Hitachi's Ropits single passenger robot car (Click Image To Enlarge)
ROPITS (Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System) is a single-passenger autonomous vehicle meant to travel on sidewalks. ROPITS is equipped with GPS, gyro sensor and laser sensors. It can pick-up and drop off a passenger autonomously, while the vehicle can be controlled by a joystick controller in the cockpit.
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Hitachi has unveiled its Ropits single passenger robot car, which looks like a Fisher Price Cozy Coupe for adults and does the driving all on its own. The name and style prompt one to think of a science fiction contraption, but it’s the vehicle’s autonomic functionality that truly brings the idea of “futuristic” to the forefront.
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Ropits stands for Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System, and was designed to aid those who find walking difficult. The idea is that Ropits vehicles could be outfitted in a city, for example, and hailed via a computer or kiosk of some sort positioned in various places around town. The robotic car will retrieve the passenger and whisk him or her away to their destination.
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It has GPS for easy navigation and laser distance sensors to determine obstacles and a gyro sensor for those uneven roads. It is also small enough that it can maneuver its way through pedestrian spaces without the walking “civilians” getting mad or hurt.
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The passenger has to indicate on the touch-screen map their desired destination and Ropits will do the rest. The system is also designed that anyone who needs to use the robot car can hail a Ropits from computer-networked stops around the city. If you’re worried about getting dizzy as it zigzags its way around the city, it has “active suspension” which controls each wheel individually to keep the passenger comfortably upright.
COMMENTARY: I have a friend who could use ROPITS vehicle right now. He is disabled, so he cannot drive, and can barely walk to a bus stop or BART station, which means he has to pay for expensive taxi's to get around. ROPITS would meet his needs perfectly. When is this vehicle coming to the U.S.?
Courtesy of an article dated March 14, 2013 appearing in Robotic Trends
3D concept illustration of NASA JPL's first lunar base (Click Image To Enlarge)
The first lunar base on the Moon may not be built by human hands, but rather by a giant spider-like robot built by Nasa that can bind the dusty soil into giant bubble structures where astronauts can live, conduct experiments, relax or perhaps even cultivate crops.
Shackleton Crater, the site of NASA JPL's proposed lunar base (Click Image To Enlarge)
Location and cutaway view of Shackleton Crater, the site of NASA JPL's proposed lunar base (Click Image To Enlarge)
We've already covered the European Space Agency's (ESA) work with architecture firm Foster + Partners on a proposal for a 3D-printed moonbase, and there are similarities between the two bases -- both would be located in Shackleton Crater near the Moon's south pole, where sunlight (and thus solar energy) is nearly constant due to the Moon's inclination on the crater's rim, and both use lunar dust as their basic building material. However, while the ESA's building would be constructed almost exactly the same way a house would be 3D-printed on Earth, this latest wheeze -- SinterHab -- uses Nasa technology for something a fair bit more ambitious.
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The product of joint research first started between space architects Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Ondrej Doule and scientists from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), SinterHab is so-named because it involves sintering lunar dust -- that is, heating it up to just below its melting point, where the fine nanoparticle powders fuse and become one solid block a bit like a piece of ceramic. To do this, the JPL engineers propose using microwaves no more powerful than those found in a kitchen unit, with tiny particles easily reaching between 1200 and 1500 degrees Celsius.
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Nanoparticles of iron within lunar soil are heated at certain microwave frequencies, enabling efficient heating and binding of the dust to itself. Not having to fly binding agent from Earth along with a 3D printer is a major advantage over the ESA/Foster + Partners plan. The solar panels to power the microwaves would, like the moonbase itself, be based near or on the rim of Shackleton Crater in near-perpetual sunlight.
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"Bubbles" of binded dust could be built by a huge six-legged rClick Image To Enlargeobot (OK, so it's not technically a spider) that can then be assembled into habitats large enough for astronauts to use as a base. This "Sinterator system" would use the JPL's Athlete rover, a half-scale prototype of which has already been built and tested. It's a human-controlled robotic space rover with wheels at the end of its 8.2m limbs and a detachable habitable capsule mounted at the top.
Here's a video of it dancing, because science:
Athlete's arms have several different functions, dependent on what it needs to do at any point. It has 48 3D cameras that stream video to its operator either inside the capsule, elsewhere on the Moon or back on Earth, it's got a payload capacity of 300kg in Earth gravity, and it can scoop, dig, grab at and generally poke around in the soil fairly easily, giving it the combined abilities of a normal rover and a construction vehicle. It can even split into two smaller three-legged rovers at any time if needed. In the Sinterator system, a microwave 3D printer would be mounted on one of the Athlete's legs and used to build the base.
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Rousek explained the background of the idea to Wired.co.uk:
"Since many of my buildings have advanced geometry that you can't cut easily from sheet material, I started using 3D printing for rapid prototyping of my architecture models. The construction industry is still lagging several decades behind car and electronics production. The buildings now are terribly wasteful and imprecise -- I have always dreamed about creating a factory where the buildings would be robotically mass-produced with parametric personalisation, using composite materials and 3D printing. It would be also great to use local materials and precise manufacturing on-site."
