Robotics News News, Insight and Analysis on Robotics, Automation and Artificial Intelligence Mon, 19 Aug 2019 22:22:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 98383903 Astrobotic Selects United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur Rocket to Launch its First Mission to the Moon Mon, 19 Aug 2019 22:21:54 +0000 Astrobotic announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon in 2021.

“We are so excited to sign with ULA and fly Peregrine on Vulcan Centaur. This contract with ULA was the result of a highly competitive commercial process, and we are grateful to everyone involved in helping us make low-cost lunar transportation possible. When we launch the first lunar lander from American soil since Apollo, onboard the first Vulcan Centaur rocket, it will be a historic day for the country and commercial enterprise,” said Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton.

Astrobotic, the world leader in commercial delivery to the Moon, was selected by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to deliver up to 14 NASA payloads to the Moon on its Peregrine lunar lander in 2021. With this $79.5 million CLPS award, Astrobotic has now signed 16 customers for lunar delivery on its first mission.

“Our rockets have carried exploration missions to the Moon, the sun, and every planet in the solar system so it is only fitting that Vulcan Centaur’s inaugural flight will lead the return of Americans to the lunar surface,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO. “We could not be more excited to fly this mission for Astrobotic.”

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander will launch on a Vulcan Centaur rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch of this mission will serve as the first of two certification flights required for ULA’s U.S. Air Force certification process. 

“This partnership represents a true ‘whole-of-government’ approach to how our nation is leading the world in space: NASA contracted with a commercial company to land on the Moon, who then went on to contract with a commercial company for a rocket built to serve the national security space market,” said Bruno. “This highlights the power of our American system of partnership between government and industry to solve the toughest problems and the greatest of our human aspirations.”

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Using Wall Street secrets to reduce the cost of cloud Mon, 19 Aug 2019 15:35:56 +0000 “Risk-aware” traffic engineering could help service providers such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google better utilize network infrastructure.

Stock market investors often rely on financial risk theories that help them maximize returns while minimizing financial loss due to market fluctuations. These theories help investors maintain a balanced portfolio to ensure they’ll never lose more money than they’re willing to part with at any given time.

Inspired by those theories, MIT researchers in collaboration with Microsoft have developed a “risk-aware” mathematical model that could improve the performance of cloud-computing networks across the globe. Notably, cloud infrastructure is extremely expensive and consumes a lot of the world’s energy.

Their model takes into account failure probabilities of links between data centers worldwide — akin to predicting the volatility of stocks. Then, it runs an optimization engine to allocate traffic through optimal paths to minimize loss, while maximizing overall usage of the network.

The model could help major cloud-service providers — such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google — better utilize their infrastructure. The conventional approach is to keep links idle to handle unexpected traffic shifts resulting from link failures, which is a waste of energy, bandwidth, and other resources. The new model, called TeaVar, on the other hand, guarantees that for a target percentage of time — say, 99.9 percent — the network can handle all data traffic, so there is no need to keep any links idle. During that 0.01 percent of time, the model also keeps the data dropped as low as possible.

In experiments based on real-world data, the model supported three times the traffic throughput as traditional traffic-engineering methods, while maintaining the same high level of network availability. A paper describing the model and results will be presented at the ACM SIGCOMM conference this week.

Better network utilization can save service providers millions of dollars, but benefits will “trickle down” to consumers, says co-author Manya Ghobadi, the TIBCO Career Development Assistant Professor in the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a researcher at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

“Having greater utilised infrastructure isn’t just good for cloud services — it’s also better for the world,” Ghobadi says. “Companies don’t have to purchase as much infrastructure to sell services to customers. Plus, being able to efficiently utilise datacenter resources can save enormous amounts of energy consumption by the cloud infrastructure. So, there are benefits both for the users and the environment at the same time.”

