Robots, Design and Its Future

Aibo Robotic Dog

Sony has announced the release of its latest robotic dog, Aibo. This latest evolution of the autonomous robot can ‘form an emotional bond with members of the household while providing them with love, affection, and the joy of nurturing and raising a companion,’ Sony says.

Featuring a dynamic range of movements and eager responsiveness, the puppy bot also develops its own unique personality as it grows closer to its owners.

From a technical standpoint, Sony developed Ultracompact 1- and 2-Axis actuators to bring Aibo to life. The features allow it to express its emotion and give the bot’s compact body the freedom to move along a total of 22 axes, while its eyes utilize two OLEDs that offer nuanced expressions. Curious Aibo can actively seek out its owners, detect words of praise, smiles, head and back scratches, petting, and more. 

As the robot pup spends time with his owners, it also becomes more aware of its environment, learning to walk around an increasingly wider area and respond to a variety of situations. This adaptable behavior is made possible through inbuilt sensors that can detect and analyze sounds and images. Aibo also comes with fish-eye cameras that allow it to lead its life in close conjunction with its owners, changing over time, maturing and growing into a one-of-a-kind companion.

The autonomous robot can ‘form an emotional bond with members of the household’. Aibo features a dynamic range of movements and eager responsiveness. Aibo features a rounded form that exudes an unmistakable vitality. Aibo moves and gestures in hundreds of patterns.


Knightscope Security Robot

A robot produced by silicon valley startup Knightscope is being used to shoo homeless people in San Francisco. The device is being used by the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) branch in the area to ensure that homeless people do not populate the surrounding area.

 The autonomous robot – known as K9 – works by patrolling a set area using a combination of lasers, cameras, a thermal sensor, and GPS, to alert security services of potential criminal activity. Knightscope have created the robot as part of a crime-fighting fleet manufactured and managed to be a more economical option to security.

The robots can be rented out for $7 an hour – less than the average wage of a security guard in the area – and are 5-feet tall, weigh 400 pounds, and can travel up to 3 miles per hour. Companies like Uber and Microsoft have used them to monitor their parking lots and offices in the hopes of preventing crime.

San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the tech oriented city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The SPCA has since been ordered by the city to stop using the robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office or be fined $1,000 per day, according to the San Francisco Business Times.


Robomart Self-Driving Grocery

A robot grocery called Robomart is coming for the humble delivery worker in California.

This week at the Consumer Electronics Show, a startup (of the same name) debuted a self-driving, nearly fully autonomous grocery store on wheels. The robot will bring fruits, vegetables, and other perishable items from the supermarket aisle to customers’ doors.

According to Robomart founder Ali Ahmed, the company could compete with the on-demand giants taking on grocery delivery services, like Amazon, Instacart, and Postmates. Supermarket chains would license the platform and robots for a two-year lease, which Ahmed said will still be cheaper than opening a new store. They pocket the delivery fee instead of the on-demand operator.

“I believe we’re creating a new category,” Ahmed said at CES, according to TechCrunch.

Customers can use a smartphone app to hail the closest robot, which arrives packed with fresh produce. The app unlocks the doors, and the robot tracks what customers have taken using an array of cameras. Robomart charges the customer accordingly and moves on. The company has not revealed its delivery fee or a price range for the produce.

Robomart surveyed an unknown number of women between the ages of 24 and 44 and found that more than 85% of those polled said they do not shop for fruits and vegetables online because they think delivery is too expensive or because they do not trust the service to pick their produce. With Robomart, customers can cherry-pick their groceries from the vehicle, so are could be less concern about quality.

The vehicle is the culmination of 10 years of work from Ahmed, a serial entrepreneur. It’s about the size of a Sprinter van equipped with LiDAR, radar, and cameras that help it see and drive without a human operator. Ahmed said he expects Robomart to be fully autonomous this year.

In San Francisco, supermarket chains that use Robomart may have to keep a close watch on their vehicles. A security robot from startup Knightscope was vandalizedand toppled after it was deployed outside an animal rescue group in December.

The company has applied for an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and plans to launch a pilot program by summer 2018.