"It's good to realise that we have this unique chance to jump from our atmosphere and go to the next evolutionary level -- it's comparable with leaving the ocean and climbing down from the trees. I went to Strasbourg to study space architecture at the International Space University in France, where I formed the team with Ondrej Doule and Katarina Eriksson. Our friend there, Richard Rieber from Nasa's JPL, is one of the co-authors of the 3D printing system based on the Athlete robot. We were inspired by their invention and immediately started designing architecture that would use this technology."
Sintering is quite cheap, in terms of power as well as materials, and an Athlete rover should be able to construct a bubble volume in only two weeks, Rousek estimates. He said:
"It would have a very good cost-value ratio as you don't need to import as much material from Earth. The whole expandable module, with the membranes to cover the base when built, would be carried by the same rocket that would bring other modules of the outpost, but it can build a volume four times bigger than a rigid cylindrical module. Since we don't have the necessary transport capacity to the Moon at the moment, estimating a price now would be very inaccurate. As a comparison, the International Space Station has so far cost approximately $150bn (£99bn) but a lunar base could be designed much more cheaply with private companies."
3D concept illustration of NASA JPL's Sinterator moon crawler robot (Click Image To Enlarge)
Another benefit of sintering is that astronauts could use it on the surface of the Moon surrounding their base, binding dust and stopping it from clogging their equipment. Moon dust is extremely abrasive -- without natural weathering or erosion like on Earth, dust isn't ground down into smooth spheres. Instead it remains tiny yet jagged, perfect for getting into any exposed cracks, scratching lenses, wearing down airtight seals and becoming deeply embedded into human lungs. Former Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmidt has called the dust the biggest environmental issue on the Moon, even more so than radiation (which in SinterHab would be blocked by a combination of the Moon dust structure, "strategically located water tanks" and layers of inflatable polymers).
NASA JPL's Sinterator moon crawler robot (Click Image To Enlarge)
London-based space architect Rousek, director of A-ETC, has continued working on SinterHab with Doule and Eriksson since first proposing the idea in 2010 at the International Aeronautical Congress as a way of taking advantage of the Sinterator system. The design -- now published in the journal Acta Astronautica-- is based on the equilibrium found in bubbles. You might have noticed, the last time that you had a bubble bath, the way that groups of bubbles join together naturally to form a more solid structure -- that's exactly what SinterHab will look like. A bunch of rocky bubbles connected together, with cladding added later. Rousek explained:
"The internal structure was selected to demonstrate how we can arrange the interior and create walls inside. The first version should probably have only a single volume to decrease the risk. Then we could think about a bigger module, which would use connected volumes."
A second version of SinterHab -- SinterHab 2.0 -- is "currently being developed under the leadership of Ondrej Doule from the Florida Institute of Technology," Rousek said.
"We plan to further develop the interior design, deployment and construction process and life-support system. We would like to also do research about possible spin-offs of such construction methods on Earth."
Nasa iskeen on figuring out a way to build a lunar base, and as one of several proposals being batted around inside the organisation it's been used in a proposal for further development of sintering technology -- and I, for one, welcome our new robo-spider space architect overlords.
COMMENTARY: Presently 3D printers are only able to print, if you can call it that, small objects like a cup, vase or head bust. The machines that perform the printing are relatively small, fairly expensive and difficult to operate. What NASA JPL is proposing would simply be amazing and on a much larger scale. Sinterator would have to do its work of building the lunar base completely autonomously and without human intervention. This presents tremendous technological challenges for NASA JPL scientists and engineers.
Since there is no water on the Moon, and transporting building materials there from the Earth would be very costly, it is obviously cheaper to use directly the Moon's resources in order to make water-free concrete. US scientists developed a method that would allow for substituting water with the sulfur found in lunar dust. The resulting concrete would be very solid and would dry much faster than the regular one obtained here on Earth.
The sulfur that would act as a binder for the Moon dust can be extracted directly from it. The sulfur must to be in a liquid or semi-liquid form to work as a binding agent. This would imply that the dust is heated to temperatures of about 130° to 140° C. After cooling, the mixture immediately becomes rock-solid, ultimate-strength concrete able to bear about 170 times the atmospheric pressure (approximately 17 megapascals). With normal concrete you have to wait seven days, in extreme cases even 28 days to get maximum strength.
The idea of creating autonomous robotic swarms is nothing new, a concept that's been demonstrated by GRASP Lab's quadrotors. What needs to happen now is for developers to push the technology forward and come up with practical applications for these cooperative bots. A good example is the new Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform (TEMP)— a fleet of programmable robots that could someday come to your rescue.
Penn GRASP Lab engineering students tinker with floating robotic shipping containers a.k.a. TEMP at the Penn swimming pool (Click Image To Enlarge)
In conjunction with DARPA, TEMP was developed by the University of Pennsylvania's Vijay Kumar and Mark Yim. They recently put together a scale model of their aquatic system and tested it in a swimming pool. Eventually, the swarming boats will each occupy a space similar in size to a standard shipping container.
The modular boats are designed to work together to hook-up and form a desired shape, such as a floating platform. The TEMP system will also utilize rapidly deployable sealift, airlift, logistics, and medical care capabilities (some of which will also be robotic).
For it to work, Kumar and Yim had to figure out a way to get each robot to work smartly and autonomously — and without getting in the way of each other. For their experiment, they created a fleet of 100 individual robot boats, each one measuring about a foot-and-a-half in length.
