Robotic Systems Blog

The Robotic Systems Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about industrial robots, programming and controls, sensors & tooling, and robotic safety. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Delivery Bots Dash Around D.C. Sidewalks

Posted April 14, 2017 11:00 AM by MaggieMc

Around the holidays, you may have heard about the fancy little robots [video] Amazon uses in its warehouses to get goods from shelves to pickers—or more accurately, to get the shelves to the pickers. There are other options for freight robots too, like these Fetch robots featured on IEEE Spectrum.

If you’re fascinated by these little warehouse-delivery robots, you may be pleased to learn that similar robots, from Starship Technologies, are going to be zooming around cities near you before you know it. They may even be headed straight to your door.

In fact, these robots are already motoring around Washington D.C., delivering takeout food from restaurants, and learning the sidewalks.

As described by Nick Handrick, the D.C. director of operations for Starship Technologies in a ride-along with NPR, the robots are “pretty small [and] pretty cute.” More specifically, the robot they’re following is “about knee-high and looks like a medium-sized cooler on six wheels.” Those six little wheels are pretty important, because they can actually walk up and over curbs. The robots have an almost 360-degree view thanks to cameras, and they can recognize “stoplights, crossing signs, things like that.”

The robots have tough security measures, according to Starship Technologies. Still, BuzzFeed News decided to put that to the test, so they attempted to “steal” a meal from one of the robots.

The video also talks with DoorDash, a last-mile logistics infrastructure provider for the restaurant industry. These robots are a Starship Technologies creation, but they are currently delivering meals for DoorDash. Stanley Tang, the cofounder of DoorDash, said in the BuzzFeed News video: “we actually see robots as something that’s very complimentary to our human dashers. These robots are

9 comments; last comment on 04/21/2017
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New Flexible Sensor Holds Potential for Foldable Touchscreens

Posted April 01, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Picture a tablet that you can fold into the size of a phone to put in your pocket, or an artificial skin that can sense your body's movements and vital signs. A new, inexpensive sensor developed at the University of British Columbia could help make advanced devices like these a reality.

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1 comments; last comment on 04/04/2017
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Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

Posted December 28, 2016 3:00 PM by MaggieMc

As you may have noticed, I’m a writer (and not a robot), so today I’m here to talk about a technology that may keep me up at night in a few years: Narrative Science and Quill, their “patented artificial intelligence authoring platform.” This program was patented in 2013, and not only is it still around, it’s thriving.

One of the things you frequently hear alongside automation is that as humans we’ll adapt to increased automation by using our freed up time to do bigger and better things. Now, thanks to the potential of Quill, those things might not include writing.

Narrative Science’s co-founder and chief scientist Kris Hammond, who swears up and down that Quill will not be stealing jobs any time soon, recently spoke at EmTech Digital 2016 and the Real Machine Summit.

Quill, which pulls from spreadsheets and other collected data to create narratives, appears to be primarily marketed toward Financial Institutions and other businesses looking to get big data out to their customers, but that wasn’t always the case. Narrative Science began in Northwestern’s Intelligent Information Laboratory, where it made news for writing sports news better than the journalists. The story, which you can hear on NPR, goes like this:

Emma Carmichael, a writer for the sports website Deadspin, publicly suggested “an especially bad account” of a baseball game “had been written by one of [their] favorite robot bloggers” because it had almost completely ignored the fact that the game was a no-hitter. According to NPR, the creators of Narrative Science were so offended they “set out to prove that their program could produce a better story,” and it did because, in the words of Kris Hammond, “how could you write a baseball story and not notice that it was a no-hitter? I mean, what kind of writer or machine would you be?”

In this case, Hammond presented the technology as a way of covering the little league games or middle-school games that don’t ordinarily get very much press. Still, having a computer outperform a human is always intimidating.

Once you get past the shock factor of this technology, it’s incredibly interesting, and it has amazing potential. Hammond is right, big data is huge, and sometimes it’s just too big for us to handle, but at the same time, we rely on what it tells us every day. Narrative Science’s ability to make inferences and create language from all of that data can be unbelievably useful. Hammond would like to highlight the fact that it also, “frees up real humans to do real work” or write the stories they really care about.

One part of a writer’s job that has always been near and dear to my heart is the necessity of “translating” information for their reader—Pulling information from different sources and bringing it together, drawing conclusions, and making it applicable to readers—and the scary part of all of this is that Quill can do a lot of that. As of now, Quill mostly pulls from databases, but its parent algorithm pulled from a series of content searches… just like I do.

Image credits: Jack Fitzgerald and ZDNet.

20 comments; last comment on 12/30/2016
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Will a Robot Replace Your Snow Shovel This Year?

Posted December 16, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Snow removal can be a daunting and difficult task. Why not let a $4,000 autonomous robot do the job for you? Users actually sync the robot to their phone with an accompanying app, and this robot can also mow the lawn and clean up leaves when there's no snow.

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8 comments; last comment on 12/17/2016
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Robots Enter the Garment Industry

Posted December 12, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Robots have been slow to enter the garment industry, struggling to handle fabric that moves in unexpected ways. One robot has overcome that hurdle by sewing an entire T-shirt itself. The off-the-shelf robot maneuvers fabric that has been stiffened by being dipped in a re-suable thermoplastic solution

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8 comments; last comment on 12/14/2016
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