China has recently announced their long-term goal to become #1 in A.I. by 2030. They plan to grow their A.I. industry to over $22 billion by 2020, $59 billion by 2025 and $150 billion by 2030. They did this same type of long-term strategic planning for robotics - to make it an in-country industry and to transform the country from a low-cost labor source to a high-tech manufacturing resource... and it’s working.
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 a long-awaited transaction, The New York Times Dealbook announced that SoftBank was buying Boston Dynamics from Alphabet (Google). Also included in the deal is the Japanese startup Schaft. Acquisition details were not disclosed.
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.
Here's a video you will want to watch. "The Wolf" is really an ad showing how a hacker can enter a network through an unprotected printer (or robot). Christian Slater stars as the evil hacker.