A global map of robot makers including start-ups is here.
Apple buys Israel’s PrimeSense for $350 million
Posted 11/28/13 at 09:57 PM
... Famous from being the synchronized depth perception system inside the Microsoft Kinnect, PrimeSense, a venture-funded company based in Tel Aviv, was just acquired by Apple for $350 million.
... Bloomberg reports that Apple confirmed the purchase but reported that Apple won’t discuss their purpose or plans in relation to the acquisition.
... PrimeSense has been developing depth-sensing technology such as that in the new 3D Systems Sense 3D scanner, or the navigation platform Ava by iRobot or the Smart Terrain by Qualcomm’s Vuforia.
... In addition to the Ava, PrimeSense’s 3D sensing technology, with its affordable sensors, is opening up new possibilities in robotics including letting the robot “see” their surroundings just like humans do. With the PrimeSense 3D camera system you can take a picture of something and see it in deep ways. The technology could be helpful in home consumer products as well as for various professions such as field workers, machine shops and manufacturers.
Global Machine Vision market to grow at 9.4% CAGR
Posted 11/25/13 at 01:48 PM
... New report by Research and Markets, Global Machine Vision Market 2012-2016, a $2,500 report, forcasts global machine vision market to grow at a CAGR of 9.4% to 2016.
... Image processing has been playing a more and more important role turning “blind” machines into “seeing” ones. Even at high speeds and with stringent requirements for accuracy it allows 100% product inspection and is an ideal tool to strengthen competitiveness.
... Increasing demand is seen outside of the industrial sector and/or for materials handling, inspection and QC.
... Key vendors mentioned in the report include Basler AG, Cognex, Teledyne Technologies, ISRA Vision and Matrox Electronic Systems.
8 Robotic Gifts for the 2013 Holiday Season
Posted 11/24/13 at 07:22 PM
... Romotive’s Romo App-controlled pet and WowWee’s RoboMe robot kit, both for the iPhone; iRobot’s new Roomba 880 vacuum cleaning robot; and Modular Robotics’ Cubelets Kit, offer interesting choices for adults buying for kids (or themselves).
... See all 8 here - including details about where to buy and how much it will cost.
... Two interesting ones which won’t be available in time for the holidays: Play-i’s Bo and Yana robots and the ATOMagic Sets by myATOMS.
Mazor Robotics on a roll
Posted 11/24/13 at 12:22 PM
... Mazor Robotics’ stock (NASDAQ:MZOR and TASE:MZOR) has steadily rolled up 260% year-to-date.
... Earnings report for Q3 shows a 51% increase in revenue over last year. The Israili-based company develops and markets surgical robots and complementary products. They sold 16 Renaissance systems so far in 2013; the Renaissance is a state-of-the-art mechanical guidance system for spinal surgeries.
... Mazor recently filed with the SEC for a $46 million IPO in an ADR offering on NASDAQ with the funds being earmarked to expand the company’s sales and marketing network in the US.
... Cyphy Works, the UAV developer with the tether solution, raises $7 million from VCs and angel investors.
... Funds will be used to expand Cyphy Works efforts in surveying and situational awareness for agriculture, mining, construction, oil & gas, insurance and others.
... CEO Helen Greiner, who was previously the co-founder and President of iRobot, said, “The opportunity to bring flying robots to commercial sectors is truly exciting. We are building a reliable and robust platform that is differentiated from hobbyist class UAVs, and is specifically designed for field operations in rough real-world conditions.”
... Rethink Robotics gets $11.5 million Series D funding from VCs, previous investors and Bezos Expeditions, bringing total funding thus far to $73.5 million. Rodney Brooks, Rethink’s CTO, was also a co-founder of iRobot as well as Director of MIT’s CS and AI lab.
... Rethink said the funding will be used as growth capital for continued expansion. When the company ships its 1,000th Baxter, perhaps other financing may be available - like an IPO?
... A 27-photo review of Robotics Expo 2013, held last month in Moscow, shows promise for start-ups throughout Russia.
... The show was themed around home automation, hospitality/guide/remote presence, personal transport, education/learning toys/hobbyist kits and 3D printing.
... Links and photos here.
... Last year Congress passed Title III of the JOBS Act to allow smaller companies to get an exemption from the strict and costly rules controlling the sale of securities to individuals.
... The SEC has developed equity crowdfunding rules in response to that law - rules that help companies raise capital but also protect investors from scams. Those rules are now out for community review and will be enacted shortly thereafter.
... Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and the others can apply to qualify but there will likely be a flurry of new Internet portals just for this purpose.
... Let the Wild West begin anew!
