TECHNOLOGY – ROBOTICS: GENERAL
Robotics is the technology that involves the physical embodiment of artificial intelligence in robots, which are machines that substitute for humans, and replicate human actions.
Czech writer Karel Čapek coined the term “robot” in his 1920 hit play R.U.R. (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”). The play revolved around the production of artificial workers who lacked a soul. They couldn’t love. They didn’t have feelings. They were therefore physically capable of doing all the jobs that humans could do but didn’t want to do.
George Devol dropped out of school before he got to college to become a self-taught genius inventor who, in 1954, invented the world’s first robot.
The initial robots were really programmed arms, but now there are many versions of bipedal or quadripedal robots, which are becoming increasingly lifelike with soft ‘skins’, considerable dexterity, and programming that enables them to carry on limited conversations. Development is ongoing to add social intelligence, such as reading body language, and recognizing and expressing (but not feeling) emotions.
Robots are being used in a wide range of situations, especially those where it would be dangerous for humans. In addition to manufacturing and warehousing, robots are used in:
- Almost every area of agriculture
- The military (soldiers, bomb disposal)
- Construction (painting, carpentry, home-building, security guards)
- Food services (preparation, service, delivery)
- Personal services (hairdressing, teaching, elder care, sign language interpretation)
- Disaster management (decommissioning nuclear facilities)
(Adapted from Jeff Brown’s Bleeding Edge, February 15, 2022)
North American firms spent a record $2 billion on robots in 2021 (a 28% increase over 2020). This major shift in industry adoption is a result of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and represents the record purchase of more than 40,000 robotic units. Besides the auto industry which has always been the primary adopter of robotics technology, the most adoption was in logistics facilities and distribution warehouses.
Robotics is simply too efficient to ignore any longer. The data shows that robots can help companies operate with about half the human labor force, yet see production increases of up to 200%.
A recent and interim approach is ‘cobots’, which are robots working alongside humans. Robotics technology is being used to create powered exoskeletons, which are worn by humans to increase their natural capabilities. (They are worn by construction workers to increase their upper body strength, and by people, who have lost the use of their legs, to walk.) Perhaps the most sobering innovation is robots teaching other robots!
Replacement of humans by robots is the most obvious form of job loss. Current manufacturing employment in the US is estimated to be 8 million less than if robots were not used. A study estimated that one robot replaces over 6 workers (and that does not include the reduction in management and employment services). The UK is expected to lose 15 million jobs to automation, much of which will be achieved using robots.
The fear expressed by many is that robots will become so powerful that they will decide there is no further need for fallible (stupid?) humans. A more likely eventuality is that the evolution of robots and humans will merge into the science fiction cyborgs. The intelligence and physical capabilities of robots will evolve beyond that of current humans (the Singularity, forecast to occur in the 2030s). But while that is happening, the ability of humans to access AI via the internet (with wireless links to frontal cortices) will expand human intelligence, and the same science used to create robots will be used to improve humans’ physical abilities (with augmented limbs and senses) as is already happening with exoskeletons.
Besides manufacturing, two industries particularly impacted by robotics are medicine and retail. The associated robotic technologies warrant separate pages.
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FIRST FULLY FUNCTIONAL GENERAL-PURPOSE ROBOTIC SYSTEM (2022-01 - Design Boom)
US-based beyond imagination announces the beomni 1.0 robot with 4 wheels at its base, otherwise resembling a human with head, shoulders, waist, arms and hands with opposable thumbs. It can lift up to 15.88kg/arm like gym-worked muscles, as well as perform finesse, delicate tasks like pinching salt when cooking.
MULTI-FUNCTIONAL ROBOTS TO TAKE OVER COMMERCIAL ROBOTICS (2022-01 - IEEE Spectrum)
A robot must be multi-functional to solve today’s challenges, be cost-effective, and increase the productivity of an organization. Yet the industry has been slow to do this.
RENTING A ROBOT WORKER—FOR LESS THAN A HUMAN (Manufacturing - 2022-01 - Wired)
Chicago’s Polar Manufacturing hired its first robot employee. The robot arm performs a simple, repetitive job and gets paid for the hours it works. It costs the equivalent of $8/hour, compared with a minimum wage of $15/hour for a human employee.
2022: A MAJOR REVOLUTION IN ROBOTICS (2021-12 - ZDNet)
An interview with Pieter Abbeel, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Berkeley Robot Learning Lab and co-director of the Berkeley AI Research lab.
THIS FUTURISTIC MAILBOX WILL TRANSFORM DRONE DELIVERIES (Transport/Courier - 2021-11 - AutoEvolution)
The secure DroneDek smart box has been optimized for tethered, dropped, manual, and automated deliveries. It is weatherproof, climate-controlled, Bluetooth-enabled, and comes with GPS and a two-way speaker system for real-time communication.
AMERICA IS HIRING A RECORD NUMBER OF ROBOTS (2021-11 - MSN News)
American factories and other industrial users ordered 29,000 robots (37% more than during the same period last year), valued at $1.48 billion and surpassing the previous peak set in 2017.
ROBOT TO THIN AND PRUNE PEACH TREES (Agriculture/Fruit picking - 2021-11 - 95.5WSB)
The Georgia Tech Research Institute has developed an intelligent robot that is designed to handle the human-based tasks of thinning and pruning peach trees.
