Recent events demonstrate the growing presence of indoor mobile robots: (1) Savioke’s hotel butler robot won the 2017 IERA inventors award; (2) Knightscope’s security robot mistook a reflecting pond for a solid floor and dove in face-first to the delight of Twitterdom and the media; and (3) the sale of robotic hospital delivery provider Aethon to a Singaporean conglomerate.
Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd (ST Engineering) has acquired Pittsburgh, PA-based robotics firm Aethon Inc through Vision Technologies Land Systems, Inc. (VTLS), and its wholly-owned subsidiary, VT Robotics, Inc, for $36 million.
After much uproar, media attention, and political pressure, Pres. Trump intervened and enabled all the teams headed to Washington, DC for the F.I.R.S.T Global Robotics Championship whose visas had been held up or denied to get their visas - some as late as two days before the event. Although the Afghan team got all the press, the team from Gambia was also denied when they first applied.
Manufacturers, robotics associations, ethicists and media pundits are still fighting the robotics and jobs issue yet The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) cites that between 2010 and 2016, 136,748 robots were shipped to the US —the most in any seven-year period in the US robotics industry. At the same time, US manufacturing employment increased by 894,000 and the unemployment rate fell from 9.8% to 4.7%.
SoftBank’s Pepper humanoid robot operation (a joint venture with Foxconn, Alibaba and SoftBank) has incurred a big $274 million loss while Asia more than doubled the amount of funding for tech startups thus far in 2017. No one ever said VC funding was for the faint of heart.
Two reputable research resources are reporting that the robotics industry is growing more rapidly than expected. BCG (Boston Consulting Group) is conservatively projecting that the market will reach $87 billion by 2025; Tractica, incorporating the robotic and AI elements of the emerging self-driving industry, is forecasting the market will reach $237 billion by 2022.
In the race to develop self-driving technology, Chinese Internet giant Baidu unveiled its 50+ partners in an open source development program, revised its timeline for introducing autonomous driving capabilities on open city roads, described the Project Apollo consortium and its goals, and declared Apollo to be the ‘Android of the autonomous driving industry.’
China’s second-biggest e-commerce company, JD.com (Alibaba is first), is testing mobile robots to make deliveries to its customers and imagining a future of a fully unmanned logistics system. Story idea and image courtesy of RoboticsToday.com.au.
June, 2017 saw two robotics-related companies get $50 million each and 17 others raised $248 million for a monthly total of $348 million. Acquisitions also continued to be substantial with SoftBank's acquisition of Google's robotic properties Boston Dynamics and Schaft plus two others acquisitions.
Robots have been around for 50 years welding, painting, handling and performing herculean tasks in harsh environments. But in the last 10 years, service robots have emerged and are performing all sorts of lesser but equally valuable tasks. Consider MiR, MakeBlock, Grey Orange and Ocado and the inroads they are making into their respective industries.
Kalanick is still on Uber's board. He owns a majority of the voting shares. Some are already comparing this situation to Steve Jobs' ouster from Apple. It's possible Kalanick could someday return in a blaze of glory. But for now, he is out and Uber is searching for a new CEO.
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is researching autonomous co-piloting so they can fly without a human pilot on board. The robotic system — called the Common Aircraft Retrofit for Novel Autonomous Control (CARNAC) (not to be confused with the old Johnny Carson Carnac routine) — has the potential to reduce costs, enable new missions, and improve performance.
Conferences and trade shows, held in interesting locations around the world, can be entertaining, informative and an opportunity to explore new places, meet new people and renew acquaintances. Three recent examples: Xponential, the mostly defense-related unmanned land, sea and air show, held in Dallas; Innorobo, focused on service robotics, in Paris; and ICRA, the IEEE's premier robotics conference, in Singapore.
Uber, the global ride-sharing transportation company, facing angry drivers, worried investors, the death of the CEO's mother, and a host of sexual harrassment claims, IP infringement suits, and departures and firings of key personnel, has named two replacements to recover from the recent firing of Anthony Levandowski who headed their Advanced Technologies Group, their OTTO trucking unit, and their self-driving team. Levandowski was fired May 30th.
