Teresa Escrig

News and oppinion about Cognitive AI & Robotics

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Is the long anticipated shift in robotics finally happening?

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Whew… with so many exciting things happening in the robotics field lately, I just couldn’t remain silent anymore…

kiva robots

Kiva robots carrying shelves in a warehouse.

We were all wowed by Amazon’s acquisition in 2012 of  Kiva Systems for $775 million.  Kiva’s clever self-propelled robots scoot around warehouses in a numeric control dance to retrieve and carry entire shelf-units of items to their proper packaging point.

In December 2013 and January 2014, Google bought 7 robotics companies investing an unknown amount of money.  The Internet giant and pioneer of self-driving cars is serious about a robot-filled future. However we don’t know much about the intent of Google with all these acquisitions. They’re all a part of the Google X division, which is top secret by definition. Most of these companies have closed down their websites and retreated into stealth mode. My guess is that they are grouping up to decide the direction they’ll take to serve Google’s goals.

The robotics team is led by Andy Rubin, who recently stepped down as head of Android.

Here there is a brief summary of all Google’s acquisitions (and a bunch of links to dig deeper):

Arm manipulator of Industrial Perception, Inc.

Arm manipulator of Industrial Perception, Inc.

The biped robot at Schaft, Inc.

The biped robot at Schaft, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Industrial Perception, Inc (IPI) – spun off of the Menlo Park robotics company Willow Garage.  They have a 3D vision-guided robot to be used in manufacturing and logistics.
  • Schaft Inc. The Japanese team that got its start at Tokyo University. They took the top prize at DARPA’s Robotics Challenge Trial with their bipedal robot.
  • Redwood Robotics – started as a joint venture between Meka Robotics, SRI International, and Willow Garage (IPI’s parent). Redwood wants to build the “next generation arm” for robots.
  • Meka Robotics – A very nice torso robot with very sophisticated hands in a mobile platform with wheels.

  • Bot & Dolly  – a design and engineering studio that specializes in automation, robotics, and filmmaking. They use robots to help film commercials and movies like Gravity.
  • Holomini – The only thing we know about them is that they are creators of high-tech wheels for omnidirectional motion.
Bot & Dolly arm with camera.

Bot & Dolly arm with camera.

 

Holomini's wheels.

Holomini’s wheels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Boston Dynamics  – The most high-profile of all the robotic companies that Google has acquired so far. They have two main robots: ATLAS -the sophisticated humanoid robot and Cheetah, also called the BigDog that can reach 28 mph.
ATLAS robot from Boston Robotics.

ATLAS robot from Boston Robotics.

BigDog from Boston Robotics.

BigDog from Boston Robotics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the middle of January 2014, Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion dollars.

  • Nest  – is an automation startup whose product is a smoke and CO2 alarm that talks.

And at the end of January Google acquired DeepMind for more than $500 M (after having beaten out Facebook):

  • DeepMind – is an AI research company out of London founded by neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, Skype developer Jaan Tallin, and researcher Shane Leggthe.  They use the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms.

In 2012 Google hired Ray Kurzweil to work on machine learning and language processing, to actually understand the content of the Web pages and provide a better way to rank them beside the number of times a web site is mentioned in other web sites. According to Dr. Kurzweil… you will be able to “ask it more complex questions that might be a whole paragraph… It might engage in a dialogue with you to find out what you need… It might come back in two months if it finds something useful.”

imperial college london robotics lab

The butler robot from the Imperial College London Robotics Lab

And now Sir James Dyson (the bagless vacuum cleaner inventor) is investing £5M in the Imperial College London to develop a new generation of “intelligent domestic robots” (an Iron Man’s style robot), with a further £3 million investment from various sources over the next five years.

Dyson remains frustrated at his prototypes’ inability to navigate simple household obstacles after working on a robotic vacuum cleaner  to go along with his company’s famous bagless line for as long as a decade. Indeed, even the greatest Roomba finds itself at a loss under a tangle of dining room chairs, and would shrug its shoulders when faced with a flight of stairs.”

Is the tide finally turning in robotics?

Autonomous scrubber machines: is the market ready for them?

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11.19.12Cognitive Robots’ first product was the incorporation of our Cognitive Brain for Service Robotics (R) into commercial scrubber machines. This allows any existing commercial scrubber machine to be easily transformed into an autonomous and intelligent robot, that cleans floors, without the need of a human operator.

Did you know that, the operator of a scrubber machine has to follow the same path/pattern every single time they clean an area? It’s true, because otherwise people would be able to perceive the lines of movement of the scrubber on the floors, which are not considered aesthetically pleasing. The main corridors of an airport or a supermarket need to be cleaned longitudinally.

This job is so boring that industrial scrubber machines are increasingly being destroyed by the operators earlier and earlier. Therefore, scrubber manufacturers have changed their machines to be cheaper and with less electronics, resulting in lower life expectancy for their product.  The downside of this, is that in the long-term, due to replacement costs, end-user’s will spend more money to service their clients.