Along with a set of algorithms, the team equipped each bot with a unique visual identifier that can be read by a camera (kind of like a QR code). With this system, each robot knows where it stands in relation to all the others. Once scaled up to real size, the boats will use a GPS to determine their precise location.
TEMP robotic mini modules floating in the Penn swimming pool (Click Image To Enlarge)
Each boat "knows" its physical proportions, along with its overarching goal — such as instructions for building a bridge. Once they get the greenlight, the collective bands together to finish the task. When they've shimmied themselves to the right place and orientation, they use a hook-and-tether system to connect themselves to each other. The technology to do this was developed by QinetQ NA (who will eventually make the full-sized boats).
"We give them a structure, and then each boat figures out where to go and in what sequence to go to make that structure."
"The ultimate point of the project is to enable humanitarian assistance and disaster relief over broad coastal areas without dependence on local infrastructure, using unmodified commercial containerships, thus freeing military ships to carry out other military missions."
Moving forward, the developers will have to anticipate non-ideal real-world conditions, such as storms and choppy waters. Eventually, DARPA hopes to see the system applied to disaster recovery and delivering humanitarian aid.
It's not clear, however, if it'll ever be built. According to DARPA, "Due to cost constraints, an integrated demonstration of the complete TEMP system is not planned, but the core amphibious and air vehicle technologies are being considered for continued development to support a variety of military missions."
COMMENTARY: I think this is a great idea, but when it comes to scaling this to full-size shipping containers, it is going to take a much stronger and more sophisticated tethering system to tie those containers together so they don't bop up and down too much or separate from each other. What happens if one of the containers has mechanical issues? The TEMP system must be homogenous so that one broken container can be immediately replaced by another.
Courtesy of an article dated March 1, 2013 appearing in io9
WIRED DIRECTLY INTO THEIR NERVOUS SYSTEM, THIS REMARKABLE ROBOTIC HAND WILL SOON ALLOW ONE AMPUTEE TO ACTUALLY TOUCH AND FEEL THINGS AGAIN.
Soon, the first feeling, articulating hand will be transplanted into a living patient (Click Image To Enlarge)
About 50% of amputees don’t use their prosthesis because of relatively basic issues of design--comfort, aesthetic, and controllability. This has led inventor Dean Kamen to famously lament about humanity’s inability to offer our amputees anything better than “a hook on a stick.” Put in those terms, the lack of innovation makes your stomach churn.
It follows up research from 2009 (we believe, seen here) in which a patient was able to feel pin pricks in a tethered robotic hand. He could also wiggle its fingers (Click Image To Enlarge)
But soon, a new bionic hand made by Prensilia may change that. Through a highly experimental test surgery, in a project led by Dr. Silvestro Micera of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, the prosthesis will be wired directly into one test patient’s nervous system, which should enable movement through thought alone, along with the ability for the patient to actually feel what touches his or her mechanical hand.
Today, the hand has been improved. It now has sensors on the palm, fingers, and wrist (Click Image To Enlarge)
The story almost sounds too amazing to be true. But the upcoming surgery is actually a follow up to a 2009 study in which a simpler, fixed model of the hand was wired into a man’s nervous system to provide a sense of touch. It only had basic sensors embedded in the palm, but the patient was able to wiggle his fingers and feel pricks of a needle. Now, the latest wave of hardware and software technology will enable the transplant of a fully articulating, bionic hand (with sensors distributed in each fingertip, the palm, and the wrist). It’s also built with an improved interface that should permit multiple feelings and gestures at once, while the 2009 hand had an extremely limited bandwidth.
That patient will wear the hand for just a month before it’s removed, and then two years later, they’ll receive a more permanent, polished version of the technology.
Plus, it has more bandwidth. So the patient should be able to both feel and move his fingers at the same time (Click Image To Enlarge)
You really can’t overstate the accomplishment at work. Hooked right into the amputee’s nervous system, this hand will be driven by thought alone (and probably a battery pack) (Click Image To Enlarge)
The human hand has always seemed like an invention that only nature could have made over the course of billions of years. Strong enough to crush an orange, deft enough to thread a needle, we’re downright lucky to be born with a pair of the most perfect tools that respond to our every whim. But it’s their ability to feel that elevates them from another tool to part of us, that enables the thousands of tiny compensations we make all day as we interact to the world with softness and force. That’s why this single invention and single surgery is so exciting--it could solve one of the ultimate human-factor issues in medicine. And better still? Researchers say if all goes well, we’ll see widespread clinical adoption of such prostheses in the not-so-distant future.
Successful or not, the hand will live on the patient for just a month, after which time the team will spend the next two years polishing a more final, potentially clinical-ready version (Click Image To Enlarge)
And for the first time in history, we may have developed a halfway decent solution for those missing our most crucial tool, the human hand (Click Image To Enlarge)
COMMENTARY: Prensilia's amazing robotic hand is the closest thing to a real hand by allowiing amputee's to actually feel what they touch. The sense of touch has been missing from artificial limbs and hands for a long time, and finally it looks like we have overcome that weakness. I don't know how much that Prensilia robotic hand will cost, but I have a feeling that it will be relatively expensive until the company can produce them at scale. Hopefully, federal gencies like Medicare and Medicaid will cover all or most of the cost. The world needs this product because it fills such a huge need among disabled amputee's.