In 2015, after much research, I wrote about China having 194 robot companies and used screen shots of The Robot Report's Global Map to show where they were and a chart to show their makeup. We've just concluded another research project and have added hundreds of new Chinese companies to the database and global map.
May 2017 saw two robotics-related companies get $9.5 billion in funding and 22 others raised $249 million. Acquisitions also continued to be substantial with Toyota Motor's $260 million acquisition of Bastian Solutions plus three others (where the amounts weren't disclosed).
Andy Rubin, who developed the Android operating system at Google and then went on to lead Google through multiple acquisitions into robotics, has launched a new consumer products company. Anthony Levandowski, who, after many years with Google and their autonomous driving project, launched Otto which Uber acquired, was sued by Google, and just got fired by Uber.
SoftBank just invested $5 billion in Didi Chuxing, China's biggest ride-sharing service. Last year Uber sold their China business to Didi resolving (by giving up) all the legal and antitrust investigations it was undergoing in China. In other news, Chris Urmson, long time CTO of Google's self-driving car program, left to start a new company; and Waymo and Lyft just partnered to develop autonomous vehicle tech projects and products.
SoftBank, the giant telecom company, is venturing out into the world of robotics and transportation services. DealStreet Asia said that SoftBank is trying to transform itself into the 'Berkshire Hathaway of the tech industry' with the recent launch of a $100 billion technology fund.
Why are so many farm equipment manufacturers so heavily involved in the ag industry yet things are going so slowly in relation to robotics? Perhaps farmers need to first incorporate the digital era -- and the concepts and practices of precision agriculture -- before taking the next step toward the use of robots.
In a 2013 interview of Amazon's Jeff Bezos by CBS' Charlie Rose, Bezos launched drone delivery by e-commerce companies by announcing the new Amazon Prime Air - and demonstrating a delivery system designed to get packages to customers by drone.
After reading the press releases for this batch of 24 research reports, although they vary widely in their forecasts, they almost all agree that most segments of the robotics industry are expected to grow at a double digit pace at least through 2022.
April 2017 had 17 robotics-related companies get funding totaling over $390 million - a fourth solid month for 2017 - $1.05 billion year-to-date. Acquisitions also continued to be substantial with ABB's $2 billion acquisition of Bernecker & Rainer, plus Baidu, iRobot and Cognex each making strategic acquistions.
iRobot (IRBT on the NASDAQ stock exchange) jumped from $70 to $80 per share on news that iRobot's quarterly earnings were so good that the company raised their forecast for 2017 to new highs. KUKA also had good Q1/17 earnings as did Intuitive Surgical.
According to AgFunder's 2016 AgTech Investing Report (supported by The Robot Report's own research), 2016 drone funding fell 64% from 2015 levels. Also, the types of UAS companies that got funded weren't drone makers.
Most of us are familiar with the podcasts about robotics from the Swiss-based Robots group. For different perspectives, from the funder's point of view, here's a list of podcasts from the VC's that fund robotics and technology ventures -- funders like Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Greylock Partners and Y Combinator.
Whether for research, purchasing, education or in conjuncation with a family vacation, going to and attending robotics-related conferences and trade shows can provide real personal and business benefits, particularly when the venue is in a foreign location. Here are the 35 remaining events for 2017:
America's retailers are closing stores faster than ever while demand for warehouse workers by online retailers is higher than ever. Retailers and logistics companies have been opening facilities at a record pace and in this fast-paced world, warehousing and logistics managers are looking for robotics solutions to remain competitive.
Tactile sensing and force feedback are - and have been - problem areas for robot grasping. Humans could see, select and pick so much faster. Yet to handle the millions of different everyday items in our factories and warehouses, costly positioning and camera systems have been required. These systems made it easy for fast robots with simple grippers to pick items as they came along - but at great cost.
Six to ten years ago, exhibitors at Automate were promoting bin-picking in many, many booths. Bin picking wasn't mentioned this year because it is an available option these days. For the last six years vendors have been promoting human-robot collaboration in manufacturing. Here's what I saw this year at the big Automate and ProMat trade shows held last month in Chicago.
CBS News, and reporter David Pogue, displayed some new technologies threatening jobs while the International Federation of Robotics suggested that deploying robots actually increases jobs. Are either true? Or both?