We are now in the midst of a global debate that is exploring the question, “Are robots taking jobs away or providing jobs for people?”  In the current economic climate, we need to decide if we want to maintain the status quo to protect low-profile jobs; or embrace advances that allow us to become more competitive and effective in our jobs, promote learning new skills, and provide jobs where human creativity and intelligence are necessary.

What do we want?

Here it is the specification sheet of the autonomous scrubber machine that Cognitive Robots can provide: specification sheet scrubber machines

Is this product good enough to solve the problem of automatic cleaning?

Is the market ready for this?  What do you think?

How I fell in love with Robotics?

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International Women’s Day.

I received my PhD in Artificial Intelligence, in particular on cognitive models to simulate the way people think about space and time, to effectively move daily around their environment, without the use of any measurement tools. I applied those theoretical models to the movement of simulated robots through the streets of my hometown, Castellon, Spain. It was quite a theoretical thesis, and I really enjoyed working on it.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAfter I finished my PhD thesis, I went to a IJCAI (International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence) conference in Japan to present my research. The Robocup competition was going on at the same venue as the conference. For the first time, Sony was there presenting their cat and dog robot pets in a fiberglass showcase. The movements of those little robots were so well done, that I stood there looking at them in amazement for a very long time. I thought, “I want to be working with these robots”, “I want to include the technology that I just developed for my thesis to these robots”, “the best way for the robots to move through their environment is by using cognitive models, and I am going to make this happen”! Read the rest of this entry »

What are the benefits of Artificial Intelligence in Robotics?

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Happy New Year to all!  It’s been a while since my last post. Too busy. Now, I’m back.

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Robotics is not only a research field within artificial intelligence, but a field of application, one where all areas of artificial intelligence can be tested and integrated into a final result.

Amazing humanoid robots exhibit elegant and smooth motion capable of walking, running, and going up and down stairs.  They use their hands to protect themselves when falling, and to get up afterward.  They’re an example of the tremendous financial and human capital that is being devoted to research and development in the field of electronics, control and the design of robots.

Very often, the behavior of these robots contains a fixed number of pre-programmed instructions that are repeated regardless of  any changes in the environment. These robots have no autonomy, nor adaptation, to the changing environment, and therefore do not show intelligent behavior. We are amazed by the technology they provide, which is fantastic! But we can not infer that, because the robots are physically so realistic and the movements so precise and gentle, that they are able to do what we (people) do. Read the rest of this entry »

More light about why Amazon acquired Kiva

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In this brilliant TED talk, Kiva‘s CEO, Mick Mountz, explains how they revolutionized the way warehouses pack and ship their inventory by using robots, mobile shelving, and algorithms based on complexity theory. What used to take hours of tedious tasks is transformed into fun, 15-minute, click-to-ship order processing.

Kiva’s CEO, Mick Mountz, had a front row seat when internet pioneer Weban failed to deliver online fulfillment services in a cost effective manner.

The system is absolutely brilliant and effective. That is a very good reason for Kiva System being acquired by Amazon for $775 M.

Can you imagine how it could be if the robots would not need to have wires to direct their trajectory under the floor? That is the next step for automation which will require intelligence.

Comments:

by Dan Kara (LinkedIn): Robotics Trends International Network

Kiva Acquisition Has Huge Implications for Businesses and Society

Teresa, I analyzed the Kiva purchase for Robotics Business Review (www.roboticsbusinessreview.com). It is important to note that Kiva Systems is not the only robotics company that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has exhibited interest in. Bezos Expeditions, the firm that manages the personal investments of Bezos, participated in equity rounds for Rethink Robotics (formally Heartland Robotics), the Boston based start-up founded by Rod Brooks, noted roboticist and co-founder of iRobot. Rethink, I believe, is developing a class of low cost, dexterous robotic systems capable of working directly with humans.

For all of the billions that Amazon has invested in automating its fulfillment processes, it is still dependent on large numbers of people to get the job done. The Kiva system succeeds largely because it reduces the number of humans that must traverse the distribution center collecting products to ship. But what if the model was extended even further, to include the humans who actually “pick” individual items out of the robotically delivered storage containers? In theory, a dexterous robotic system capable of fine manipulation and using vision in combination with touch sensors (much like its human “picker” counterpart) could perform the last, unautomated leg of the Kiva fulfillment process.

Kiva MPS represents a paradigm shift in the way in which ecommerce companies go about fulfilling orders. The long term ramifications of the purchase are not clear, but in the end Amazon could become an architecture provider for ebusiness order fulfillment (own the architecture, win the war). It could also develop fulfillment and distribution centers that for all purposes contain no people. Furthermore, it would make the holy grail of “same day shipping” possible. That’s more than a paradigm shift, it is a seismic change and one with profound implications for businesses and society.

by Thomas Ciesielka (LinkedIn): Robotics Trends International Network

Dan, You are spot on. Robotics, in this configuration, will lead the way for economic revitalization and evolution. Combining it with a “cognitive brain” that Teresa has championed, is the future.

Biologically accurate robotic legs get the gait right

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Very impressive video of the biologically accurate robotic legs in action.

By , July 10, 2012

The machine comprises simplified versions of the human neural, musculoskeletal and sensory feedback systems.

