Well now. three straight weeks of work travel amid a seemingly endless pandemic have finally caught up with me. Forgive me as I am writing this while under the influence of green tea and antivirals, so thanks in advance for the regular Herculean efforts of our text editor, David. Apparently the old adage of things happening in Vegas when you stay in Vegas doesn’t apply to viral loads.
Having managed to stave off COVID over the past few years, it’s fitting that I’m allowed to write about our fulfillment panel through the brain fog, as there’s strong evidence that the category has benefited more than any other from pandemic-driven automation.
It also comes a week after I devoted part of this column to Amazon’s robot game, which had an accelerating effect on the pre-pandemic category years. As I’ve said before, I’ll be speaking with Amazon’s VP Global Robotics, Fulfillment, Joseph Quinlivan, at our upcoming robotics event, as well as U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh — on separate panels, mind you.
The couple may have differing perspectives when it comes to the future of human labor, but they will undoubtedly agree on one thing, the fact that an automated future is inevitable. It’s happening now, in warehouses all over the world, and here in the US three companies are helping to lead it. I’m happy to report that we were able to get them all on one panel at next month’s event.
On July 21, Locus Robotics CEO Rick Faulk, Fetch Founder/Zebra Technologies VP Melonee Wise and Berkshire Gray SVP Jessica Moran will discuss how the category has evolved over the years, what the future holds for fulfillment and how third-party robotics can help businesses. helping the retail industry get a leg up on the big A.
With Agility Robotics and Boston Dynamics also appearing at the event, it’s a topic that will be everywhere, but this conversation will be zero. Best of all, the all-day event is completely free. Register here for tickets.
Oh, and we just opened our pitch-off for the event. If you have an early stage startup and want to share some (virtual) internship time with the biggest names in the industry, opportunities like this don’t come often. We also have an absolutely killer trio of judges that I’ll be happy to tell you about in the coming weeks. The rules are as follows:
- Be an early stage startup.
- Provide at least a minimum viable product.
- Focus on technology related to different aspects of robotics: AI, agtech, manufacturing, logistics, medical devices, food technology, transportation, data processing, materials science, SaaS, more.
- Be recorded everywhere (recording takes place virtually).
The deadline to apply is July 7, if you think you’ve got what it takes.
A few stragglers (ie news stories from after I submitted my newsletter design last Wednesday night) from re:Mars this week. The first is this cool little Los Angeles startup that I’ve talked to a bit on the show floor. The company developed a portal-based system that can automatically swap drone batteries and payloads to automate the process for large-scale deployments. Unsurprisingly, the company is getting good attention from drone delivery companies as well as military/police organizations.
So far, Airrow has raised $350,000 in pre-seed fundraising and is currently looking at the next round. The system, which comes with a drone, isn’t cheap, costing between $80,000 and $100,000. CEO Menachem Fehler told me: “At this stage we are still looking at the best approach, but we want to deliver the end-to-end solution.”
Amazon’s WorldForge simulator got some podium time at the event last week. SageMaker Ground Truth is a new feature for the service that creates images of objects that can be used to train robotics through simulation. AWS VP of Engineering Bill Vass tells australiabusinessblog.com, “What Ground Truth Synthetics does is you start with the 3D model in a number of different formats that you can bring in and it will synthetically generate photo-realistic images that match the resolution of the sensors you use.”
How about some new stories about space robots? Here’s an inside look at the NASA-hosted Lunabotics challenge, which found 39 teams of college students building robots designed to mine the lunar surface (sorry, Michael Bay and Aerosmith† Fun fact: For the first time ever, the competition was held indoors with a material designed to mimic regolith, the dusty material on the moon’s surface.
Further news, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory marks the work of NASA roboticist Ethan Schaler, who created the smartphone-sized swarming robots, Sensing With Independent Micro-Swimmers (SWIM, of course).
“My idea is, where can we take miniaturized robotics and apply them in interesting new ways to explore our solar system?” Schaler reports this in a press release. “With a swarm of small swimming robots, we can explore a much larger volume of ocean water and improve our measurements by having multiple robots collect data in the same area.”
This week Rita has the story on Keyi Technology, which has raised “tens of millions” (exact details undisclosed) in a new round of funding led by accessory powerhouse Anker. Honestly, it’s a match made in heaven. Keyi’s ClicBot is one of the most eye-catching educational robotics kits I’ve seen in years (and I see LOTS of educational robotics kits). I stopped into the halls of CES 2020 to take a closer look at the performance of the expression, which appears to have been heavily influenced by Pixar.
It’s a tough road – just ask Sphero, littleBits and Anki. But Keyi has enough to turn heads in the design department. Combined with Anki’s vast manufacturing and distribution resources, the product could prove to be a real powerhouse.
MIT presents FuseBot, a new project that combines RFID tagging with a robotic arm to pick up hidden objects from a stack. As long as some objects are tagged in the stack, the system can determine where the subject is most likely to be and the most efficient way to retrieve it.
“What this article first demonstrates is that the mere presence of an RFID-tagged item in the environment makes it much easier for you to perform other tasks more efficiently,” senior author Fadel Adib said in a statement. release. † “We were able to do this because we added multimodal reasoning to the system — FuseBot can reason about both vision and RF to understand a stack of items.”
And finally, Velodyne announced a multi-year deal this week that will bring its lidar system to Boston Dynamics robots. The accompanying press release doesn’t mention Spot by name, but that’s the most logical first recipient. While the system can be operated remotely, it relies heavily on sensors for navigation, both when operating autonomously and for some added protection during manual operation. You don’t want to be the reason your $17,000 robot falls off the remote oil rig you bought it to inspect.
Okay, back to bed. See you next week.
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