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Main article: Robotics

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 991

‘Jackrabbot 2’ takes to the sidewalks to learn how humans navigate politely

02:36 | 20 September

Autonomous vehicles and robots have to know how to get from A to B without hitting obstacles or pedestrians — but how can they do so politely and without disturbing nearby humans? That’s what Stanford’s Jackrabbot project aims to learn, and now a redesigned robot will be cruising campus learning the subtleties of humans negotiating one another’s personal space.

“There are many behaviors that we humans subconsciously follow – when I’m walking through crowds, I maintain personal distance or, if I’m talking with you, someone wouldn’t go between us and interrupt,” said grad student Ashwini Pokle in a Stanford News release. “We’re working on these deep learning algorithms so that the robot can adapt these behaviors and be more polite to people.”

Of course there are practical applications pertaining to last mile problems and robotic delivery as well. What do you do if someone stops in front of you? What if there’s a group running up behind? Experience is the best teacher, as usual.

The first robot was put to work in 2016, and has been hard at work building a model of how humans (well, mostly undergrads) walk around safely, avoiding one another while taking efficient paths, and signal what they’re doing the whole time. But technology has advanced so quickly that a new iteration was called for.

The JackRabbot project team with JackRabbot 2 (from left to right): Patrick Goebel, Noriaki Hirose, Tin Tin Wisniewski, Amir Sadeghian, Alan Federman, Silivo Savarese, Roberto Martín-Martín, Pin Pin Tea-mangkornpan and Ashwini Pokle

The new robot has a vastly improved sensor suite compared to its predecessor: two Velodyne lidar units giving 360 degree coverage, plus a set of stereo cameras making up its neck that give it another depth-sensing 360 degree view. The cameras and sensors on its head can also be pointed wherever needed, of course, just like ours. All this imagery is collated by a pair of new GPUs in its base/body.

Amir Sadeghian, one of the researchers, said this makes Jackrabbot 2 “one of the most powerful robots of its size that has ever been built.”

This will allow the robot to sense human motion with a much greater degree of precision than before, and also operate more safely. It will also give the researchers a chance to see how the movement models created by the previous robot integrate with this new imagery.

The other major addition is a totally normal-looking arm that Jackrabbot 2 can use to gesture to others. After all, we do it, right? When it’s unclear who should enter a door first or what side of a path they should take, a wave of the hand is all it takes to clear things up. Usually. Hopefully this kinked little gripper accomplishes the same thing.

Jackrabbot 2 can zoom around for several hours at a time, Sadeghian said. “At this stage of the project for safety we have a human with a safety switch accompanying the robot, but the robot is able to navigate in a fully autonomous way.”

Having working knowledge of how people use the space around them and how to predict their movements will be useful to startups like Kiwi, Starship, and Marble. The first time a delivery robot smacks into someone’s legs is the last time they consider ordering something via one.

 


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iRobot i7+ initial impressions

19:18 | 18 September

After its go around my apartment, the i7+ is “still learning.” It’s fitting sentiment for the new Roomba, which iRobot is positioning as much as a platform as a robotic vacuum. Like a smartphone, it’s designed to learn new tricks over the life of the product, through over the air updates.

In this particular case, however, it’s learning the layout of my place. The i7+ builds on the moderately useful dirt mapping rolled out on the 900 series early last year. With a couple of cleans, the new Roomba gets to know the layout of your apartment, building a “Smart Map” in the process.

iRobot claims such features will have added usefulness as time goes by, including the long-promised ability to serve as a sort of connective tissue for a user’s smart home. For now, however, they serve one key role: teaching the robot to distinguish one room from the next. That means, after a couple of cleans, you’ll be able to designate a bedroom accordingly and tell the Roomba to go clean the bedroom.

The utility there is pretty straight forward, I think. Before this, cleaning a specific room was a matter of waiting for the vacuum to clean the entire space — or, as I’ve more often done, picked the damn thing up, walked to the room, placed it down and hit Clean. That, of course, doesn’t comport with iRobot’s ultimate goal of keeping the robot out of sight.

Even with the new model, I still find myself doing this. Until the Roomba is sophisticated enough to overcome great obstacles like doorway thresholds and can conveniently navigate around my living room without disturbing my rabbit, I’m going to have to continue doing this to some degree.