Joining Ghobadi on the paper are her students Jeremy Bogle and Nikhil Bhatia, both of CSAIL; Ishai Menache and Nikolaj Bjorner of Microsoft Research; and Asaf Valadarsky and Michael Schapira of Hebrew University.

On the money

Cloud service providers use networks of fiber optical cables running underground, connecting data centers in different cities. To route traffic, the providers rely on “traffic engineering” (TE) software that optimally allocates data bandwidth — amount of data that can be transferred at one time — through all network paths.

The goal is to ensure maximum availability to users around the world. But that’s challenging when some links can fail unexpectedly, due to drops in optical signal quality resulting from outages or lines cut during construction, among other factors. To stay robust to failure, providers keep many links at very low utilization, lying in wait to absorb full data loads from downed links.

Thus, it’s a tricky tradeoff between network availability and utilisation, which would enable higher data throughputs. And that’s where traditional TE methods fail, the researchers say. They find optimal paths based on various factors, but never quantify the reliability of links. “They don’t say, ‘This link has a higher probability of being up and running, so that means you should be sending more traffic here,” Bogle says. “Most links in a network are operating at low utilization and aren’t sending as much traffic as they could be sending.”

The researchers instead designed a TE model that adapts core mathematics from “conditional value at risk,” a risk-assessment measure that quantifies the average loss of money. With investing in stocks, if you have a one-day 99 percent conditional value at risk of $50, your expected loss of the worst-case 1 percent scenario on that day is $50. But 99 percent of the time, you’ll do much better. That measure is used for investing in the stock market — which is notoriously difficult to predict.

“But the math is actually a better fit for our cloud infrastructure setting,” Ghobadi says. “Mostly, link failures are due to the age of equipment, so the probabilities of failure don’t change much over time. That means our probabilities are more reliable, compared to the stock market.”

Risk-aware model

In networks, data bandwidth shares are analogous to invested “money,” and the network equipment with different probabilities of failure are the “stocks” and their uncertainty of changing values. Using the underlying formulas, the researchers designed a “risk-aware” model that, like its financial counterpart, guarantees data will reach its destination 99.9 percent of time, but keeps traffic loss at minimum during 0.1 percent worst-case failure scenarios. That allows cloud providers to tune the availability-utilisation tradeoff.

The researchers statistically mapped three years’ worth of network signal strength from Microsoft’s networks that connects its data centers to a probability distribution of link failures. The input is the network topology in a graph, with source-destination flows of data connected through lines (links) and nodes (cities), with each link assigned a bandwidth.

Failure probabilities were obtained by checking the signal quality of every link every 15 minutes. If the signal quality ever dipped below a receiving threshold, they considered that a link failure. Anything above meant the link was up and running. From that, the model generated an average time that each link was up or down, and calculated a failure probability — or “risk” — for each link at each 15-minute time window. From those data, it was able to predict when risky links would fail at any given window of time.

The researchers tested the model against other TE software on simulated traffic sent through networks from Google, IBM, ATT, and others that spread across the world. The researchers created various failure scenarios based on their probability of occurrence. Then, they sent simulated and real-world data demands through the network and cued their models to start allocating bandwidth.

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Ford Acquires Quantum Signal: A Step Closer to Autonomous Vehicles Thu, 01 Aug 2019 16:51:16 +0000 Founded in 1999, the company from Saline, Michigan has worked on the cutting edge of mobile robotics for numerous clients, including the military. Although not widely known to the public, Quantum Signal helped the military develop software that allowed it to remotely control robotic vehicles from thousands of miles away. It even built a robust simulation environment capable of testing autonomous vehicle designs that’s still in use today.

While Quantum Signal has operated in relative obscurity over the past couple of decades, its work has been on Ford’s radar for a considerable length of time. Over the past few years, Ford has been assembling a team of uniquely qualified experts in software development, simulation and machine learning from all around the world as it accelerates autonomous vehicle development — and are announcing the team is getting bigger and more formidable.