Atlas Sprinter Robot

Atlas Shrugged may be the name of Ayn Rand’s veritable doorstop of a novel, but no-one is shrugging indifferently when it comes to Boston Dynamic’s amazing Atlas robot. For the past five years, Atlas has lived up to A.I. expert Gary Bradski’s 2013 statement that “a new species, Robo sapiens, [is] emerging.”

Designed to carry out missions like search and rescue — and far, far more — the bipedal robot has remained on the front line of cutting edge robotics since its unveiling. Here are 7 of its most notable milestones. Standing 6-foot-2-inches and tipping the scale at 330 pounds, the first-gen Atlas makes its public debut in mid-2013.

Although Boston Dynamics is the name most associated with Atlas, it’s not the only group which is part of its creation. It’s a collaboration between DARPA and multiple tech companies, which also includes Sandia National Laboratories and iRobot, the maker of the infamous Roomba vacuum line. Boston’s work on Atlas is modeled on its previous PETMAN humanoid robot, along with its BigDog research.

In an early showcase of Atlas’ impressive agility, Boston Dynamics uploads a video showing the robot balancing on one leg, jogging over rocks, and being hit with projectiles. If it had a beer in its hand, we’d write this one off as fraternity hazing!

Boston Dynamics debuts a new, smaller version of Atlas. Now standing at just 5-foot-9-inches, a head shorter than the original models, it is designed to be able to operate both indoors and outdoors, across a range of terrain — including snow.

How do you recover from accusations that you’re a little bit clumsy? Simple: You pull off a flawless gymnastics routine that ends with you performing a picture-perfect backflip. At least, that’s the approach that Boston Dynamics takes with Atlas after its embarrassing stage-tripping demo.

Seeing a 5-foot-9-inch robot perform this feat underlines just how far it has come, while showcasing its amazing agility, balance, and control. Faith in Atlas: restored.

Giant aerial somersaults are pretty stonking impressive, but unless your Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman very few people use backflipping as their primary form of locomotion. That’s why the recent video of Atlas jogging is so impressive.

While slightly less Olympics-worthy, it’s a demonstration of a complex ability that would be far more important for a real world bipedal robot to master.


Pillo Healthcare Assistant Robot

The companion robot market will be an estimated $34.1 billion by 2022 according to a 2017 research report by P&S Market Research. The same report noted that global aging population has driven personal robots markets in developed regions.

With a growing emphasis on personalized healthcare and better engagement with consumers through technology including customer healthcare apps and augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver more effective and cost-efficient digital therapeutics, a healthcare companion robot could become another tool in the intelligent healthcare market.

Pillo Health and Orbita are working on an in-home companion robot that combines artificial intelligence with voice technology expected to ship in Q4 2018.

Both companies are early-stage startups. Pillo, a health tech startup in Boston, has raised around $4 million for their in-home digital care management platform that addresses personalized care for adults with chronic conditions. Investors include Stanley Ventures (the venture arm of Stanley Black & Decker), Bioadvance, Hikma Ventures (the venture arm of Hikma Pharmaceuticals) and Thompson Family Foundation.

Orbita creates voice-first experiences for platforms and devices has a round of seed funding from private investors.

The Pillo robot was created to use AI algorithms that proactively engage with patients, improve therapy adherence and deliver personalized care for adults living with chronic conditions.  The company says it hopes that Pillo will serve as a 24 x 7 in-home extension of the care team to accompany a patient at every point on their care journey.

"In-home digital care assistants like Pillo will never replace human interaction or the human touch, but they will go far to reduce many of the inefficiencies associated with healthcare today," said Emanuele Musini, CEO, Pillo Health.

 "Ultimately, this translates into lowering costs while improving outcomes."

Musini believes that voice-first technologies and AI-driven conversational experiences will take this value proposition to a whole new level.


Portable Robot & 3D Print House

Engineering firm Arup and architecture studio CLS Architetti have used a portable robot to 3D print a concrete house, which is on show for Milan design week.

Printed onsite on Milan's Piazza Cesare Beccaria, the 100-square-metre house was formed over the course of a week. Made up of 35 modules, the house features curved walls, a living area, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.