What’s interesting here though, is that the robot is smart enough to understand when it has been moved to a different room and starts drawing up a new map, accordingly. After one trip around the bedroom and living room (which make up most my apartment) and two goes through my weirdly long entry hallway, it’s at 70 and 95 percent of the maps, respectively.

After it’s learned the different rooms, the Roomba continues to update as it goes along. I’ve noticed already some differences between sweeps. Maybe there was something in the way on the floor or the vacuum just didn’t get to it for some reason. In the future, I may rearrange my furniture, and the Roomba will have to adjust accordingly.

This is all still early stages for me and the new Roomba, and I do plan to revisit the hardware once we’ve had a bit more time together. In the meantime, I’m pretty impressed with how the device has been refined over the generations. There are little touches here and there, like swapping the mechanical buttons for flush touch ones, making it less sensitive to things like water and dust.

Roomba says the i7 is quieter than previous generations. It is a bit, though it’s not silent by any stretch — and things get really loud when you add in the Clean base. The process of automatically emptying the bin is short, but man is it loud. Still, there’s a lot to be said for only having to empty it about one-thirtieth of the time. So far, that process works like a charm. When it’s finished, the Roomba simply mounts the base and goes to work. You can also go through the process manually via the app.

Between the improved hardware, mapping and the simple app, which errs of the side of offering almost too much information, it’s hard to complain about the experience the new Roomba affords. Of course, it will cost you.

The i7 alone is $700. The i7+ with clean base is $950, which I suspect is pushing the boundaries of what people will pay for a robotic vacuum. Granted, iRobot has proven that people are willing to spend for the sort of maintenance a Roomba provides, given that the product is currently the number one vacuum in the U.S. But if the i7 is the iPhone XR, the i7+ is the iPhone XS Max. The advantages are obvious, but you’re going to pay for them.

 


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UBTECH launches a STEM robotics building kit

16:00 | 18 September

Here in the States, UBTECH is probably best know for the crazy-walking Star Wars Stormtrooper it released late last year. But the company’s been producing robotics toys for long enough to get a vote of confidence in the form of a $820 million Series C late last year.

The Chinese company’s latest project takes a decidedly more educational bent, with a plan to teach kids STEM skills with the 410-piece JIMU Robot BuilderBots Series: Overdrive Kit. There are two primary robots — a bulldozer and a dump truck — built with a pair of motors and sensors that react to their environment.

A connected app walks you through the building steps with a 360-degree view and also doubles as a remote control, once they’re built. There’s a coding element on board, as well, designed to teach kids a bit of programming using Google’s Blockly language.

At $120, the kit is fairly reasonably priced — though its got plenty of competition. Every company from LEGO to Sphero is attempting to horn in on the STEM/STEAM coding market, and here in the States at least, the UBTECH name doesn’t carry much water.

The product has decent retail outreach, with availability at Target and Amazon, but seeding the product in schools could go a ways toward helping spread it by word of mouth.

 


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African experiments with drone technologies could leapfrog decades of infrastructure neglect

10:30 | 16 September

Jake Bright Contributor
Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.

A drone revolution is coming to sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries across the continent are experimenting with this 21st century technology as a way to leapfrog decades of neglect of 20th century infrastructure.

Over the last two years, San Francisco-based startup Zipline launched a national UAV delivery program in East Africa; South Africa passed commercial drone legislation to train and license pilots; and Malawi even opened a Drone Test Corridor to African and its global partners. 

In Rwanda, the country’s government became one of the first adopters of performance-based regulations for all drones earlier this year. The country’s progressive UAV programs drew special attention from the White House and two U.S. Secretaries of Transportation.

Some experts believe Africa’s drone space could contribute to UAV development in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

“The fact that [global drone] companies can operate in Africa and showcase amazing use cases…is a big benefit,” said Lisa Ellsman, co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance.

Test in Africa

It’s clear that the UAV programs in Malawi and Rwanda are getting attention from international drone companies.

Opened in 2017, Malawi’s Drone Test Corridor has been accepting global applications. The program is managed by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority in partnership with UNICEF.