To further advance its goal of launching an autonomous vehicle business, Ford has acquired Quantum Signal and will make use of its extensive experience in real-time simulation and algorithm development, as well as robotics, sensing and perception technology. The wide range of the group’s work portfolio means it will be able to support Ford in numerous areas as the company develops self-driving vehicles and transportation as a service business, including software development and hardware prototyping.

Argo AI Autonomous Vehicle

Ford has already deployed it’s third generation fusion hybrid, through Argo AI’s self driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Miami, Washington D.C, and Detroit. It is also working in collaboration with Volkswagen on testing these technologies on the global stage.

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Deutsche engineered arm Panda integrated with Clearpath mobile robots – now available Thu, 01 Aug 2019 16:16:40 +0000 Franka Emika and Clearpath Robotics have partnered to bring their versatile and adaptive Panda robot to the Clearpath research mobile robot platforms. Panda will also be available as a standalone option on the Clearpath Store. 

The Panda collaborative robot arm is cost-effective and provides researchers with many distinct features including 7 degrees of freedom, 1KHz control, torque-sensing in all joints, access to multiple research apps and full ROS capability.

“We are committed to creating novel robotics platform technologies and improving performance and accessibility for everyone to overcome one of the biggest challenges of modern society; relieving an entire generation of tedious, potentially dangerous, vastly time-consuming and monotonous labor,” said Simon Haddadin, Franka Emika’s CEO & Co-Founder.

Franka Emika has spent years establishing themselves as experts in soft-robotics research but has also transitioned to more ambitious projects such as AI-enabled robot platforms, a global partner network for technology transfer and finally a digital robotics platform that would help bridge the gap between the digital and physical world. Clearpath Robotics is a global leader in mobile robotics platforms for research. Clearpath mobile robots are fully customizable with easy integration options with different collaborative robots, Clearpath also provides different software suites including the Manipulator Teleoperation Package to enable remote control of manipulators and collaborative robots. 

“Bringing together Franka Emika’s Panda and our robot platforms will enable Clearpath to provide further unique and personalized solutions to our customers,” said Julian Ware, General Manager of Clearpath Robotics. “The Panda has broad utility in robotics development and represents a terrific value to researchers.  The 7 degrees of freedom and integrated force sensing make it ideal for HRI applications and mobile manipulation.”  

With the addition of the Panda to the Clearpath store, Clearpath Robotics is now able to sell the Panda robot globally to provide further application options. With its smaller control box allowing for easier integration and its support of ROS, Clearpath is able to leverage their own ROS expertise. With one of the largest ROS development teams in the world, Clearpath has industry-leading expertise in the design and development of ROS software and ROS powered robotic systems, providing custom software solutions.  

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LUMS Team Up With Made Smarter Launch Trailblazing Leadership Programme Thu, 25 Jul 2019 20:34:18 +0000 Robert Webb, a robotics specialist, from Forth Engineering is the first in the country to embark on a trailblazing leadership programme designed to equip them with the vision and the skills to pursue smarter manufacturing.

Robert Webb

Forth Engineering, based in Maryport, are part of the Made Smarter Leadership Programme, run in collaboration with Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) and the government-backed £20m Made Smarter initiative for North West manufacturers.

Webb is among 12 business leaders from across the region who have embarked on an eight-month leadership programme involving a mixture of workshops, site-visits to ‘smart’ SME manufacturers around the region and facilitated-learning sessions.

They undertook their first site visit to Runcorn-based Hosokawa Micron Ltd, a manufacturer and supplier of powder processing systems and equipment, which has transformed its production performance through the application of digital technologies, allowing them to see a smart factory in action.

During the programme, participants will enhance their leadership capacity to enable them to take a strategic view required to adopt hi-tech and digitally-based manufacturing techniques into their own production processes.

They will also gain insights into undertaking an audit to reveal how digital-ready their business currently is, how to measure the true impact and value of any changes they make to the way they work, and how to successfully bring employees and other stakeholders along on their journey of business transformation.