5 Interesting Start-ups
Posted 10/19/13 at 10:02 PM
... Robotic startup Knightscope is attempting to augment manpower of local police and city authorities with a smart robot paired with onsight cameras, data analytics, sensors and communications to help those agencies become more productive with limited resources and automation. Read more.
... The following 4 startups were seen at the recent DEMO Fall 2013 Conference.
... Bounce Imaging displayed a low cost disposable throwable 360º camera with audio and sensing capability. More.
... Hello Doctor collects scanned images of medical reports of all types and parses for keywords and then tags and digitally files the documents enabling charting and replacing folders full of medical and insurance records. More.
... Skully Helmets offers a motorcycle helmet that has a heads-up display showing 180º of the scene behind the rider. More.
... Pictrition gamified the process of losing weight and is predicated on research showing that the biggest and most sustained weight losses occur when patients journaled their daily intake. More.
ABB, Nike and a Silicon Valley VC invest $3 million in Grabit
Posted 10/07/13 at 07:58 PM
... Grabit, a 2012 SRI International spin-off, secures $3 million in Series A funding from ABB Technology Ventures, Nike and Formation 8, a tech VC in Silicon Valley.
... Grabit’s products include grippers and fixtures, case and box handling grippers, and smart conveyors for material handling.
... At the core is Grabit’s patented electroadhesion-based material-handling technique - a grasping method that can successfully handle a wide variety of objects, shapes, sizes and materials.
... In a revealing NY Times interview with Google’s Andy Rubin, some heretofor unknown things came to light. Google is now in the robotics business. They’ve made seven acquisitions in the last six months to give them some talent and a head start. And they are as closed mouthed about their plans for their new robotics division as Google has been about everything else.
... In a follow-up story in the SF Chronicle, a bit more detail has come to the surface, particularly in relation to the artificial intelligence that powers robotic products, but also from a quote by Google’s CEO Larry Page about Andy Rubin and his new project: “His last big bet, Android, started off as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets. It is still very early days for this [new project], but I can’t wait to see the progress.”
... Apple’s investing $11 billion in automation and robotics; Amazon is planning on half-hour drone deliveries and now Google has set up a Robotics Division. What’s it all mean? Read this writer’s opinion.
... UPDATE 11/12/13: NASDAQ’s 10-story tall sign was all about Robo-stox LLC, ROBO the ETF, and a Universal Robot with a Schunk hand ringing the NASDAQ closing bell. Quite a spectacle. Neat video.
... NASDAQ:ROBO is a new ETF (exchange traded fund) launched today at a price of $25. First day volume was over 225,000 shares.
... The new ETF uses a specially formulated index which attempts to reflect the global robotics industry. The index is comprised of 77 companies - 38% domestic; 62% international - in the rapidly developing global robotics and automation industry, with operations in over 15 different countries around the world and listings on multiple foreign and domestic exchanges.
... The ROBO-STOX™ Global Robotics and Automation Index, by Robo-stox LLC, is the algorithm licensed to the ETF. Founders of Robo-stox LLC believe that their index empowers investors worldwide to capitalize on the accelerating growth in the robotics and automation sector.
... Frank Tobe, editor and publisher of The Robot Report, is a co-founder of Robo-stox LLC. Read his story here: Robo-stox: A Dream Come True.
... Industrial robots use proprietary software and control systems but whole industries have been set up to bridge those barriers so that multi-vendor solutions can happen.
... Bob Bauer, from Willow Garage and Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, debated the open vs. closed debate in a spontaneous discussion last year in France and reported here on The Robot Report.
... As the debate rages on, very pragmatic solutions are also happening including providing multi-vendor solutions like Tesla did at their new auto factory, or as others are doing with the use of ROS-Industrial.
... Some of the big robot makers are beginning to make an effort, e.g., ABB launched RobotStudio to make programming and simulation easier.
... Two start-up companies, Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots, both use ROS as they penetrate the small and medium-sized shops and factories that need flexibility for their short runs. Soon they may have app stores to share their apps.
Maps & Apps
Posted 10/08/13 at 10:09 AM
... Two events, from different parts of the world, on the same day and subject: geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) and the use of “layering” to map, analyze and design.
... Today is 4-H National Youth Science Day, and 4-H Maps & Apps will be introduced to millions of American youth to exhibit and examine the power of geospatial technologies. “We created this year’s experiment to inspire young people to be critical thinkers by embracing a technology that can help change and shape communities in innovative ways.”