The primary purpose is to test UAV’s for humanitarian purposes, but the program “was designed to provide a controlled platform for… governments…and other partners…to explore how UAV’s can help deliver services,” according to Michael Scheibenreif, UNICEF’s drone lead in Malawi.

That decision to include the private sector opened the launch pads for commercial drones. Swedish firm GLOBEHE has tested using the corridor and reps from Chinese e-commerce company JD have toured the site. Other companies to test in Malawi’s corridor include Belgian UAV air traffic systems company Unifly and U.S. delivery drone manufacturer Vayu, according to Scheibenreif.

Though the government of Rwanda is most visible for its Zipline partnership, it shaping a national testing program for multiple drone actors. 

“We don’t want to limit ourselves with just one operator,” said Claudette Irere, Director General of the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MiTEC).

“When we started with Zipline it was more of a pilot to see if this could work,” she said. “As we’ve gotten more interest and have grown the program…this gives us an opportunity to open up to other drone operators, and give space to our local UAV operators.”

Irere said Rwanda has been approached by 16 drone operators, “some of them big names”—but could not reveal them due to temporary NDAs. She also highlighted Charis UAS, a Rwandan drone company, that’s used the country’s test program, and is now operating commercially in and outside of Rwanda.

UAV Policy

Africa’s commercial drone history is largely compressed to a handful of projects and countries within the last 5-7 years. Several governments have jumped out ahead on UAV policy.

In 2016, South Africa passed drone legislation regulating the sector under the country’s Civil Aviation Authority. The guidelines set training requirements for commercial drone pilots to receive Remote Pilot Licenses (RPLs) for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. At the end of 2017 South Africa had registered 686 RPLs and 663 drone aircraft systems, according to a recent State of Drone Report.

Over the last year and a half Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania have issued or updated drone regulatory guidelines and announced future UAV initiatives.  

In 2018, Rwanda extended its leadership role on drone policy when it adopted performance-based regulations for all drones—claiming to be the first country in the world to do so.

So what does this mean?

“In performance-based regulation the government states this is our safety threshold and you companies tell us the combination of technologies and operational mitigations you’re going to use to meet it,” said Timothy Reuter, Civil Drones Project Head at the World Economic Forum.

Lisa Ellsman, shared a similar interpretation.

“Rather than the government saying ‘you have to use this kind of technology to stop your drone,’ they would say, ‘your drone needs to be able to stop in so many seconds,’” she said.

This gives the drone operators flexibility to build drones around performance targets, vs. “prescriptively requiring a certain type of technology,” according to Ellsman.

Rwanda is still working out the implementation of its performance-based regulations, according to MiTEC’s Claudette Irere. They’ve entered a partnership with the World Economic Forum to further build out best practices. Rwanda will also soon release an online portal for global drone operators to apply to test there.

As for Rwanda being first to release performance-based regulations, that’s disputable. “Many States around the world have been developing and implementing performance-based regulations for unmanned aircraft,” said Leslie Cary, Program Manager for the International Civil Aviation Authority’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft System. “ICAO has not monitored all of these States to determine which was first,” she added.

Other governments have done bits and pieces of Rwanda’s drone policy, according to Timothy Reuter, the head of the civil drones project at the World Economic Forum. “But as currently written in Rwanda, it’s the broadest implementation of performance based regulations in the world.”

Commercial Use Cases

As the UAV programs across Africa mature, there are a handful of strong examples and several projects to watch.

With Zipline as the most robust and visible drone use case in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While the startup’s primary focus is delivery of critical medical supplies, execs repeatedly underscore that Zipline is a for-profit venture backed by $41 million in VC.

The San Francisco-based robotics company — that also manufactures its own UAVs — was one of the earliest drone partners of the government of Rwanda.

Zipline demonstration

The alliance also brought UPS and the UPS Foundation into the mix, who supports Zipline with financial and logistical support.

After several test rounds, Zipline went live with the program in October, becoming the world’s first national drone delivery program at scale.

“We’ve since completed over 6000 deliveries and logged 500,000 flight kilometers,” Zipline co-founder Keenan Wyrobek told TechCrunch. “We’re planning to go live in Tanzania soon and talking to some other African countries.”  