IT’S LEGO’S FIRST MAJOR UPDATE TO THEIR PROGRAMMABLE LINE OF ROBOTS IN SIX YEARS--A REDESIGN TO BE MORE SOCIAL, CONNECTED, AND APPROACHABLE FOR KIDS AND ADULTS ALIKE.
A lot has changed since 2006. Social networks rule. Smartphones are no longer a luxury for the geek elite. And every kid knows the word “app.”
So maybe it’s only natural that each of these ideas worked themselves into Lego Mindstorms EV3, Lego’s first major refresh of the Mindstorms line since 2006. If you aren’t familiar, Mindstorms are Lego’s programmable robotic parts--a brain, motors, and sensors--that interface with their Technic line.
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Technology concept lead Oliver Wallington explains.
“Children today don’t perceive robots as industrial machines. A robot is something of a character. It has a personality. It could be humanoid or an animal, but certainly something with a mind of its own. People might say 'iPhone--that’s the way Lego fashion should go!' But really, when you build an iPhone into a Lego Technic model, they just clash. We have to complement the models.”
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So while the Mindstorms kit is intended to fuel infinite creativity, it’ll be marketed with five “character” designs, which were partly inspired from Lego’s conversations with children themselves. One design is a snake, while another is a humanoid, while yet another is a rover-like tank. The idea is to appeal to almost any child’s particular interests, using characters as a gateway into creation.
Global project lead Camilla Bottke adds.
“The play, look, and feel has been modeled for children. But the hardware has been made to also embrace adult users.”
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So Mindstorms walks an interesting line of approachability and depth and youth and maturity. It’s designed very intently to be playable within 20 minutes without anything more than a few nonverbal instructions, what the company calls a “Christmas morning” appeal. It helps that Mindstorms now include IR sensors (allowing simple remote control). Additionally, each Mindstorms block holds the basics to programming--a single setting--that can be activated on the body, while the rest of the options lurk on a computer. So a motor can be set to start and stop, or aimed in a particular direction, right on the brick.
But to delve deeper, to make the motor skid or do other advanced maneuvers, the bricks will need to sync via USB or Bluetooth to a computer. In fact, to appeal to adult engineers, the Intelligent Brick (brain) will even run Linux and support SD storage expansion along with Wi-Fi dongles. It’s “future proofing,” we’re told, that’s intended to promote long-term hacking by a global community. Because in the cloud, kids and adults alike will be able to share their programs in an open-source environment, uploading code for others to download into their creations. It’s like Lego’s Github.
Of course, we haven’t even gotten to the iOS and Android support yet. The details of these apps still seem to be in the works, but no doubt they could prove to be even more essential to programming the next wave of Mindstorms than a PC, assuming Lego digs that deep with the UI. One need only look at the success of Atoms Express, an iOS-based Kickstarter project much like Mindstorms, to recognize the potential here.
Mindstorms EV3 will be available in the second half of 2013 for $350.
COMMENTARY: Lego Project Leader Camilla Bottke demo-ed the new Mindstorms EV3 programmable robots at CES 2013 in Las Vegas. You can watch the video by clickingHERE.
Momentum Machines, a startup out of Lemnos Labs, plans to automate the fast food industry, starting with the perfect burger.
Science fiction has always positioned the idea that one day our human jobs would be replaced by machines. For those working in burger assembly lines, that day might be sooner than you think.
Momentum Machines' robotic burger making machine technology (Click Image To Enlarge)
Introducing a machine that makes burgers. Literally, it’s a burger making machine, in prototype, that takes unprepared ingredients like whole tomatoes, onions, uncooked patties, untoasted buns, and spits out a completely assembled burger:
Momentum Machines, the San Francisco-based robotics company responsible for the concept, notes that they are aiming to have a functional demo model by June 1st, 2012.
Momentum Machines robotic hamburger making machine prototype goes through testing (Click Image To Enlarge)
About a month ago, the company got a quick nod by the tech community and a shaky video by StartupGrind that caught the group during a work day. Jump to 2:38 for the interesting stuff, see company president Alex Vardakostas speak, joke about their CAD model and give a brief explanation about the power of their product.
How does it work?
The machine takes unprepared inputs (including whole tomatoes, onions, pickles, uncooked patties, untoasted buns, etc.) and then, as each order comes in, the device prepares the ingredients (slices tomatoes, char-broils patties, etc.) and assembles the entire burger.
Momentum Machines robotic burger has feeding tubes that automatically add lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles to their hamburgers (Click Image To Enlarge)
Customization occurs through a simple user interface, allowing the button-pusher to opt out of certain ingredients and add extras of stuff they like. When it’s done doing the assembling, it even puts the burger into a bag, if that’s what your company needs it to do.
Momentum Machines robotic burger is equipped for containers that automatically add mayonnaise, mustard and catsup to each hamburger (Click Image To Enlarge)
Vardakostas even commented on the possible additions of proteins outside of beef patties. He said they plan on integrating chicken sandwiches and fish sandwiches into the technology, and that their current setup isn’t too far off from handling such requests.
Momentum Machines robotic burger machine convenyor belt (Click Image To Enlarge)
When asked about the limitations of his machine, Vardakostas said.
