Swarms of firefighting drones could one day be deployed to tackle hugely destructive megafires that are becoming increasingly frequent in the Mediterranean region because of climate change, arson and poor landscape management. It's one of a number of initiatives looking at how best to fight large fires from the air – a challenge that's becoming more and more common. A 2017 report on forest fires by the EU's Joint Research Centre said that the year would'likely be remembered as one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in Europe since records began', after the destruction of nearly 700,000 hectares of land in the EU by early September. Such fires are dangerous not only for people who live in the area but also for the crews of people whose job it is to put the fires out. But using intelligent robots to scout the area and drop water can allow humans to stand further back from the danger zone, only looking at the drones' data to make decisions from the safety of a command and control centre.
In this episode of Robots in Depth, Per Sjöborg speaks with Justin Werfel, senior research scientist at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Justin talks about what termites can teach us about creating impressive structures using autonomous swarms of robots, as demonstrated in the Termes project. We also hear how Justin was drawn to robotics by the balance between theoretical and practical work.
Award winners in robot competitions held by the were named on 14 March 2018, during this year's European Robotics Forum (ERF), held in Tampere, Finland on 13–15 March. Awards for the ERL's 2017-18 season were presented at a Gala Dinner to winning teams that took part in all ERL competitions: Service Robots (ERL-SR), Industry Robots (ERL-IR) and Emergency Robots (ERL-ER). ERL-SR is for robots that could provide assistance in homes, particularly for people with reduced mobility. ERL-ER is for robots in simulated emergency situations and ERL-IR tackles automation in industry. Dozens of teams from around Europe took part in the 2017–18 ERL competitions, which stimulate innovation by and collaboration among robotics researchers by setting tasks in simulated real-life conditions, for completion against the clock.
As Mark Hamill humorously shared the behind-the-scenes of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" with a packed SXSW audience, two floors below on the exhibit floor Universal Robots recreated General Grievous' famed light saber battles. The battling machines were steps away from a twelve foot dancing Kuka robot and an automated coffee dispensary. Somehow the famed interactive festival known for its late night drinking, dancing and concerts had a very mechanical feel this year. Everywhere debates ensued between utopian tech visionaries and dystopia-fearing humanists. Even my panel on "Investing In The Autonomy Economy" took a very social turn when discussing the opportunities of utilizing robots for the growing aging population.
Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and JD.com from China are in a global competition with Google/Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Walmart and Amazon from the USA and SoftBank from Japan. All are agressively searching for talent, intellectual property, market share, logistics and supply chain technology, and presence all around the world. These leading tech-savvy companies have many things in common. Foremost, they are all in pursuit of global growth and the funding, technology and talent to propel that growth. And they all are investing in voice assistance and other forms of AI and robotics.
In this episode, Audrow Nash speaks with Maja Matarić, a professor at the University of Southern California and the Chief Scientific Officer of Embodied, about socially assistive robotics. Socially assistive robotics aims to endow robots with the ability to help people through individual non-contact assistance in convalescence, rehabilitation, training, and education. For example, a robot could help a child on the autism spectrum to connect to more neurotypical children and could help to motivate a stroke victim to follow their exercise routine for rehabilitation (see the videos below). In this interview, Matarić discusses the care gap in health care, how her work leverages research in psychology to make robots engaging, and opportunities in socially assistive robotics for entrepreneurship.
It was the last question of the night and it hushed the entire room. An entrepreneur expressed his aggravation about the FDA's antiquated regulatory environment for AI-enabled devices to Dr. Joel Stein of Columbia University. Stein a leader in rehabilitative robotic medicine, sympathized with the startup knowing full well that tomorrow's exoskeletons will rely heavily on machine intelligence. Nodding her head in agreement, Kate Merton of JLabs shared the sentiment. Her employer, Johnson & Johnson, is partnered with Google to revolutionize the operating room through embedded deep learning systems.
The European Robotics Forum 2018 (ERF2018), the most influential meeting of the robotics community in Europe, takes place in Tampere on 13-15 March 2018. ERF brings together over 900 leading scientists, companies, and policymakers for the largest robotics networking event in Europe. Under the theme "Robots and Us", the over 50 workshops cover current societal and technical themes, including human-robot-collaboration and how robotics can improve industrial productivity and service sector operations. During the opening the ERF2018, on 13 March, Juha Heikkilä, Head of unit, EC DG CNECT, explained that "the European Robotics Forum has been instrumental in breaking down silos and bringing together a strong, integrated robotics community in Europe. This year's theme, "Robots and Us", reflects the increasingly broad impact of robotics and allows discussing not just technology but also the all-important non-technological aspects of robotics."
In 2010 I wrote that there were three sponsored research projects to solve the problem of safely inspecting and maintaining high voltage transmission lines using robotics. Existing 2010 methods ranged from humans crawling the lines, to helicopters flying close-by and scanning, to cars and jeeps with people and binoculars attempting to scan with the human eye. In 2014 I described the progress from 2010 including the Japanese start-up HiBot and their inspection robot Expliner which seemed promising. This project got derailed by the Fukushima disaster which took away the funding and attention from Tepco which was forced to refocus all its resources on the disaster. HiBot later sold their IP to Hitachi High-Tech which, thus far, hasn't reported any progress or offered any products.