In May Zipline was accepted into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP). Out of 149 applicants, the Africa focused startup was one of 10 selected to participate in a drone pilot in the U.S.– to operate beyond visual line of sight medical delivery services in North Carolina.    

In a non-delivery commercial use case, South Africa’s Rocketmine has built out a UAV survey business in 5 countries. The company looks to book $2 million in revenue in 2018 for its “aerial data solutions” services in mining, agriculture, forestry, and civil engineering.

“We have over 50 aircraft now, compared to 15 a couple years ago,” Rocketmine CEO Christopher Clark told TechCrunch. “We operate in South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and moved into Mexico.”

Rocketmine doesn’t plan to enter delivery services, but is looking to expand into the surveillance and security market. “After the survey market that’s probably the biggest request we get from our customers,” said Clark.

More African use cases are likely to come from the Lake Victoria Challenge — a mission specific drone operator challenge set in Tanzania’s Mwanza testing corridor. WeRobotics has also opened FlyingLabs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Benin. And the government of Zambia is reportedly working with Sony’s Aerosense on a drone delivery pilot program.

Africa and Global UAV

With Europe, Asia, and the U.S. rapidly developing drone regulations and testing (or already operating) delivery programs (see JD.com in China), Africa may not take the sole position as the leader in global UAV development — but these pilot projects in the particularly challenging environments these geographies (and economies) represent will shape the development of the drone industry. 

The continent’s test programs — and Rwanda’s performance-based drone regulations in particular — could advance beyond visual line of sight UAV technology at a quicker pace. This could set the stage for faster development of automated drone fleets for remote internet access, commercial and medical delivery, and even give Africa a lead in testing flying autonomous taxis.

“With drones, Africa is willing to take more bold steps more quickly because the benefits are there and the countries have been willing to move in a more agile manner around regulation,” said the WEF’s Reuter.

“There’s an opportunity for Africa to maintain its leadership in this space,” he said. “But the countries need to be willing to take calculated risk to enable technology companies to deploy their solutions there.”

Reuter also underscored the potential for “drone companies that originate in Africa increasingly developing services.”

There’s a case to be made this is already happening with Zipline. Though founded in California, the startup honed its UAVs and delivery model in Rwanda.

“We’re absolutely leveraging our experience built in Africa as we now test through the UAS IPP program to deliver in the U.S.,” said Zipline co-founder Keenan Wyrobek.

 


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Brazilian startup Yellow raises $63M — the largest Series A ever for a Latin American startup

16:00 | 13 September

After selling their ridesharing startup, 99, to Didi Chuxing for $1 billion last year, Ariel Lambrecht and Renato Freitas didn’t waste any time throwing their hats back in the ring.

Months after their big exit, the pair joined forces with Eduardo Musa, who spent two decades in the bicycle industry, to start another São Paulo-based mobility startup. Yellow, a bike- and scooter-sharing service, quickly captured the attention of venture capitalists, raising a $9 million seed round in April and now, the company is announcing the close of a $63 million Series A.

The round is the largest Series A financing ever for a startup in Latin America, where tech investment, especially from U.S.-based firms, has historically remained low. 2017, however, was a banner year for Latin American startups; 2018, it seems, is following suit. More than $600 million was invested in the first quarter of 2018, partly as a result of increased activity from international investors. And just last month, on-demand delivery startup Rappi brought in $200 million to become the second Latin American company to garner a billion-dollar valuation.

GGV Capital has led the round for Yellow . The Silicon Valley firm is a backer of several other mobility companies, including Grab, Hellobike and Didi Chuxing. Yellow represents the firm’s first foray into the Latin American tech ecosystem. Brazilian VC firm Monashees, Grishin Robotics, Base10 Partners and Class 5 also participated.

“We think there’s a new economy emerging in Latin America,” GGV managing partner Hans Tung told TechCrunch. “A lot of people are more cautious but what we’ve seen with our experience in China, when internet penetration started to happen, a new economy started to emerge that’s more efficient.”

Yellow’s bikes and e-scooters are only available in São Paulo. With the investment, the startup plans to expand to Mexico City, Colombia, Chile and Argentina, as well as add e-bikes to its portfolio of micro-mobility options.