The robotic legs are unique in that they are controlled by a crude equivalent of the central pattern generator (CPG) – a neural network located in the spinal cord at the abdominal level and responsible for generating rhythmic muscle signals. These signals are modulated by the CPG as it gathers information from different body parts responding to external stimuli. As a result, we are able to walk without ever giving the activity much thought.

The most basic form of a CPG is called a half center and is made up of two neurons rhythmically alternating in producing a signal. An artificial version of a half center produces signals and gathers feedback from sensors in the robotic limbs, such as load sensors that notice when the angle of the walking surface has shifted.

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GM studies driver attention in semi-autonomous cars

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General Motors researchers, such as Innovation Program Manager Jeremy Salinger, are studying driver behavior in semi-autonomous driving situations. He points out that in semi-autonomous cars, it’s necessary to remain focused on driving, and on the road.

However, when the driving process requires less of our active attention, it becomes boring to just observe how the semi-autonomous device is operating our car.

Self-driving features are moving from concept vehicles to the production line. The 2013 models of the Cadillac XTS and ATS sedans will include a Driver Assist Package, which includes features such as full-speed range adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.

“Driver assist features such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking are paving the way to self-driving automobiles,” says Salinger. “Some things are coming out this year that are basically the precursors to allowing cars to drive themselves.” These technologies focus on safety features, warning systems and crash avoidance and are the stepping stones that will allow future cars to drive autonomously.

By , June 21, 2012

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Written by Teresa Escrig

June 27th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

The rapidly evolving world of robotic technology

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June 25 (Bloomberg) — Stanford University’s Marina Gorbis discusses the rapidly evolving world of robotic technology and how humans will interact with them, and learn from them over the next five to ten years. She interviews with Adam Johnson on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg Rewind.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Marina Gorbis is the Executive Director of Institute for the Future.

Marina’s biography – During her tenture at IFTF, and previously with SRI International, Marina has worked with hundreds of organizations in business, education, government, and philanthropy, bringing a future perspective to improve innovation capacity, develop strategies, and design new products and services. A native of Odessa, Ukraine, Marina is particularly suited to see things from a global perspective. She has worked all over the world and feels equally at home in Silicon Valley, Europe, India, or Kazakhstan. Before becoming IFTF’s Executive Director in 2006, Marina created the Global Innovation Forum, a project comparing innovation strategies in different regions, and she founded Global Ethnographic Network (GEN), a multi-year ethnographic research program aimed at understanding daily lives of people in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Silicon Valley. She also led IFTF’s Technology Horizons Program, focusing on interaction between technology and social organizations. She has been a guest blogger on BoingBoing.net and writes for IFTF and major media outlets. She is a frequent speaker on future organizational, technology, and social issues. Marina holds a Master’s Degree from the Graduate School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.

ESA tests autonomous rover in Chilean desert ahead of ExoMars mission

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With remote control of rovers on Mars out of the question due to radio signals taking up to 40 minutes to make the round trip to and from the Red Planet, the European Space Agency (ESA) has developed a vehicle that is able to carry out instructions fully autonomously.

With Mars lacking any GPS satellites to help with navigation, the rover must determine how far it has moved relative to its starting point. However, as ESA’s Gianfranco Visentin points out, any errors in this “dead reckoning” method can “build up into risky uncertainties.”

To minimize any uncertainties, the team sought to fix the rover’s position on a map to an accuracy of one meter (3.28 ft). To build a 3D map of its surroundings, assess how far it had traveled and plan the most efficient route to avoid obstacles, Seeker relied on its stereo vision.

“We managed 5.1 km (3.16 miles), somewhat short of our 6 km goal, but an excellent result considering the variety of terrain crossed, changes in lighting conditions experienced and most of all this was ESA’s first large-scale rover test – though definitely not our last.”

“The difficulty comes with follow-on missions, which will require daily traverses of five to ten times longer,” he says. “With longer journeys, the rover progressively loses sense of where it is.”

By , June 19, 2012

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The Future of Robotics: personal point of view

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The future of robotics is advancing towards the incorporation of increasing intelligence.

Intelligence includes, among other things, perception (interpreting the environment and extracting the most relevant information from it), reasoning (inferring new knowledge from the one we perceive, i.e. if we know that A implies B, and B implies C, then we can infer that A implies C), learning (as many people have pointed out in this thread already) and decision making to implement solutions to particular applications (such as security, companion, tele-presence robots, autonomous scrubber machines, vacuum cleaners, etc).

At Cognitive Robots, we have developed the first embryonic brain called “Cognitive Brain for Service Robotics” -CR-B100-, which integrates all these four aspects, in a patent pending software.

We have tested the “brain” in several “bodies” with excellent results.

Please, check this post for more information.

We are actively looking for partnerships and investment capital to bring our company Cognitive Robots to the next level.

If you know of a visionary mind with capital to invest, please, pass that person my email: mtescrig@c-robots.com

We are planning on going to crowdfunding resources like KickStarter and offering our own robotic platform (brain and body) for research and a smaller version for education. What are your thoughts on that?