Other parts of the programme, which will be delivered jointly by LUMS’ academic experts and business leaders already using smart technology, will include special project sprints to test new ideas.

Donna Edwards, Director of the North West Made Smarter pilot, said: “I’m delighted to see that the Made Smarter Leadership Programme delivered by Lancaster University Management School is already having a positive impact on its first cohort of business leaders in the North West.

“The programme is a unique opportunity for manufacturers who want to accelerate the adoption of advanced digital technologies within their business. Crucially, it allows leaders to take time out of their business to reflect on the bigger picture and share ideas and experiences alongside their peers in manufacturing. This will help them return to their own business and develop a digital strategy – which has been identified as something many businesses lack, yet it is essential to create growth and efficiencies.”

Professor Angus Laing, Dean of Lancaster University Management School, said: “Lancaster has an outstanding track record in devising and delivering world-class business leadership training. Many of the successful methods we have developed have been embedded into this new programme and tailored specifically to address the aspirations of the Made Smarter initiative. It has been designed to empower participants to transform their individual businesses through the use of highly advanced manufacturing methods.”

Andrew Stephenson, Minister for Business and Industry, said: “This new collaboration between Made Smarter and Lancaster University is a fantastic opportunity for these 12 business leaders to develop their skills, get expert guidance and advance further the North West’s reputation for advanced and smart manufacturing.”

“The course has been very helpful in looking at the strategic approach to digitalisation.

Visits to businesses like Hosokawa are so useful to see how a large organisation with an international client list has implemented such transformational changes.

“I’ve also really enjoyed the interaction with the cohort. Sharing knowledge has been an interesting approach. Some of us are even exploring potential commercial ties.”

“I’m taking away a lot from each session. It’s about bringing all tools together and using them.” – said Robert Webb.

Made Smarter includes match funding opportunities and the provision of impartial technical advice SMEs adopting digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Industrial Internet of Things, 3D-printing and robotics, to support advanced manufacturing.

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Bluebotics continues Asian expansion with partners in Japan Tue, 16 Jul 2019 13:48:04 +0000 BlueBotics, the company that aims to become the reference in autonomous navigation with the mission to enable the mobility of vehicles for the automation in the professional use market, is now active in two segments: BlueBotics’ easy-to-install Autonomous Navigation Technology (ANT®) is being increasingly adopted across the globe, having proven its benefits across a wide range of industrial environments over the past ten years.

Today, the company is further strengthening its footprint in the Asian market by announcing a new Japanese distribution agreement with Altech Co.

“Asia is one of the fastest growing markets for automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and mobile robots. As such, we have already seen the strong adoption of our Autonomous Navigation Technology (ANT®) across the region,” said Nicola Tomatis, the CEO of BlueBotics. “Partnering with highly experienced distributors is key to us continuing this regional growth, so we look forward to working with ALTECH to help more Japanese manufacturers enjoy the benefits our ANT® natural feature navigation brings.”

Based in Tokyo, ALTECH Co. Ltd. is a successful and long-established importer and distributor of advanced machinery and equipment from Europe and the USA. As per the companies’ new distribution agreement, ALTECH will begin immediately distributing BlueBotics’ ANT® product line into the Japanese market.

“We are excited to bring BlueBotics’ Autonomous Navigation Technology (ANT®) to Japan’s industrial market,” said Hiroyuki Inoue, the Director of Robotics Department of Altech Co. Ltd. “I have no doubt that our country’s AGV and mobile robot manufacturers will quickly understand the speed and ease of installation benefits that BlueBotics’ technology provides.”

BlueBotics’ partnership with ALTECH in Japan follows hot on the heels of the company’s expansion into the Chinese market in 2018, when BlueBotics signed a distribution partnership with Shanghai TONGBU Electronics Co. Ltd.  BlueBotics’ ANT® technology uses natural structures in the environment to localise vehicles, meaning no inductive wires, magnets or reflectors (for triangulation) are required. The result is that AGVs and mobile robots are both simple to set-up and economical to install and maintain, no matter whether a single vehicle or a large fleet. ANT® combines information from industrial encoders and laser scanners to reach an accuracy of ± 1 cm and ± 1° and can even directly use the data from the safety laser scanners available on your vehicle.