The company also plans to tap into local resources by building a scooter manufacturing facility in the region. Yellow CEO Eduardo Musa told me the company doesn’t want to be reliant on Chinese manufacturers to import scooters and that a local supplier is a whole lot cheaper. The company’s bikes are already sourced locally.

“Since the beginning, we wanted to be vertically integrated,” Musa told TechCrunch. “We definitely believe you need a constant inflow of hardware and you need control and management over the supply chain … not only because of the cost but also because of the quality control.”

Yellow is one of several e-scooter startups to raise VC in 2018. Bird and Lime, for example, both raised large rounds of capital at billion-dollar valuations. A good chunk of that capital has gone into building more scooters, placing a huge demand on the few Chinese manufacturers that’ve tapped into the market.

“There was simply not available capacity or factories prepared to fulfill the demand that arose from the other scooter sharing companies,” Musa said. “This became, very, very quickly, a major bottleneck for this industry.”

 

 

 


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Mercedes-Benz’s vision for autonomy is flexible and fugly

23:26 | 10 September

Mercedes-Benz shared on Monday its vision for how people and packages will someday move in dense urban environments. It’s called Vision Urbanetic—an all-electric autonomous concept vehicle that can change from a toaster-looking cargo van to a dung beetle-esque (or it is bike helmet) people mover.

The Vision Urbanetic joins a growing list of fugly autonomous vehicle concepts to debut in the past two years. But that’s not really the point here.

Moving past the hot takes on its looks, the Urbanetic shows where Mercedes and other automakers are headed. This is a concept, not plans for a production vehicle, after all.

Mercedes-Benz Vision Urbanetic.

Mercedes’s vision of a powertrain platform that can house several different vehicle bodies is not unique. Automakers are increasingly moving towards a universal powertrain platform for some of its production vehicles to improve manufacturing efficiencies and reduce costs.

The difference here is that the vehicle bodies could be changed on the fly by a team of workers back at a mobility hub, as depicted in the video below.

The system is based on an autonomous driving platform onto which the respective bodies (people mover or cargo) are fixed. The underlying platform incorporates all the driving functions, which means the autonomous chassis could make its way to its next job location without a body attached, the company said.

The people-mover body type has space for up to twelve passengers, while the cargo module has a storage volume of 353 cubic feet, can be divided into two levels and transport up to 10 palettes.

The idea presents new logistics and infrastructure challenges that any company with plans to deploy a commercial autonomous vehicle ride-hailing fleet will also face. If this vision were ever to become reality, Mercedes would need hubs located near urban centers, where the Urbanetic vehicles would be housed, maintained and charged. This is also where the body type would be swapped out, depending on needs at that time.

Mercedes seems to have thought through some of this. The vehicle bodies could be swapped out automatically or manually, and take a few minutes, Mercedes said. It also outlined a dynamic communications system that would be able to capture and process data in real time to determine what kinds of vehicles are needed, and where. For instance, it could identify a crowd of people gathered in a certain area or capture local information that a concert would soon be over and then deploy more ride-hailing vehicles to that location.

Mercedes said the vehicles could be used in restricted areas such as factory site or airport.

 


0

Not hog dog? PixFood lets you shoot and identify food

22:41 | 10 September

What happens when you add AI to food? Surprisingly, you don’t get a hungry robot. Instead you get something like PixFood. PixFood lets you take pictures of food, identify available ingredients, and, at this stage, find out recipes you can make from your larder.

Martin Tonnesson, CEO of IMP Digital, created PixFood to work with his international collection of published recipes. The tool is aimed at “disrupting the food and beverage industry” with AI.

It is privately funded.

“There are tons of recipe apps out there, but all they give you is, well, recipes,” said Tonnesson. “On the other hand, PixFood has the ability to help users get the right recipe for them at that particular moment. There are apps that cover some of the mentioned, but it’s still an exhausting process – since you have to fill in a 50-question quiz so it can understand what you like.”

They launched in August and currently have 3,000 monthly active users from 10,000 downloads. They’re working on perfecting the system for their first users.

