Earlier this year, Diligent Robotics introduced a mobile manipulator called Poli, designed to take over non-care related, boring logistical tasks from overworked healthcare professionals who really should be doing better things with their time. Specifically, Diligent wants to automate things like bringing supplies from a central storage area to patient rooms, which sounds like it should be easy, but is actually very difficult. Autonomous mobile manipulation in semi-structured environments is hard at the best of times, and things get even harder in places like hospitals that are full of busy humans rushing around trying to save the lives of other humans. Over the past few months, Diligent has been busy iterating on the design of their robot, and they've made enough changes that it's no longer called Poli. It's a completely new robot, called Moxi.
Last Monday, we covered the new, updated, and way way better guidelines for the ANA Avatar XPRIZE. Since we were mostly talking with the folks over at XPRIZE, we didn't realize that ANA (All Nippon Airways) is putting a massive amount of effort into this avatar concept-- they're partnering with JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, "to create a new space industry centered around real-world avatars." AVATAR X aims to capitalize on the growing space-based economy by accelerating development of real-world Avatars that will enable humans to remotely build camps on the Moon, support long-term space missions and further explore space from afar. These avatars will be essentially the same sorts of things that the Avatar XPRIZE is looking to advance: Robotic systems designed to operate with a human in the loop through immersive telepresence, allowing them to complete tasks like a human could without a human needing to be physically there. JAXA says that they're interested in the usual stuff, like remote construction in space and maintenance, but also in "space-based entertainment and travel for the general public," so use your imagination on that one.
In-hand manipulation is one of the things near the top of a very, very, very long list of things that humans do without thinking that are extraordinarily difficult for robots. It's the act of repositioning an object with one hand, usually with your fingers--you do it whenever you pick up a pen, for example, to switch from a "picking up" grasp to a "writing something" grasp. Next time you do this, pay attention to the intricate, coordinated motion that happens, and ask yourself just how in the world you could honestly expect a robot to do something similar. And yet, robots are learning to do such things. For example, OpenAI recently taught a five-fingered hand to manipulate a cube, which is great, if you have a lot of patience and/or computing resources, and the budget for a fancy hand and stuff.
When it comes to machine automation, hardware costs and complexity add up fast. As your requirements expand, so does your ever-growing list of hardware: a controller for robot control. You end up with a lot of controllers, perhaps even proprietary, ultimately end up being a lot of systems to manage – and a lot of dollars out of your pocket. With the right software and a single real-time Windows PC, you can consolidate all of those controllers and their associated costs. Your Windows IPC becomes the only controller that you need.
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!): Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos. Insects are among the most agile natural flyers. Hypotheses on their flight control cannot always be validated by experiments with animals or tethered robots.
Last week, I sat down with Intel's Gadi Singer, vice president and general manager of artificial intelligence architecture, and Chris Rice, head of AI talent acquisition, to talk about AI workforce issues. Here's what they had to say. "What you see in the articles is relatively the truth," said Rice. "One of the interesting things in AI is that it's no longer just the technology companies that play in this space, you've got the finance industry, medical, retail, mobility, manufacturing--they are all starting to recruit AI engineers, whether they are developing a technology or applying a technology. Because of that, there is an increased global demand, and that is driving up the value of those engineers." But, interjected Singer, remember that AI is not one skill, one job description.
Insects are quite good at not running into things, and just as good at running into things and surviving, but targeted, accurate precision flight is much more difficult for them. As cute as insects like bees are, there just isn't enough space in their fuzzy little noggins for fancy sensing and computing systems. Despite their small size, though, bees are able to perform precise flight maneuvers, and it's a good thing, too, since often their homes are on the other side of holes not much bigger than they are. Bees make this work through a sort of minimalist brute-force approach to the problem: They fly up to a small hole or gap, hover, wander back and forth a little bit to collect visual information about where the edges of the gap, and then steer themselves through. It's not fast, and it's not particularly elegant, but it's reliable and doesn't take much to execute.
Earlier this year, XPRIZE announced a new challenge: a four-year global competition to "develop real life avatars," with a US $10 million prize sponsored by All Nippon Airways (ANA). We like robot challenges, especially robot challenges with prizes big enough to attract top-notch competition, and the idea of creating remote presence systems that can do more than just send back video is a compelling one, with all kinds of potential use cases. However, our first reaction to the sample of potential challenge scenarios published by XPRIZE was that they weren't nearly difficult and compelling enough, meaning that the challenge wouldn't promote the kind of cutting-edge innovation that we (and presumably XPRIZE) would like to see. To their credit, XPRIZE has put a lot of work into incorporating feedback from a variety of experts based on those initial guidelines, and today they are releasing a revised version of the challenge guidelines that have been completely recalibrated for a more difficult and long-term relevant challenge that we're now super excited for. The ANA Avatar XPRIZE seeks to incentivize innovators around the world to imagine a future with avatars and integrate several emerging and exponential technologies to create a useful and functional physical robotic Avatar System.
Stretchable plant wearables and smart tags dropped by drones aim to help give farming a big data makeover. The relatively cheap technologies for mass monitoring of individual plants across large greenhouses or crop fields could get field tests in three countries starting in 2019. The idea came from researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia with expertise in flexible electronics. After talking with colleagues who were cultivating genetically engineered plants in greenhouses, they recognized the need for inexpensive sensors that could be deployed en masse and report on individual plant conditions. Their early offerings include a stretchable sensor for measuring micrometer-level changes in plant growth and a "PlantCopter" temperature and humidity sensor designed to be dropped from a drone and corkscrew its way through the air for a gradual descent.