino’s and Uber.

As an original IndieGoGo backer back in 2014, it’s been a long wait. Three years! Yes, this version of Jibo still has a lot to learn. But those skills are coming in 2018 as Jibo’s SDK becomes available to developers.

Another Chinese acquisition of a European robotics manufacturer

Huachangda Intelligent Equipment, a Chinese industrial robot integrator primarily servicing China’s auto industry, has acquired Swedish Robot System Products (RSP), a 2003 spin-off from ABB with 70 employees in Sweden, Germany and China, for an undisclosed amount. RSP manufactures grippers, welding equipment, tool changers and other peripheral products for robots.

Last month HTI Cyberneticsa Michigan industrial robotics integrator and contract manufacturer, was acquired by Chongqing Nanshang Investment Group for around $50 million. HTI provides robotic welding systems to the auto industry and also has a contract welding services facility in Mexico.

China is in the midst of a national program to develop or acquire its own technology to rival similar technologies in the West, particularly in futuristic industries such as robotics, electric cars, self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence. China’s Made in China 2025 program will “support state capital in becoming stronger, doing better, and growing bigger, turning Chinese enterprises into world-class, globally competitive firms,” said President Xi at the recent party congress meeting in Beijing.

Made in China 2025 has specific targets and quotas. It envisions China domestically supplying 3/4 of its own industrial robots and more than 1/3 of its demand for smartphone chips by 2025, for example. These goals are backed with money: $45 billion in low-cost loans, $3 billion for advanced manufacturing efforts and billions more in other types of financial incentives and support.

Over the last two years there have been many targeted acquisitions by Chinese companies, of robotic companies in the EU and US. Following are the major ones:

Bottom line:

The consequences of China’s relentless quest for technology acquisitions may upset global trade. Their efforts have many American and European officials and business leaders pushing for tougher rules on technology purchases. Jeremie Waterman, President of the China Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the following to the NY Times.

“If Made in China 2025 achieves its goals, the U.S. and other countries would likely become just commodity exporters to China — selling oil, gas, beef and soybeans.”

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