- By Chris Ehrlich
- September 23, 2021
Robotic automation is coming—to everyone’s workplace.
Robotic automation is coming—to everyone’s workplace.
Palo Alto, California-based Tesla and its founder Elon Musk unveiled last month the concept for their Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot for “unsafe, repetitive or boring tasks.” While the Tesla Bot project has caused a stir—with Musk previously denouncing artificial intelligence (AI)-driven robots as doomsday inventions—the humanoid would be only the latest machine in the long-standing history of robotics. A new era of robotic automation has loomed for decades, since robotic arms first assisted manufacturing at factories. The data-driven era of robotics is upon us and powered by the convergence of both maturing data science and machine learning (ML)/AI technologies. Together, the technologies are enabling robots and cobots for more than manufacturing. Machine builders of every size and type are introducing robotic innovation for a variety of vertical industries, giving us a clear look at our more automated future. Here are some examples:
Robots by Industry
Chicago-based Formic is offering its version of the robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model to manufacturers. Clients pay a bundled hourly rate for robotic automation with no upfront costs. Formic works with robotics manufacturers and system integrators to deploy custom robotic solutions based on a client’s factory, processes and production application, the company says. The cost is typically 42% less than a manufacturer pays in operating expenses for the same application. The manufacturing robots can perform a range of jobs on a factory floor: material handling; inspection; welding; assembly; grinding; deburring; painting; and polishing.
Shenzhen, China-based Pudu Robotics developed its BellaBot, a delivery robot, for restaurants. The vertical, alloy robot features a cat-like face with “dozens” of expressions, four trays, a visual/laser navigation system and 3D sensors, Pudu says. BellaBot is also designed for human-robot interactions that are initiated when a customer touches its head or ears.
An employee loads BellaBot’s trays with orders and verbally tells it where to deliver them, based on the setup on its user interface.
San Francisco-based Simbe Robotics is delivering Tally, its robot for inventory audits and analytics, to retailers. The thin, vertical robot uses cameras and sensors to travel up and down store aisles several times a day during open hours, Simbe says. Tally captures on-shelf inventory data, such as position, price and promotion. Tally can capture 15,000 to 30,000 products an hour, leaving and returning to a docking station
on its own.
“Grace” is a humanoid robot medical assistant initially designed for elderly care. Grace uses AI to “naturally and emotionally” engage patients for intuitive communication, cognitive stimulation and medical biodata, according to Awakening Health Ltd., which developed Grace. The humanoid can, for instance, capture and catalog a person’s life story, lead meditation exercises and offer companionship.
Awakening Health Ltd. is a joint venture between Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics and Los Angeles-based Singularity Studio.
University of Michigan researchers are leading a three-year project to develop “interactive robot assistants” that can learn from workers at construction sites by watching and listening—and then complete tasks.
The team has developed an experimental ML- and virtual reality (VR)-based system that allows a worker to show the construction robot a task, according to U-M. The robot then devises a motion plan to complete the task, which the worker can approve or adjust. The robot also remembers corrections for the next task.
The project is being led by a research team at the U-M College of Engineering and U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, in collaboration with the University of Florida and Washington State University as well as construction industry partners. It is backed by the National Science Foundation.
Boston-based Motional and San Francisco-based Lyft are expanding their validated robotaxi service in Las Vegas to multiple major U.S. cities, starting in 2023. The fleets of driverless vehicles will be based on a Hyundai vehicle platform and integrated with sensors, computers and software, according to Motional. Motional and Lyft will also lay the “foundations” for more driverless fleets across the Lyft network.
Doha, Qatar-based Qatar Airways is using the Ultraviolet (UV) Cabin System by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Honeywell to advance its onboard hygiene measures. The system is about the size of a beverage cart and features extendable UV arms that treat aircraft seats, surfaces and cabins without using cleaning chemicals, according to the airline. Qatar Airways will use the Honeywell UV Cabin System as an additional step after manual disinfection.
The worker-led system can treat an airplane cabin in under 10 minutes.
Moline, Illinois-based John Deere acquired Newark, California-based Bear Flag Robotics for $250 million to accelerate its development and delivery of autonomous tractors for farms. Bear Flag’s AI system is installed onto the front end of John Deere tractors. Farmers can remotely “orchestrate” and monitor their fleet of autonomous tractors from a smartphone or tablet, Bear Flag says. Customers are charged on a per-acre basis for automated work, such as tillage, that’s performed with a range of tractor implements.
Waltham, Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics is targeting public safety as one of the markets for Spot, its agile mobile robot. The four-legged, dog-like robot can carry and power up to 14 kg of inspection equipment,
Boston Dynamics says. Users can remotely drive Spot to inspect hazardous packages from afar and get “eyes on” dangerous situations.
Falmouth, England-based Engineered Arts created its RoboThesbian to be a “robot actor.” RoboThespian features a range of expressive movements, speech and songs, Engineered Arts says. It can be animated to perform “however you wish.” The humanoid robot can be used at theaters, trade shows and for live experiences.
San Francisco-based SoftBank Robotics focuses on education with NAO, its robot teaching assistant. NAO is programmable, fluent in 20 languages and built to learn and share knowledge, SoftBank says. It is also designed to be interactive and “friendly” with students of all ages. The 58-cm-tall robot can, for instance, bring “lessons to life” and facilitate hands-on projects.
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