“PixFood is AI-driven food app with advanced photo recognition. The user experience is quite simple: it all starts with users taking a photo of any ingredient they would like to cook with, in the kitchen or in the supermarket,” said Tonnesson. “Why did we do it like this? Because it’s personalized. After you take a photo, the app instantly sends you tailored recipe suggestions! At first, they are more or less the same for everyone, but as you continue using it, it starts to learn what you precisely like, by connecting patterns and taking into consideration different behaviors.”

In my rudimentary tests the AI worked acceptably well and did not encourage me to eat a monkey. While the app begs the obvious question – why not just type in “corn?” – it’s an interesting use of vision technology that is definitely a step in the right direction.

Tonnesson expects the AI to start connecting you with other players in the food space, allowing you to order corn (but not a monkey) from a number of providers.

“Users should also expect partnerships with restaurants, grocery, meal-kit, and other food delivery services will be part of the future experiences,” he said.

 


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Vtrus launches drones to inspect and protect your warehouses and factories

04:37 | 7 September

Knowing what’s going on in your warehouses and facilities is of course critical to many industries, but regular inspections take time, money, and personnel. Why not use drones? Vtrus uses computer vision to let a compact drone not just safely navigate indoor environments but create detailed 3D maps of them for inspectors and workers to consult, autonomously and in real time.

Vtrus showed off its hardware platform — currently a prototype — and its proprietary SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) software at TechCrunch Disrupt SF as a Startup Battlefield Wildcard company.

There are already some drone-based services for the likes of security and exterior imaging, but Vtrus CTO Jonathan Lenoff told me that those are only practical because they operate with a large margin for error. If you’re searching for open doors or intruders beyond the fence, it doesn’t matter if you’re at 25 feet up or 26. But inside a warehouse or production line every inch counts and imaging has to be carried out at a much finer scale.

As a result, dangerous and tedious inspections, such as checking the wiring on lighting or looking for rust under an elevated walkway, have to be done by people. Vtrus wouldn’t put those people out of work, but it might take them out of danger.

The drone uses depth-sensing both to build the map and to navigate and avoid obstacles.

The drone, called the ABI Zero for now, is equipped with a suite of sensors, from ordinary RGB cameras to 360 ones and a structured-light depth sensor. As soon as it takes off, it begins mapping its environment in great detail: it takes in 300,000 depth points 30 times per second, combining that with its other cameras to produce a detailed map of its surroundings.

It uses this information to get around, of course, but the data is also streamed over wi-fi in real time to the base station and Vtrus’s own cloud service, through which operators and inspectors can access it.

The SLAM technique they use was developed in-house; CEO Renato Moreno built and sold a company (to Facebook/Oculus) using some of the principles, but improvements to imaging and processing power have made it possible to do it faster and in greater detail than before. Not to mention on a drone that’s flying around an indoor space full of people and valuable inventory.

On a full charge, ABI can fly for about 10 minutes. That doesn’t sound very impressive, but the important thing isn’t staying aloft for a long time — few drones can do that to begin with — but how quickly it can get back up there. That’s where the special docking and charging mechanism comes in.

The Vtrus drone lives on and returns to a little box, which when a tapped-out craft touches down, sets off a patented high-speed charging process. It’s contact-based, not wireless, and happens automatically. The drone can then get back in the air perhaps half an hour or so later, meaning the craft can actually be in the air for as much as six hours a day total.

Probably anyone who has had to inspect or maintain any kind of building or space bigger than a studio apartment can see the value in getting frequent, high-precision updates on everything in that space, from storage shelving to heavy machinery. You’d put in an ABI for every X square feet depending on what you need it to do; they can access each other’s data and combine it as well.

The result of a quick pass through a facility. Obviously this would make more sense if you could manipulate it in 3D, as the operator would.

This frequency and the detail which which the drone can inspect and navigate means maintenance can become proactive rather than reactive — you see rust on a pipe or a hot spot on a machine during the drone’s hourly pass rather than days later when the part fails. And if you don’t have an expert on site, the full 3D map and even manual drone control can be handed over to your HVAC guy or union rep.

You can see lots more examples of ABI in action at the Vtrus website. Way too many to embed here.

Lenoff, Moreno, and third co-founder Carlos Sanchez, who brings the industrial expertise to the mix, explained that their secret sauce is really the software — the drone itself is pretty much off the shelf stuff right now, tweaked to their requirements. (The base is an original creation, of course.)