... Also today, senseFly, the Swiss start-up recently acquired by French wireless devices provider Parrot (also famed for providing the AR.Drone quadcopter), announced that they will begin providing swarm technology for mapping. The new swarm capability has been incorporated into senseFly’s ground control software and includes in-flight collision avoidance and shared waypoints.
... Spectacular video showing how mapping the Paris Air Show is done using two ebee drones and senseFly’s new swarm technology.
Ship hull cleaning & inspection - ideal for robots
Posted 09/30/13 at 12:26 PM
... Harvest Automation targeted their business after reviewing the top 10 areas where low-cost and often hard-to-find labor was most needed. They chose the ag business.
... Boating and shipping are another market. There are close to 1,500,000 large ships in service (UNCTAD) - all of which need their hulls, tanks and ballasts cleaned and inspected regularly; very labor-intensive and costly.
... A few new robotic products are attempting to do the tasks using novel robotic systems. Sea Robotics, a Florida company, offers “Hull BUG”, a ROV underwater grooming system which doesn’t need a dry dock. SIR, a project at the ETH in Zurich, focuses on ships tank inspection with an ingenious magnetic robot that can best be appreciated in this video and article. CMU’s NREC is also working on laser paint stripping using an autonomous mobile robotic platform. Finally, there’s the Roving BAT from eca Robotics, an underwater inspection and hull cleaning ROV, and the HERO inspection ROV from DCNS.
... Small boats and yachts are a much larger market. Two underwater robot start-ups are targeting this marketplace: Hulltimo in France and Boatwashers in Finland.
... Stryker Corporation (NYSE:SYK) to acquire MAKO Surgical Corp (NASDAQ:MAKO) for $1.65 billion - an action which brought MAKO’s stock from $16 to $29 in one fell swoop.
... Stryker is a medical technology company providing a wide array of medical devices and equipment.
... The combination of Stryker’s established industry presence can provide wider distribution for MAKO’s innovative products such as it’s RIO Robotic-Arm Interactive Orthopedic system (shown in the photo above) for knee and hip procedures.
... The acquisition may boost the credibility of robotic medical and surgical equipment providers, particularly Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) who has received almost a year of bad news on a variety of fronts.
... A real-life million-dollar bionic man with artificial organs, synthetic blood and robotic limbs has been created to (1) showcase what’s possible with modern science and (2) hint at the future of prosthetics. The resulting bionic man has been exhibited at the London Science Museum and in Washington, DC at the Smithsonian. On October 20, at 9 pm, the Smithsonian Channel will air a documentary about how it was built and what it can do.
... More than 50% of the human body was able to be “rebuilt” surprising most involved with the Smithsonian-funded project.
... Often bioethicists, theologians and others question how much of a human can be replaced and still be considered a human. In this documentary, the emphasis is on making prosthetics where the aesthetics match the engineering and make the disabled feel whole again.
... Two short video trailers are available here.
... 26,000 attendees are expected for this year’s PackExpo being held in Las Vegas, September 23-25.
... Over 150 robotics-related companies are exhibiting including Rockwell Automation, Adept, ABB, Yaskawa Motoman, Fanuc and start-ups Universal Robots and Rethink Robotics.
... Material handling was one of the areas that did well in 2012 according to the IFR in their new World Robotics 2013 reports. In an article from RIA entitled “Robotics Industry Expected to Thrive in 2013,” packaging and palletizing applications were singled out for their accelerating growth.
... The trade show, held the last week of August in Taipei, had a record 550 exhibitors. “It is the age of intelligence and automation,” said Eric Chuo, chairman of TAIROA (Taiwan Automation Intelligence and Robotics Association).
... Chuo is also CEO of Hiwin Technologies, a components manufacturer. He said “robotics will account for 15% of Hiwin’s revenues in 2014.”
... Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou visited the show (and is seen hugging a robot in photo above) and noted that robot output (components, systems and robots) in or produced by Taiwan-based companies totaled $32 billion in 2012, 43% of which were exports. He added that he has confidence that the figure could top $36 billion this year.
... Tandy Trower, the founder of Microsoft’s Robotics Studio software and initiative, and now founder and CEO of Seattle-based Hoaloha Robotics, wrote about his progress to date. His blog post is an important evaluation of the complexities of the process but is also illuminating of what we need and he proposes for the future regarding personal care robotics.
... He identifies many companies working on similar robots but concluded that Hoaloha should go it alone. Further, he concluded that there is value in managing both the hardware and software design to facilitate the best design and user experience.
... His story is worth reading. Click to read.
iRobot’s single-pass floor-mopping robots vs O’Cedar’s cheap duster robot
Posted 08/26/13 at 01:37 AM
... iRobot recently announced their new Braava floor-mopping robot line of products. The $199 robots sweep and mop hard floors in a single pass while it navigates under and around furniture and other obstacles. The Braava is the rebranded Mint from Evolution, acquired last year by iRobot.