“The machine is already capable of handling different sizes of buns, tomatoes, et cetera. It’s also really customizable in that the restaurant owner can tell us the proportion sizes desired of each ingredient and we can very easily modify the machine to suit their demand.”
Daily upkeep for potential restaurant users involves reloading the machine with ingredients “every once in a long while.”
The finished robo-burger as it comes off of Momentum Machines' robotic hamburger maker (Click Image To Enlarge)
The anticipated output is currently around 360 hamburgers per hour.
The aim of the robot, which remains without a name currently, is to produce food more consistently, with higher quality and at a lower cost.
Ultimately, a sterile machine opens the opportunity for a much more sanitary work environment. For those that think burger making robots sound superfluous, let the ramifications sink in.
Vardakostas notes that their potential customers include “hamburger restaurants of all kinds, food trucks, airports, train stations and other high traffic locations.”
Momentum Machines management team (left-to-right) is Jack McDonald, Alex Vardostas, Steven Frehn and Ari Atkins (Click Image To Enlarge)
Most exciting, as Alex put it, is all the new restaurant concepts that could be unleashed with their technology as the backend.
The utility for a restaurant owner is evident, less people on the line with more output. If Momentum Machines does their due diligence, it may even be beneficial to make available an adaptable API — opening the floodgates to unique visual ordering experiences.
COMMENTARY: Vardakostas grew up with firsthand exposure to the labor that goes into the burger-making process—his father owns a mini-chain of burger joints in Southern California. He turned his childhood experience into the idea for a company. Vardakostas said.
"I thought, 'What's the one tool a restaurant could have to destroy its competition'"
He estimates that their invention will save the standard quick-service restaurant $135,000 a year in wages, and build a more consistent product.
However, rather than making plans to peddle their apparatus to existing fast food restaurants, Vardakostas and his friends seem more interested in starting a restaurant of their own. Vardakostas says.
"Fast food sucks, and we want to change all that."
They envision a restaurant with a menu similar to that of a Five Guys or In-N-Out, but without the vast, stainless steel kitchen full of cooking equipment and scrambling employees. All the food prep will be done by machines, with human staff working the register and delivering the food. Vardakostas said.
"Maybe we'll have the cashier behind a podium with just a garden or vines on the wall behind them."
He explained the company's vision for how their machine-powered restaurant would be a serene landscape compared to the typical fast food environment.
I like the idea of a robotic hamburger making machine, but Momentum Machines must test their system thoroughly in order to insure that the finished hamburgers meet their high premium quality standards, the equipment can keep up with orders, and can produce burgers without mechanical breakdowns. They must also have a backup system in place to insure that they can produce those burgers in the event of machinery failure. Those finished hamburgers sure look good and tasty looking, but I believe that they are at least a year before they launch their first fully-automated hamburger operation.
Having your own hamburger restaurant is a great way to take the robotic hamburger making system through its paces, fix any mechanical issues and insure that the burgers produced meet its high premium quality standards. It will also serve as a test bed that they can use to prove the effectiveness and reliability of the system should they decide to franchise their restaurants or license the technology to end-users.
Courtesy of an article dated December 19, 2012 appearing in Robotic Trends and an article dated October 11, 2012 appearing in Serious Eats!
Apple CEO Tim Cook visits the Foxconn plant in China as part of the review process to insure working conditions have improved and Apple vendor requirements are being adhered to (Click Image To Enlarge)
When Apple makes headlines for its manufacturing practices, it’s rarely a headline that makes Cupertino look good. The company has come under fire in the past year for its reliance on the manufacturing giant Foxconn, which had a string of suicides at one of its plants, and where there have occasionally been reports of unsafe working conditions. The New York Times, for instance, wrote an investigative report into the “human costs” of the iPad back in January; iPhone manufacture even became the unlikely subject of a controversial, and ultimately discredited, work of quasi-reported theater (see “Mike Daisey, Storyteller,” and “An (Actual!) Look Inside Foxconn”). But for those who thought Apple would continue to exclusively rely on manufacturing abroad, Apple CEO made a surprising announcement on “Rock Center with Brian Williams” today. Starting in 2013, said Cook, a line of Macs would be manufactured in the US. Cook did not elaborate or specify just which line.
The announcement followed recent reports that some of the new iMacs that went on sale last Friday bore the unusual words, “Assembled in USA.” In the past, it has been more typical to see “Assembled in China”–though not uncommon for certain products, like made-to-order Macs.
In a way, Cook’s announcement is not totally surprising; at the All Things D conference in May, he had announced that he wanted a product to be made in the U.S. It would seem like the recent “assembled in USA” lines are a step in that direction, and that Cook is planning to deepen that commitment.
A good deal more information about Cook’s thinking in this regard can be found in Bloomberg Businessweek, which published alengthy interview with Cook this week. Cook pointed out (as he did to Brian Williams) that both the processor and the glass on iPhones and iPads are made in the U.S. (See “Your iPhone’s Brain Might Be from Texas.”) And he clarified that when he says he’d like to “make” Macs in the US, he’s talking about more than assembly:
“It will happen in 2013. We’re really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it’s broader because we wanted to do something more substantial. So we’ll literally invest over $100 million. This doesn’t mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we’ll be working with people, and we’ll be investing our money.”
