Today, Agility Robotics is announcing US $8 million in Series A funding "to accelerate product, technology, and business development." Leading the round is Playground Global, founded by Android co-creator and ex-Google Robotics head Andy Rubin, and also joining in is Sony Innovation Fund. We don't write about funding rounds all that often, but this could be the first robotics company to get such a significant amount of VC funding to develop a realistic commercial bipedal robot. There are certainly other well-funded companies working on bipeds, including Boston Dynamics and Schaft. But while it's not that clear what commercial applications these companies are targeting, Agility Robotics is very specifically and deliberately working on a legged robot that can make deliveries.
In terms of sheer speed and precision, delta robots are some of the most impressive to watch. They're also some of the most useful, for the same reasons--you can see them doing pick-and-place tasks in factories of all kinds, far faster than humans can. The delta robots that we're familiar with are mostly designed as human-replacement devices, but as it turns out, scaling them down makes them even more impressive. In Robert Wood's Microrobotics Lab at Harvard, researcher Hayley McClintock has designed one of the tiniest delta robots ever. Called milliDelta, it may be small, but it's one of the fastest moving and most precise robots we've ever seen.
When Singapore decided that they needed a new smart water assessment network to track pollution in their reservoirs, they obviously went with a robot, because otherwise you wouldn't be reading about it here. They also decided that the robot had to be "aesthetically pleasing" in order to "promote urban livability."
Apparently, one of the standards by which we should be measuring the progress of useful robotic manipulation is through the assembly of Ikea furniture. With its minimalistic and affordable Baltoscandian design coupled with questionably creditable promises of effortless assembly, Ikea has managed to convince generations of inexperienced and desperate young adults (myself included) that we can pretend to be grownups by buying and putting together our own furniture. It's never as easy as that infuritatingly calm little Ikea manual dude makes it look, though, and in terms of things we wish robots would solve, Ikea furniture assembly has ended up way higher on the priority list than maybe it should be. We've seen a variety of robotic systems tackle Ikea in the past, but today in Science Robotics is (perhaps for the first time) a mostly off-the-shelf system of a few arms and basic sensors that can put together the frame of a Stefan chair kit autonomously(ish) and from scratch. This research comes from the Control Robotics Intelligence (CRI) group at NTU in Singapore, and they've been working on the whole Ikea chair assembly thing for a while.
Automotive manufacturers were early adopters of robots, but now any industry that uses production processes and systems can benefit from automation. Today's robots are flexible enough to handle a wide variety of tasks. They still build cars, but they can also handle more complicated jobs, which is why stakeholders in defense, healthcare, retail, food and beverage, and electronics industries are all considering adding robots to their roster. To keep up with this growing demand, governments and private companies are investing in robotics research. A new report from Technavio predicts that the global R&D spending in the robotics industry will grow at a CAGR of more than 17 percent between 2016 and 2020.