... The new Braava comes in two models: dry mop - which sweeps in straight lines and uses cloths to pick up dust, dirt and hair; and damp mop - which uses damp cleaning cloths and a special back and forth mopping action to lift surface dirt.
... Braava competes with O’Cedar’s $39.99 O-Duster Robotic Floor Cleaner. The O-Duster uses disposable electrostatic cleaning cloths and an automatic navigation system that changes direction when it detects objects and walls, and is self-rotating for additional cleaning power—a lot like a spinning bumper car. It’s less professional than the Braava but much cheaper.
... iRobot has sold over 10 million home robots worldwide in just over 10 years.
China’s 5-Year Plan targets robotics as a growth industry
Posted 08/11/13 at 04:22 AM
... China’s 12th 5-Year Plan targeted robotics as a growth industry necessary for China’s development. It expects a compound growth rate of 25%, said Wang Weiming, deputy director of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The ministry has set up incentives and 5 geographical areas for Chinese companies to develop (and improve the quality of) their robot products and capabilities. The ambitious plan includes a goal of 30% to be produced with homegrown technologies, Wang said.
... In addition to Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, authorities in Liaoning province are constructing a robot industrial complex so that by 2017 they expect $8 billion for robots and other automation equipment.
... Growth is not limited to Chinese companies. Japanese Nachi-Fujikoshi, Fanuc and Yaskawa Electric join European KUKA, Reis Robotics, Staubli and ABB in opening manufacturing facilities in China instead of just having sales and integrator offices. Also, Japan, because of it’s mandatory retirement program, is providing consulting assistance in the form of thousands of retired engineers and technicians to China’s new robotics industry as well.
... Picture shows new Nachi factory in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu Province.
... Bezos said the secret to Amazon’s success is trial and error: “We are on our 7th generation of fulfillment centers - and we’ve gotten better every time…. Amazon is a symphony of people, a symphony of software and… a symphony of robots.”
... Bezos also revealed a new concept delivery service: Amazon PrimeAir. The goal is to deliver less than 5# parcels up to 10 miles from an Amazon distribution center (there are presently 96 with more schedule each year) within a half hour of order placement.
... Media has been abundant. Over 10 million people have seen the youTube video of the PrimeAir octocopter in action.
... Details here.
Posted 11/24/13 at 01:26 PM
... As the need for training on new-tech devices increases, virtual and physical simulation systems are in demand at medical schools and hospitals worldwide. One novel new robotic invention is Patrick, the robotic prostate exam mannequin. Developed by a MD and a virtual experiences research team, Patrick is being trailed at two hospital teaching centers in the US.
... Although there are no current plans for commercialization, Assoc. Prof. Benjamin Lok said: “In the experience, the student talks to a virtual person and is able to practice their communication skills. The mannequin is instrumented with force sensors that can measure where the student is examining and with how much pressure. This enables the system to provide a realistic encounter with a virtual patient that includes communication and physical exam components.”
... Patrick joins Showa Hanako 2, the dental training robot seen in this video and many other training systems. IEEE/Spectrum had a recent review of surgical simulations in this post.
3D scanners coming down in price
Posted 11/17/13 at 03:36 PM
... 3D Systems new Sense 3D scanner, at $399 including software, is a serious competitor for Makerbot’s $1,400 Digitizer scanner.
... The new Sense scanner is hand held and you have to slowly wave the device at the object being scanned, watch the viewer to insure coverage, and scan until you are happy with the visual effects.
... The MakerBot Digitizer is a turntable where cameras and lasers do a 9-minute scan while the table slowly turns. There are many enthusiastic reviews for this scanner.
... As costs of 3D printers continue to drop, these two new low-cost 3D scanners add to the magic of 3D printing by enabling users to easily make scans. The scanners can also be used for other activities like gaming, cake manequins, clothing marketing, etc.
New TV show: Have co-robots gone too far?
Posted 11/08/13 at 12:22 AM
... In a new TV series on the Fox Channel, set in 2048 and entitled “Almost Human,” every cop is paired with a highly evolved human-like android partner.
... The show stars Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, is produced by J.J. Abrams (“Person of Interest,” “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible”), and begins Sunday evening, November 17th.
... Which one is the robot?
iREX Maker/User Summit
Posted 11/07/13 at 12:49 AM
... In a packed 1,000-seat hall at iREX 2013 in Tokyo, six prominent robot executives from ABB, Fanuc, Yaskawa, KUKA, Kawasaki and Nachi faced off against two really big users.