A follow-up question on whether Apple had a duty to be patriotic elicited a thoughtful response: Cook said that he felt Apple did have a “responsibility to create jobs.” He appeared to outline a philosophy that suggested that Apple had that responsibility, indeed, wherever it sold its products:
“Over 60 percent of our sales are outside the United States. So we have a responsibility to others as well.”
He chooses a more hollistic way of measuring job creation, which means that he considers a person who makes a living as an iOS developer to have had a job created by Apple, even if that person is working for herself. (Again in its iEconomy series, the Times has shown how making that living is sometimes easier said than done.) The Businessweek interview is required reading in full for anyone interested in Tim Cook, Apple, and the future of American manufacturing.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg alsoreportsthat Foxconn itself will be expanding some of its manufacturing operations into North America, due to demand among customers that more products be made domestically.
COMMENTARY: It will be a very long time before I trust anything that Apple says concerning its manufacturing vendors in China. For over a decade, under the steady iron hand of then Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, Apple did everythig to keep the identity of its overseas vendors in China absolutely secret. Nobody knew who they were until word got out of the numerous plant worker suicides at Foxconn International, the sweatshop conditions endured by its plant workers, and unsafe working environment that hundreds of thousands of Foxconn plant workers were exposed to. Foxconn is Apple's largest outsourced manufacturer in China, and is responsible for assembling the iPhone, iPod and iPad. In 2010,when the late Steve Jobs was questioned by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisherabout from All Things Digital about Foxconn in front of a live audence at a D8 conference in San Francisco, he said,
"Oh, sure, yeah. We're pretty on top of that. Foxconn is not a sweatshop. When you go to this place, um. It's a factory, but my gosh, they got restuarants, and movie theaters and swimming pools. For a factory, it's a pretty nice factory."
What pissed me off about the Steve Jobs interview is how Jobs discounted the Foxconn suicides, comparing them on a percentage basis to the suicide rates in the U.S. Jesus, what a heartless punkass. I didn't hear a single comment of remorse or condolesences to the loved ones and families of those who committed suicide. His comments were without any emotion, almost unremorseless. That interview is below:
In a blog post dated November 16, 2012, I reported that Foxconn International had plans to replace 1.2 million plant workers in China with production robots. This process has already begun, with 30,000 robots expected to be installed by the end of 2012, and another 200,000 robots to be installed in 2013. Having said this, it would not surprise me if Apple automates the prouction of an iMac using robots in order to keep costs down. If Tim Cook is serious about proucting an iMac in the U.S., I wonder if Apple will be a job creator, or job destroyer.
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau on the way across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Australia (Click Image To Enlarge)
Surviving stormy weather and a shark attack, the Wave Glider just entered the record books for the longest autonomous trip ever taken.
On his first journey across the Pacific Ocean, Papa Mau was bitten by a shark, whipped by 100 mph winds, and tossed by 30 foot waves. Somehow he survived the whole 9,000 nautical mile trip from Northern California to Australia. Papa Mau now holds the world record for distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle on land or in the sea.
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau prepares to leave San Francisco (Click Image To Enlarge)
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau saying one last goodbye to the West Coast (Click Image To Enlarge)
The surfboard-sized robot is one of Liquid Robotics’ Wave Gliders--the first marine robots that propel themselves forward with wave energy. In November 2011, four Wave Gliders took off on a slow journey (they have a top speed of one and a half knots) across the Pacific, armed with sensors that measure oil spills, salinity levels, phytoplankton activity, and more. The goal: to spark interest in marine science, foster new innovations, and prove out Liquid Robotics’ technology. All data from the journey is available for free to anyone who registers on the Liquid Robotics website.
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau halfway through the journey, still going strong off the coast of Hawaii (Click Image To Enlarge)
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau arrives safely in Australia (Click Image To Enlarge)
Papa Mau is the first Wave Glider to finish his journey; the other three robots are still in transit. All four Wave Gliders were taken from San Francisco to the Monterey Bay, where they spent three weeks syncing their data with existing sensors in the area (from organizations like NOAA). From there, the robots’ paths diverged.
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau finally completes it's 9000-mile trip as it is hoisted aboard the Liquid Robotics' chase ship (Click Image to Enlarge)
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau gets a much needed rest. Some of its brethren are still in the water (Click Image To Enlarge)
The four robots continued together in a straight line to Hawaii, where they encountered the aforementioned 100 mph winds and 30-foot waves on a bright, sunny day. A nearby sailboat was so overwhelmed by the sudden nasty weather that it lost its mast and had to get rescued by a freighter. Liquid Robotics CEO Bill Vass says.
"When we first saw that, we thought a sensor must be broken. But all four [Wave Gliders] started to see it. It didn’t show up on satellite systems. You hear stories like that from sailors and no one believes it."
Liquid Robotics' Wave Glider robot Papa Mau included this souvenir from its 9000-mile journey (Click Image To Enlarge)
On the way to Hawaii, one of the Wave Gliders (cost: approximately $200,000) was bitten by a shark, which chomped through the controller cable for its rudder system. The robot made a pit stop in Oahu (all of the bots stopped briefly in Hawaii to sync up with a set of buoys), where it picked up a cable before heading back into the water. Sharks are often intrigued by the Wave Gliders and like to taste them, but this was the first time such severe damage had been done. "The shark bit through a steel-braided protective cable all the way into the control lines. The tooth is still embedded," says Vass. As a result of the incident, the next generation Wave Glider control cables will run inside the body in a metal tube.