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Titan Names Sales Veteran Zaring as its CCO Mon, 08 Jul 2019 20:36:06 +0000 Titan Medical the medical device company focused on the design, development and commercialisation of a robotic surgical system for application in minimally invasive surgery, announces that Chad A. Zaring has joined the Company as its CCO, a position carved out specifically for him. Mr. Zaring has deep experience developing and executing commercial strategies and driving sales for leading surgical robotics companies and will be responsible for the launch of Titan’s single-port robotic surgery system following receipt of regulatory clearances.

Mr. Zaring joins Titan from Medtronic, where, since September 2017 he was vice president robotics, imaging and navigation. Prior to Medtronic, he was with Mazor Robotics from May 2015 through the initiation of a Global Distribution Agreement in September 2017 that led to its subsequent acquisition by Medtronic. As vice president, national accounts and later vice president, U.S. sales, he developed the capital sales teams, established new sales channels and consistently exceeded sales goals. Earlier in his career, from 2004 to April 2015 Mr. Zaring held positions of increasing responsibility at Intuitive Surgical, and was a member of the leadership team that executed early and mid-stage adoption of their robotic surgery system across multiple surgical disciplines.

“Chad is the ideal professional to lead the commercialization of our single-port robotic surgical system, and we are thrilled he has chosen to join Titan Medical,” said Mr. McNally. “The timing couldn’t be better. We are at an inflection point in our company’s development as we prepare for successful execution of preclinical and clinical studies that will permit us to file for regulatory clearances both in the U.S. and the EU by the end of the year. We look forward to having such a talented and broadly experienced individual as Chad execute our sales strategy and further strengthen our in-house robotic commercial launch expertise.”

“I am excited to be joining Titan Medical and to advance my passion of introducing disruptive and life-changing technology, working to commercialize an innovative single-port robotic surgical system,” said Mr. Zaring. “I believe that single-port robotic surgery will be the next frontier in several surgical disciplines. I am committed to delivering on Titan’s vision of single-port robotic surgery with the highest standards and with relentless focus on our customers who will help us drive technology adoption. Titan will make an important contribution to patient health while addressing surgeon desires and filling a significant gap in the market landscape. Titan has already set a thoughtful, early commercial plan by initially targeting benign gynecologic indications and subsequently adding more applications over time.”

Mr. Zaring began his career at Merrill Lynch in 1999 as a financial sales consultant. He later held sales positions at Merck and Co. and at Ethicon Endo-Surgery, a Johnson & Johnson company. He holds a BA degree in biology from Juanita College in Huntington, Penn.

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Intellegens to discuss AI at The Advanced Materials Show 2019 Fri, 05 Jul 2019 10:13:07 +0000

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming all aspects of daily life, but how can we use this powerful technology to search for new materials that will transform industries? The answer to this question will be addressed at The Advanced Materials Show 2019 by Dr. Gareth Conduit, Chief Technology Officer at Intellegens – the Cambridge-based company with a unique artificial intelligence solution for the materials sector.

Taking part in The Advanced Materials Show 2019 Conference, Dr. Conduit will explain how deep learning algorithms can help organisations drive more value from their experimental data. Using real life examples, Dr. Conduit will demonstrate how existing data can be merged with computer simulations and information available in the public domain, to drastically cut the amount of time and money needed to develop new materials.

As a case study, Dr. Conduit will look at how AI played a part in the design of a nanoscale material for thermometry, which resulted in a new material that has target properties that are two orders of magnitude greater than any commercially available alternative.