But the software is all custom built to handle not just high-resolution 3D mapping in real time but the means to stream and record it as well. They’ve hired experts to build those systems as well — the 6-person team already sounds like a powerhouse.

The whole operation is self-funded right now, and the team is seeking investment. But that doesn’t mean they’re idle: they’re working with major companies already and operating a “pilotless” program (get it?). The team has been traveling the country visiting facilities, showing how the system works, and collecting feedback and requests. It’s hard to imagine they won’t have big clients soon.

 


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Seismic debuts robotic-assistive Powered Clothing undergarments

23:03 | 6 September

Powered Clothing is not a robotic exoskeleton. Not in the standard understanding of the term, at least. Seismic CEO Rich Mahoney wants to make that much clear. 

“Exoskeletons are what the public understands, with regards to wearable robotics,” Mahoney told TechCrunch in an interview ahead of the product’s debut onstage this week at Disrupt. “We’re absolutely not an exoskeleton. Part of our insight we saw is that everyone is wearing clothing and no one is wearing robots.”

Around the TechCrunch office, we’ve taken to calling the product “robotic underwear,” something that paints a bit more accurate a picture of what you’re getting yourself into. The product is designed to offer similar assistive functionality to what you get with SuitX or Ekso, albeit on a smaller scale, in a more discreet package.

“Our first product is integrating what we call intelligent wearable strength, focused on the core,” says Mahoney. “It symbiotically provides assistant to the hips and lower back to support mobility and posture. There are many people that can use that, but we’re really focusing on where the need is. It’s the broad consumer, wellness market.”

The company’s initial demographic is the aging baby boomer generation — wearers who are still mobile but can use an extra assist from Seismic’s textile-based tendons. It’s a far more subtle take on the company’s original model, a DARPA-funded spin-off of research organization, SRI International.

In those prehistoric days of 2016, the company was known as Superflex, and the product looked something a bit more akin to a bionic wetsuit. These days, the company employs a number designers alongside its robotics staff to deliver a wearable that’s, well, a bit more wearable.

“We understood that we were an apparel company and really saw a consumer-facing brand as being the way we wanted to approach the market,” says Mahoney. “We really have to think about what people understand and how we can bring functionality to clothing, while maintaining comfort, aesthetic and emotion. Really, our company is a fusion of apparel and robotics.”

Powered Clothing will come to market in limited quantities this year at a price “similar to high-end, premium apparel.”

 


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GreyOrange raises $140M to develop fully-automated robotics for warehouses

21:03 | 6 September

GreyOrange, a Singapore-headquartered firm that develops robots for warehouses, has pulled in a $140 million Series C funding round as it targets more expansion and growth.

The company was started in 2011. Today it has five regional offices across the world — covering India, Singapore, Japan, Germany, and the U.S. — three R&D centers and more than 60 ‘installations’ of its tech with retail customers worldwide. Right now, GreyOrange’s two main products are a robot ‘butler’ that moves heavy shelves and installations around warehouses and a robotic ‘sorter’ belt that organizes packages, but the vision is to build something more holistic.

“In three to four years we want to be the first in the world to achieve the goal of operating a fully-autonomous warehouse,” founders Samay Kohli and Akash Gupta told TechCrunch in an interview.

That’s a huge goal, and it puts the company in competition with established firms like Amazon-owned Kiva among others.

This new injection of funding is aimed at setting the trajectory to reach the startup’s lofty target. The round was led by Mithril Capital, a firm created by U.S. investor Peter Thiel and Ajay Royan, with participation from Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal and existing backers that include Blume Ventures.

The capital takes GreyOrange to $170 million raised from investors that include Mitsubishi and Flipkart .

“Warehousing is completely under-serviced and nothing has really changed,” Kohli and Gupta said. “The stuff you can do now is really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re trying to strengthen our backbone, so the majority of this investment will go into our own supply chain as we really try to take it 5-10X over the next couple of years.”

GreyOrange recently forayed into North America with the opening of a headquarters in Atlanta and plans to launch a research center in Boston. The company is also looking to develop its business in the country, too. It said in a press statement that it is aiming to deploy over 20,000 robots in the next three years.

 


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