... Dr. Chia Day, VP at Foxconn Technology, described in careful detail where robots are needed in their factories, what tasks they need to do, what hurdles there are, and, to some extent, what they are doing in-house. Their most immediate need is in electronics assembly - machining, polishing, painting, laser welding, die casting, palletizing and inspections. Automated assembly will come later.
... Kei Shimizu, from Nissan Motors, described how Nissan/Renault has grown from a Japanese company to one that is truly global. This requires standardization in robotics in all their factories and lines. Their needs are to add functions (vision and mobility) and flexibility (they do 20-40 line changes every year), and lower costs not only of the robots but also the costs of integration, space, power and training.
... It could have been a terrifically informative story about the future. Instead, all the users received for describing their needs was six nicely presented corporate puff pieces containing little of plans for the future and even less about new technologies to handle user needs.
... UPDATE 10/06/13: CBS News highlights Baxter’s $3/hr metrics in newscast showing Rethink Robotics’ Baxter at work in plastics factory.
... 2 additional videos show how robotic startups are helping small and medium-sized shops and factories (SME’s) compete in the global economy.
... Universal Robots’ video shows a 72-person short-run metal products maker using their new UR robot for CNC machine tending and also for loading and unloading a metal bender.
... Rethink Robotics’ shows how a 100-person plastics manufacturer is using a Baxter robot for various end-of-conveyor completion and packaging tasks.
... Details and links to the videos in this article.
... 235 robotic start-up companies reviewed in this reprint from article by The Robot Report published in World Robotics Service Robots 2013 by the IFR (Intl. Fed. of Robotics).
... From futuristic to practical, from robotic hubs and clusters to far-off places around the globe, from the whimsical to the amazing - everywhere that programmers program and engineers tinker - robotic startup companies are flourishing and giving us a glimpse at our robotic future.
There are mobile robots and then there’s KUKA’s MOBILE robot
Posted 09/26/13 at 01:01 PM
... At the recent Hannover Messe trade fair, KUKA displayed their concept mobile robot showing how it could work a huge turbine blade.
... The device consisted of a KUKA omnimove mobile platform, a KR Quantec shelf-mounted robot arm, a KR C4 controller, and an autonomous nav system.
... KUKA calls it E-mobility for extra large (XXL) workpieces; the press and viewers called it an amazing monster.
IFR Reports show bright future for robotics industry
Posted 09/18/13 at 12:24 PM
... Two new Intl. Federation of Robotics (IFR) world robotics statistical reports covering 2012 with projections to 2016 were released today by the IFR and can be purchased separately or combined at prices beginning at $350.
... The World Robotics Industrial Robotics 2013 report projects a high and continuing demand for industrial robots for many years to come and a 6% average sales gain per year. Regional variations suggest that North America, Brazil, South Korea and particularly the booming robot market in China will be the biggest purchasers.
... The World Robotics Service Robots 2013 shows considerable growth in the logistic systems and medical robots marketplaces as defense spending declines. During the 4-year period from 2013 to and including 2016, new service robots for professional use will gross over $17 billion.
... The IFR gets it’s data from robotic associations in each country who poll their membership for the information. Data is also provided directly to the IFR by most major robot suppliers.
... The global medical robotic systems market was worth $5.48 billion in 2011 and is expected to reach $13.6 billion in 2018, growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 12.6% from 2012. Surgical robots are expected to enjoy the largest revenue share.
... The global market for medical robotic systems is driven by factors such as technological advancement in the automation of the healthcare industry, increase in elderly population, non-invasive surgical techniques, and high prevalence of motion-restricting medical conditions.
... Medical robotic systems include: surgical robots, non-invasive radiosurgery robotic systems, prosthetics and exoskeletons, assistive and rehabilitation robots, non-medical robotics in hospitals and emergency response robotic systems, and hold high growth potential in the global market.
... Source: Transparency Market Research.
VW launches robot that collaborates with workers
Posted 08/30/13 at 07:21 AM
... At a VW diesel engine production plant in Salzgitter, a Universal Robots UR5 robot carefully picks up delicate glow plugs and puts them into hard-to-reach drill holes. An employee is then responsible for insulating the cylinder head, which is required for the next step in production. The robot, which acts as an assistant, enables the worker to carry out these activities in an upright, healthy posture, unlike previous methods.
... The 6DOF UR5 arm has an integrated safety mode which allows it to collaborate directly with people without any protective guards.
... This is the first collaborative robot in use at VW and a precursor to the direction of co-robots augmenting worker capabilities at factories everywhere.