Two of the Wave Gliders headed out from Hawaii to Shikoku, Japan; the other two--including Papa Mau--set off for Brisbane, Australia. Mau shot down past American Samoa and the Fiji Islands, and then swung north and entered the East Australian Current before finally landing in Australia. The other Australia-bound Wave Glider, Benjamin, took a detour in American Samoa because of a malfunctioning sensor. He’s now seven weeks behind Papa Mau.
The Japan-bound robots are also on their way. One of them had to get serviced before continuing its journey. says Vass.
"The ocean’s a rough place to operate."
The Wave Glider is currently being used for up to 60 different applications, including helping ships reduce fuel consumption, measuring carbon output, helping wit fishery management, and oil and gas exploration. As evidenced by the de-masted sailboat incident, the robot can detect things that satellites miss. Vass explains.
"From a satellite system you can’t tell an algal bloom and plankton bloom from a hydrocarbon plume. We can measure down to two parts per trillion of hydrocarbons. We can tell [if a plume is] from fish, a natural oil seep, an oil rig, a plankton plume."
In addition to Papa Mau’s arrival in Australia, Liquid Robotics also announced this week that it has selected the five finalists for the PacX Challenge, a competition that asked scientists to submit a research abstract outlining what they could do with the Wave Glider data sets. Entrants are studying everything from the respiration of the ocean to phytoplankton.
The winner will get to use a Wave Glider for six months and receive a $50,000 research grant, sponsored by BP. Vass says.
"If you were to hire a deep ocean research vessel, it would cost $37,500 per day on average. This is six months equivalent. It’s a pretty big award for scientists to go out and do that."
COMMENTARY: This is an incredible 9,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean by an aquatic fully-autonomous Wave Glider robot that succeeded in spite of a 100-mile per hour hurricane (after repairs from that shark bite). The research data that could be gathered by hundreds of Wave Glider's sailing strategically in the Earth's oceans could be invaluable in testing ocean water salinity, temperatures and wave actions for the purpose of evaluating the effects of global warming on our oceans. The oceans control the weather and any changes, even minute ones, can have devastating effects to ocean water salinity, temperatures and currents. In a blog post dated October 2, 2011, I wrote about NASA's Aquarius satellite, and how that satellite had produced the first global map of ocean surface salinity. Having a Wave Glider in the open seas provides a huge advantage over the Aquarius satellite. The data gathered by Wave Glider's could be copared with the satellite-captured data, to determine if there are any anomalies and similarities and prove very helpful in guiding future actions concerning global warming.
ROMO IS THE FIRST PERSONAL ROBOT THAT USES YOUR iPHONE AND SPECIAL APP. THE RESULT IS A ROMO ROBOT WITH SHARP TEETH AND TANK LEGS. BUT ROMO HUMANIZES TECHNOLOGY BY GIVING ROBOTS A PERSONALITY.
There’s a scene in Rocky IV that’s easily the worst in the series. Rocky, now swimming in money, has a robot butler bring out a cake for Paulie. Rocky tells Paulie to make a wish. Paulie responds,
“I wish I wasn’t in this nightmare!”
I can’t explain why any filmmaker could think the scene was a good idea, beyond maybe one unavoidable fact: For all the neat stuff mankind has built, ultimately we all want a robo buddy.
If Romo feels like an Apple product from an alternate dimension, that's by design, because Romo is modeled after the Bondi blue iMac (Click Image To Enlarge)
Romo is a Kickstarter project that reimagines the iPhone as a quirky, autonomous robot. It’s the second generation of the maker-friendly bot. Docking with a battery-powered tank, Romo can move around the room on his own, recognize faces, and initiate teleconferencing. But he’s also skinnable with all sorts of personalities, giving the iPhone a presence beyond the anonymous slab of glass.
For version two, the Romotive team wanted to create something more friendly, more approachable, so they teamed with a designer from Frog to dig through Apple’s lineage in this regard.
Romo's face will eventually be user-skinnable, like a Mr. Potato Head (Click Image To Enlarge)
Otherwise, Roma can autonomously navigate through your home while enabling video conferencing on demand (Click Image To Enlarge)
Romotive’s Jen McCabe tells Co.Design.
“We looked at the cases for all the Apple devices, from the original Mac to the MacBook Air. This robot is actually our attempt at the Boni Blue iMac. The design made computers accessible. We wanted the same thing for Romo.”
And Romo makes us wonder, what would it be like if the iPhone came with a face, standard? (Click Image To Enlarge)
With the friendly body in place, the team wanted to reskin Romo’s personality, too. Using custom software and help from an animator who’s worked on PBS children’s cartoons, the team worked to further capitalize on the tone of accessibility.
“How do we build a robot that has functions but is not creepy? We started developing a character--a kind of alien. He makes his own utterances like R2D2.”