ROBOT FACTORY WILL MAKE ROBOTS IN SHANGHAI IN 2022 (Manufacturing - 2021-10 - Railly News)
Swiss technology giant ABB is building an automated factory to make robots in Shanghai, with production starting in 1Q2022. Production will be based on cellular automation with robots moving from station to station, providing flexibility with greater customization compared to traditional, linear manufacturing systems.
REMOTE-OPERATED ROBOTIC DELIVERY TO CONVENIENCE STORES ACROSS US (Transport/Courier - 2021-10 - TechCrunch)
Tortoise’s two-year strategic partnership with KRS will result in 500 sidewalk delivery remote-controlled delivery robots being used by convenience store chains across the U.S. to offer affordable, same-day last-mile delivery.
GRID ROBOTS CHALK LINES TO PREPARE FOR CONSTRUCTION (Construction/Buildings - 2021-09 - ZDNet)
Rugged Robotics robots can autonomously mark fully coordinated designs directly on concrete floors. This critical field layout process marks the location of walls and mechanical systems.
SEATTLE'S FIRST ROBOTIC PARKING GARAGE OPENS (Transport/Garages - 2021-09 - KUOW)
You park your car on a platform, punch in a code, and it is moved down to a transfer floor. Robotic trolleys carry your car to a central lift, which moves it down to one of multiple floors, each with a trolly system, to park it in a slot (and retrieve it when needed).
SHANGHAI'S UNMANNED FARM PILOT STARTS HARVEST (Agriculture/Farming - 2021-09 - Shine)
Shanghai piloted the 20-hectare rice field farm in 2020 using autonomous agricultural machinery for plowing, sowing, field management and harvesting. The unmanned farming in the paddy field slashes the cost of human labor.
SCAFFOLDING ROBOT TACKLES $50 BILLION CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITY (Construction/Scaffolding - 2021-09 - ZDNet)
A German company, Kewazo, is achieving success with a material-handling robot, Liftbot, designed for scaffolding installation.
MACHINE LEARNING BOT CAN PLANT AND WEED ON ITS OWN (Gardening - 2021-08 - AutoEvolution)
Sybil is a small, solar-powered device with machine learning capabilities. Equipped with LiDAR and dual front-mounted cameras, it can autonomously plant, weed, and map your entire garden.
AUSTRALIA'S FIRST FULLY AUTOMATED FARM (Agriculture - 2021-07 - Interesting Engineering)
A “hands-free 1,900-hectare farm” project is being developed by Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Australia, in partnership with Food Agility Co-operative Research Centre. The project will demonstrate the use of drones, robotic tractors, harvesters, and sensors.
NEW ROBOT AIMS TO MAKE HIGH-RISE WINDOW AND FAÇADE SERVICES FASTER AND SAFER (Window Cleaning - 2021-07 - Mirage News)
A new robotic window and building façade cleaner currently being developed has the potential to be three times faster, safer, and more efficient than current methods. Pilot tests are planned for 1Q2022.
AMAZON PATENTED A NEW DELIVERY SYSTEM BASED ON ROBOTS IN A VAN (Transport/Courier - 2021-07 - Singularity Hub)
Amazon has patented a local delivery system in which a delivery van drives to a neighborhood and releases several small robotic vehicles to make the home delivery. Drones may substitute for the robots.
TRANSFORMING AUTONOMOUS ROBOT MOTION PLANNING (Manufacturing - 2021-06 - MIT News)
Realtime Robotics has developed a combination of proprietary software and hardware that reduces system deployment time by 70%, reduces deployment costs by 30%, and reduces the programming component of building a robotic system in the industrial robot space by nearly 90%.
ROBOTS PROVIDE SMART MANICURES (Manicurist - 2021-05 - Mashable Middle East)
Nimble Beauty, an Israeli startup, has created a device that performs manicures using imaging tech to scan a person’s nails before applying a base and layers of polish, then coating the nails, and drying them with warm air.
THE AUTONOMOUS WEEDER - ELIMINATES WEEDS WITH LASERS (Agriculture - 2021-04 - TechCrunch)
The Autonomous Weeder, developed by Carbon Robotics, uses a combination of AI, robotics, and laser technology to safely and effectively drive through crop fields – identifying, targeting and eliminating weeds 20-times faster than humans.
DOMINO’S PIZZA DELIVERY IN HOUSTON USING NURO ROBOT (Transport/Courier - 2021-04 - Dronedj.com)
Starting April 2021, some Domino’s customers in Houston can have a pizza delivered without ever interacting with a human. After ordering on-line, they’ll get texts to let them know where the robot is and what PIN they’ll need to access their pizza via the bot’s touchscreen.
STREET CLEANING ROBOT (Transport - 2021-04 - The Next Web)
Helsinki is trialling at night a quiet, emission-free robot in a bid to find new ways to keep streets clean with minimal disruption to residents.
ROBOT JUST MOVES BOXES IN A WAREHOUSE (Manufacturing/Warehousing - 2021-03 - Virginia Tech News)
US robotics company Boston Dynamics announced a new robot ‘Stretch’, designed to perform a specific warehouse job: moving boxes weighing up to 50 pounds at a rate of up to 800 boxes/hour. Stretch has a small mobile base and is equipped with an arm and a smart-gripper using advanced sensing and computer vision cameras.
HYUNDAI UNVEILS HOTEL SERVICE ROBOT (Hospitality - 2021-01 - Robotics and Automation)
Hyundai Robotics has unveiled a new service robot designed for hotels and developed with KT, formerly Korea Telecom. The mobile robot delivers amenities such as towels and bottled water, to guest rooms upon request. It is being used at the Daegu Marriott.
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