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SoftBank Acquires Boston Dynamics and Schaft

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

We knew that Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of telecom giant SoftBank, loved robots. Now the Japanese billionaire is about to significantly expand his collection. Minutes ago, SoftBank announced that it will be acquiring Boston Dynamics and Schaft for an undisclosed sum, in order to "collaborate in advancing the development of smart robotics technologies." Boston Dynamics and Schaft were two of the nine robot companies that Google acquired in 2013 to form the core of its robotics division, headed by Android founder Andy Rubin. As far as anyone could tell, not much happened after all those companies became part of Google, and not much continued to happen through 2016, much to the frustration of roboticists everywhere.


Amazon to Test Delivery Drone Autonomy in the U.K.

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Whether or not it's a realistic or practical or good idea, urban commercial drone delivery is grinding remorselessly toward a thing that is going to happen. It will also help identify what operating rules and safety regulations will be needed to help move the drone industry forward. This is what continues to bug me about how Amazon presents Prime Air: "Prime Air vehicles will take advantage of sophisticated'sense and avoid' technology, as well as a high degree of automation, to safely operate beyond the line of sight to distances of 10 miles or more." Near-term, I have serious doubts about Amazon's "sophisticated sense and avoid technology" and "high degree of automation."


Stanford's Humanoid Diving Robot Takes on Undersea Archaeology and Coral Reefs

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Christian Voolstra, assistant professor of marine science at KAUST's Red Sea Research Center, explained where the idea came from in an interview last year: Currently people use a so-called ROV (remote operated vehicle), which is a little submarine with two robotic arms and very limited dexterity. With current underwater vehicles, "you spent the majority of time keeping the robot stable," Dr. Voolstra told IEEE Spectrum, "rather than focusing on the research task." It's functional for things like oil rigs, but around delicate coral or underwater archaeological sites, it's not something that you can trust to not destructively smash into whatever you're trying into examine. Once the robot has proved itself, Voolstra hopes to use it to study mesophotic coral reefs, which live too deep for humans to explore with SCUBA gear but get passed over in "deep ocean" research.


Google and Johnson & Johnson Conjugate to Create Verb Surgical, Promise Fancy Medical Robots

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

"In the coming years, Verb aims to develop a comprehensive surgical solutions platform that will incorporate leading-edge robotic capabilities and best-in-class medical device technology for operating room professionals." The SRI press release also says that "Verb Surgical is developing a new robotic surgery platform that will integrate technologies such as advanced imaging, data analysis, and machine learning to enable greater efficiency and improved outcomes across a wide range of surgical procedures," which is interesting because of the reference to machine learning. Ethicon, which has deep expertise in minimally invasive surgery and advanced instrumentation, is developing surgical instruments for Verb Surgical's new robotics-assisted platform. In the coming years, Verb Surgical aims to develop a comprehensive surgical solutions platform that will incorporate leading-edge robotic capabilities and best-in-class medical device technology for operating room professionals.