Romo can even help bring you your morning cup of java (Click Image To Enlarge)
But at its heart, Romo is a platform for modders and makers. So the team made a difficult design decision, to allow users to change Romo’s very identity. In development now is a platform that allows a digital reskinning and revoicing of Romo’s personality. Users will be able to drag and drop new faces much like they’re giving a facelift to Mr. Potato Head.
And when it comes right down to it -- Romo is one fun contraption that will provide your children hours of playtime (Click Image To Enlarge)
“The goal has not been to impose [on] Romo a singular personality, but create the first personal robot for everyone.”
And that’s obviously a compelling idea. Romo has already greatly exceeded its funding goal on Kickstarter, but it’s not too late to pre-order your own for $150.
COMMENTARY: Damn it, why can't Samsung, HTC or Google make an Android phone and app that can create a Romo-like robot too? Why should Apple have all the fun? Romo definitely takes the field of robotics to a whole new level: personalization. The apps could be designed to perform certain things depending on your specific needs. Maybe it could become a clock that will wake you up in the morning as it runs circles around your nightstand as it growls: "Wake up, it's time to go to work!" It could even sing Christmas carols and pretend its Santa or Rudolf the Red-Nosed reindeer.
Romo is a BYOD robot (bring your own devices). The engineers at ROmotive made Romo easy to operate using a wide variety of Apple devices. At the present time, Romo will only allow users to dock their iPhone 4, iPhone 4S or iPod Touch 4. I assume that the engineers at Romotive are working on an iPhone 5 version. You can drive your Romo robot using an app designed for the following devices:
iPod Touch 3rd Generation and up
any Mac computer running OS 10.6 or later
Web browsers including any version of Chrome (Google), Safari (Apple), and Firefox (Mozilla)
Romo is the first wallet-friendly (relatively cheap) and backpack-sized consumer robot on the market that does these things:
Remote 2-way telepresence
Romotive will also provide developers with a SDK kit so that they can create their own apps and share them with Romo owners. Sounds like the Apple business model all over again.
I just checked Romotive's project page on Kickstarter, and they have already raised $149,808 from 969 contributors, exceeding their goal of $100,000.
EVERYONE’S FAVORITE HUMANOID ROBOT ASTRONAUT GETS REBUILT AS A STRENGTH-BOOSTING POWER SUIT, FOR USE IN ORBIT AND HERE ON EARTH.
NASA’s Robonaut, and subsequent Robonaut 2, have made countless headlines for potentially replacing astronauts in space. But now, score one for the meatbags. NASA is redesigning their robotic platform as an exoskeleton for humans.
NASA's Robonaut (top) and Robonaut 2 (Bottom) - Click Images To Enlarge
Designed, fabricated, and assembled in just nine months with the assistance of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition as well as Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, the X1 is an experimental motorized suit that could be wearable both by astronauts in space or everyday people back on Earth. Weighing 57 pounds, it’s designed to either inhibit or enhance human movement; astronauts can wear the device as a resistance-based exercise machine to stay fit in low gravity, while those with limited mobility could wear it to empower their actions back on the ground.
NASA's X1 Robotic Exoskeleton (Click Image To Enlarge)
The four motorized joints at the hips and knees work against or for the user to fit their specific use case, offering power or resistance appropriately. The exoskeleton itself is made of 10 total joints, the other six of which are passive, allowing flexible sidestepping, turning, etc.
But how did NASA adapt their Robonaut skeleton for humans? The key, Project Engineer Roger Rovekamp tells us, was reshaping and calibrating Robonaut’s motors for human use. Additionally, the team created a collection of mechanical safeties to protect soft human flesh inside a robotic frame.
NASA X1 Team (Click Image To Enlarge)
“Some of the concerns that people may not realize have to do with the inclusion of the added levels of safety that this type of device requires. Oftentimes requirements for safety and requirements for performance are at odds, and in these cases a tough decision has to be made where the engineers must balance the correct level of safety with the appropriate level of performance. Fortunately this is something NASA has become very good at.”
NASA's X1 Robotic Exoskeleton (Click Image To Enlarge)
In terms of ease of use, Rovekamp calls the system “intuitive” but references room for improvement. The largest issue is adjusting the X1 to fit people of various shapes and sizes. Currently, their design requires a tool to make this possible, but NASA aims to make these adjustments self-contained.
NASA's X1 Robotic Exoskeleton (Click Image To Enlarge)
“[A tool-free design] is ideal for the space environment where small objects tend to want to float away, but it could also be a useful feature here on Earth.”
Indeed, nothing ruins the mood of afterburner-kicking an extraterrestrial supervillain more than pulling out a wrench to tighten a loose boot. NASA had better get to work.
COMMENTARY: I definitely see a need for a robotic exoskeleton suit like the X1 in the health and medical device industries, especially for patients recovering from strokes and other mobility issues. There is actually quite a large amount of research in developing robotic exoskeleton suits within the U.S. military. In a blog post dated July 25, 2011, I profiled Raytheon's XOS2 Robotic Exoskeleton Body Suit, which is being tested by the U.S. Army. In blog article dated March 16, 2011, I wrote about Cyberdine, Inc, the inventor of "HAL", a wearable strap-on Cybor-robotic exoskeleton that can expand and improve physical capability and Lockheed Martin developer of HULC, a titanium hydraulic-powered "anthropomorphic exoskeleton" that may ultimately go a little way toward transforming soldiers into superhumans.