The walls were was built by a robot designed by Cybe Construction, a 3D printing company from Netherlands, using a special mix of concrete and additives developed by Italcementi, one of the world's largest cement suppliers. The roof, windows and doors were added afterwards.

The concrete mix is squeezed through the robot's nozzle like toothpaste from a tube, and each section of wall is built from the ground-up in layers. Arup stated that the full house was printed in just 48 hours effective time.

"Each section of wall takes around an hour to build and the concrete cures in five minutes," CLS Architetti told Dezeen. "There are possibilities to programme the robot to make them larger or smaller or maybe even different shapes. You can also print furniture."

The printed house is a prototype but the firm are working to develop it. CLS Architetti believes that the technology could be used to create housing quickly and cost-effectively where it is needed the most.

"The whole idea was to show to the world that there is an alternative possibility for construction – that with new 3D printing technology it is possible to build a house in a week," said the studio.

"And also, to show that there is a flexibility with the plans – the walls don't always have to be straight and that it could be built anywhere; you could even print on Mars if you want."

At the end of Milan design week, the house will be transported to Italcementi's headquarters to be displayed. Each of the modules will be lifted and transported separately, then reassembled on site.

"We really hope to move the project on to build a real house as this one is only a prototype," said studio. "We want to study the foundations, joints and connections and understand how it can last not only for just one week, but for years."

Arup said that the 3D printing method reduces construction waste by increasing efficiencies during the building process and allows materials to be reused at the end of the building’s life, rather than ending up as landfill.

"We need to make a major shift in the way the construction industry operates, away from today's 'make, use, dispose mentality," said Guglielmo Carra, Europe materials consulting lead at Arup.

"We've shown with this building that 3D printing technology is now advanced enough to take on more complex structures, and design buildings to be repurposed or reused at the end of their life," he continued. "This technology is critical to helping our industry become far more accurate, efficient and less wasteful.

The rise of 3D printing over the past decade led to numerous architects and designers trying to become the first to build a 3D-printed house. Others have been completed in China and Russia, plus a micro home has been 3D printed in Amsterdam.


Valkyrie Robot to Mars

NASA’s Valkyrie (R5) robot will never slip the surly bonds of Earth. The humanoid space robot is destined to spend the rest of its days on terra firma with the rest of us. But like Robonaut before it, the six-foot, 290-pound piece of machinery represents a link to the future.

She’s a first step toward a goal of human colonization of Mars and beyond, a wonderful dream for a robot currently tethered to the ceiling of a warehouse in snowy Lowell, Massachusetts, an hour’s drive outside of Boston. The Lowell model is one of four units produced by NASA . The space agency held onto one robot for its own purposes and awarded two as research loans to Northeastern University and nearby MIT, while a fourth was acquired by Scotland’s University of Edinburgh.

Northeastern acquired the $2 million robot in 2015, when Electrical & Computer Engineering Professor Taskin Padir penned a proposal outlining a plan to help NASA test the hardware for its Space Robotics Challenge, an open competition designed to help prep Valkryie’s successors prepare for the important task of setting up hostile Martian terrain for human settlement.

“They’ve done all of the hardware and we’re developing these high-level capabilities so Valkyrie does more than just move limbs,” says Northeastern PhD student, Murphy Wonsick. “She can autonomously make decisions, move around and accomplish tasks.”

All told, it’s a pretty ideal arrangement for all parties involved. Northeastern and MIT get access to $2 million state of the art space robots and NASA gets to outsource research for the platform to eager robotics and engineering students. Northeastern relocated its model to the NERVE (New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation) Center, a large warehouse space operated by UMass Lowell that houses large obstacle courses designed to put test robots and drones through their paces.

It’s an ideal environment for testing Valkyrie’s on-board vision systems and bipedal locomotion, setting up cramped and difficult-to-navigate surfaces to mimic the capsule and space walks some future generation robot will hopefully encounter one day. For now, Valkyrie is attached to the warehouse scaffolding — not because the robot is incapable of standing on its own, but rather because the robot’s price tag prohibits the team from taking any unnecessary risks.