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Verity Studios Raises $18M for Safe Swarming Drone Displays

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Verity Studios, which took precision drone swarm technology from ETH Zurich and turned it into a spectacular live event display system, has announced a round of Series A funding totaling US $18 million from Fontinalis Partners, Airbus Ventures, Sony Innovation Fund, and Kitty Hawk. This is a lot of money for a company that most people may not know exists even if they view a Verity-powered drone show firsthand, but that's part of what makes Verity special: Everything they do is reliable, seamless, and safe, leading to experiences that have a truly mesmerizing effect. The reason we follow companies like Verity so closely, and the reason why we're happy when they get funded, is because they've managed to transition some fairly amazing robotics research into a successful business, which is a very difficult thing to do. The kinds of things that make Verity special come from over a decade of work at the Flying Machine Arena at ETH Zurich, led by Professor Raffaello D'Andrea, a lot of which we've covered in the past. For example, Verity's drones are fully redundant, able to recover from "a failed battery, a failed motor, a failed connector, a failed propeller, a failed sensor, or a failure of any other component ... through the duplication of critical components and the use of proprietary algorithms, which enable safe emergency responses to component failures."


Intel Starts R&D Effort in Probabilistic Computing for AI

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Intel announced today that it is forming a strategic research alliance to take artificial intelligence to the next level. Autonomous systems don't have good enough ways to respond to the uncertainties of the real world, and they don't have a good enough way to understand how the uncertainties of their sensors should factor into the decisions they need to make. According to Intel CTO Mike Mayberry the answer is "probabilistic computing", which he says could be AI's next wave. IEEE Spectrum: What motivated this new research thrust? Mike Mayberry: We're trying to figure out what the next wave of AI is.


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. For many companies, "grind" is the right word, especially if they're trying to do research and development in the United States, where regulations tend to be overly cumbersome and inflexible. To help move things along a bit, Amazon has decided to take its next phase of delivery drone testing to the United Kingdom. Here's the stuff worth caring about from the press release, which amounts to about a third of the press release. In other words, it's relatively informative, as press releases go: Amazon has today announced a partnership with the UK Government to explore the steps needed to make the delivery of parcels by small drones a reality, allowing Amazon to trial new methods of testing its delivery systems.


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

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

This week, Google's Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) and Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson medical device company, announced the formation of a startup called Verb. "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." But seriously, that's not much to go on, so let's see what we can piece together from the press releases put out from the various companies involved. It's Taurus, from SRI Robotics, which (according to a press release) "is licensing next-generation robotics technology to Verb Surgical that we believe will impact both the open and minimally invasive surgery markets and ultimately make the benefits of robotic surgery accessible to more patients around the world." While Taurus, originally designed as a bomb-disposal robot, is very much not a surgical robot in its current implementation, it represents several technologies that are very valuable in a surgical context: highly dexterous small manipulators and an advanced teleoperation system with haptic feedback.