Dr. Gareth Conduit

Commenting, Dr. Conduit said: “Worldwide there are millions of materials available commercially that are characterised by hundreds of different properties. Using traditional techniques to explore the information we know about these materials, to come up with new substances, substrates and systems, is a painstaking process that can take months if not years. Learning the underlying correlations in existing materials data, to estimate missing properties, our Alchemite™ AI engine can quickly, efficiently and accurately propose new materials with target properties – speeding up the development process. The potential for this technology in the advanced materials sector is huge.”

Intellegens’ Alchemite engine is designed to work with sparse or noisy data and is capable of learning from datasets as little as 0.05% complete. The Alchemite algorithm has proven commercial applications in materials design and can create trained models that can be used for predictions, error detection and parameter optimisation (design).

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Astrobotic wins $5.6 Million NASA Contract to Deliver Moon Rover Mon, 01 Jul 2019 20:23:42 +0000 Astrobotic was selected today by NASA’s Lunar Surface and Instrumentation and Technology Payload (LSITP) program to develop an autonomous
lunar rover with its partner, Carnegie Mellon University. The 13 kilogram autonomous rover known as MoonRanger, is being developed to provide high fidelity 3D maps of the Moon’s surface in areas such as polar regions and lunar pits. It will demonstrate transformational high-speed,
long-range, communication-denied autonomous lunar exploration.

This $5.6 million award will prepare MoonRanger for a flight to the Moon on an upcoming mission through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. With this contract, MoonRanger could fly to the Moon as early as 2021 or 2022.

The MoonRanger rover enables a new paradigm of exploration autonomy pioneered by Professor Red Whittaker at Carnegie Mellon that is essential for exploring lunar pits, characterizing ice, investigating magnetic swirls, and deploying future mobile instruments on the lunar surface. Modest in size and mass, MoonRanger offers superb mobility at a light weight—
ultimately equating to a more affordable flight platform. The rover will
be a test platform for autonomy that will usher in a new era of
operability in space.

“MoonRanger offers a means to accomplish far-ranging science of
significance, and will exhibit an enabling capability on missions to the
Moon for NASA and the commercial sector. The autonomy techniques
demonstrated by MoonRanger will enable new kinds exploration missions
that will ultimately herald in a new era on the Moon,” says Whittaker.

“This latest NASA award to develop MoonRanger for a mission to the Moon is another example of how Astrobotic is the world leader in lunar logistics. Our lander and rover capabilities are designed to deliver our customers to the Moon and allow them to carry out meaningful, low-cost activities for
science, exploration and commerce,” says John Thornton, CEO of
Astrobotic. MoonRanger joins Polaris and CubeRover as an additional
offering that extends Astrobotic’s mobility as a service to customers
across the world.

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Proposed Exoskeletons Guide Aims to Help Assess Usefulness and Usability Mon, 01 Jul 2019 16:56:30 +0000 A proposed ASTM International guide aims to provide tools that help assess and ultimately improve the usefulness and usability of exoskeletons and exosuits.

“Exoskeletons and exo-suits can open up a world of possibilities, from helping workers perform industrial tasks while not getting overstressed, to helping stroke victims learning to walk again, to helping soldiers carry heavier rucksacks longer distances,” says Kevin Purcell, an ergonomist at the U.S. Army Public Health Center’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. “But if it doesn’t help you perform your task and/or it’s hard to use, it won’t get used.”

He says that the guide will aim to incorporate ways to understand the attributes of exoskeletons as well as observation methods and questionnaires that will help assess an exoskeleton’s performance and safety.

“The biggest challenge in creating this standard is that exoskeletons change greatly depending on the task the exoskeleton is designed to help,” says Purcell. “For instance, an industrial exoskeleton is a totally different design from one used for medical rehabilitation use. The proposed standard will need to cover all types and industries.”

According to Purcell, the three major sectors currently using exoskeletons are industrial, medical rehabilitation, and defense. Users in these areas will benefit most from the proposed standard, as will exoskeleton manufacturers and regulatory bodies, he adds.

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