To knit

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Exit to limb here and guess you don’t need me to tell you why we wanted to chat with Amazon at our upcoming robotics event. Long before we discussed how the pandemic has drastically changed automation, the retail giant had already begun to transform the category.

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Amazon has hundreds of thousands of robots deployed in fulfillment centers across the country, with the push starting with the acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012. Wherever you meet the talk of workforce and automation, there is no doubt that the company has begun to turn ideas into reality, while many were still speculating about how robots would eventually change work.

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The company continued to pump money into this category. In 2019, he acquired Playground-backed autonomous cart startup, Canvas Technologies, and just last week detailed the first phase. his billion dollar industrial fund, including investments in Agility, BionicHive and newcomer Mantis Robotics. In a sense, Amazon has launched warehouse robotics as companies look to robotics firms in an attempt to compete with its dominance.

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VP of Global Robotics at Amazon Joe Quinlivan will be joining us on stage in July.along with already announced guests Dean Kamen, Daniela Rus and Matthew Johnson-Roberson (of course, not everyone is on the same panel – although, isn’t that wild?). We’ll talk about the company’s robotics path, recent investments, and what the future of warehouse and logistics operations will look like (including the roles humans will and won’t play).

Oh and I also wanted to point out that we’ll talk to AMP Robotics CEO Matanya Horowitz the month before at our first major climate event at UC Berkeley. This is part of a recycling panel that will also feature Novaloop’s Miranda Wang and Nth Cycle’s Megan O’Connor. Last year at an online event, I spoke with Horowitz about the fascinating role that robotics, computer vision and machine learning are already playing in the world of waste sorting.

On the less glamorous side of things, Boston Dynamics released a couple of videos aimed at recontextualizing the firm’s offerings. “No Time to Dance” does what it says on the can. The Hyundai-owned firm has entered the public consciousness thanks to viral videos over a couple of decades. As the company began commercializing products like Spot and Stretch, we’ll see an attempt to walk the line between light-hearted YouTube videos (plus the occasional Super Bowl commercial) and a push to make its products be taken seriously as tools for jobs like inspection and logistics.

Image credits: Boston Dynamics

Along with new videos comes a number of Spot upgrades. Quote from Boston Dynamics:

  • Stereo cameras: Five Spot stereo cameras now provide a full color image along with available depth information.
  • Tablet: Tablet upgrades include an eight-inch touchscreen as well as digital joysticks for Spot control, Spot Arm control, and mission recording. The tablet weighs less than one pound, has drop protection, weather protection, and about eight hours of battery life.
  • Battery: Spot now has a smarter and faster charger that can charge the latest robot batteries to full capacity in less than an hour.
  • 5G Connectivity: Added support for 5G connectivity with the Spot CORE I/O payload, which includes a built-in 5G modem. We are also pleased to welcome AT&T as our first 5G supplier. Spot CORE I/O customers in the US will be able to use the payload to connect to the AT&T network, and we will continue to add new 5G providers. Customers with AT&T private 5G networks will be able to control Spot immediately via this payload, with public 5G teleoperations available in the near future.
  • New payloads: Expanded payload and software ecosystem with new payloads: Spot CORE I/O, a new high-performance computing payload that allows Spot to process data in the field for tasks such as computer vision-based site inspection, continuous acquisition data and more. And the Rajant Kinetic Mesh® Radio Kit, which is designed to enable the robot to efficiently navigate objects with full connectivity, whether in remote environments, underground, indoors, or in areas facing physical obstacles or radio interference, providing coverage of up to 200,000 square foot.

Image credits: SLAMcore

Earlier this week, a London-based robotics company Announced by SLAMcore Series A worth $16 million. Led by ROBO Global Ventures and Presidio Ventures, this round follows a $5 million seed since the start of the pandemic. It is clear that the company is among those startups that are benefiting from increased automation, offering robotic systems a better way to navigate their environment. He also added a reference to the metaverse just in case. There are some interesting discussions about robotic systems as real-life counterparts.

Says founder and CEO Owen Nicholson: “For far too long, robots have been unable to move through physical space with the level of precision and efficiency we know is possible. As they become more accessible to both companies and consumers in the coming years, SLAMcore is committed to ensuring that as many designers as possible have access to the algorithms they need to optimize their products.”

The name VisionNav Robotics certainly implies that the company operates in the same space as SLAMcore, although the Shenzhen-based firm specializes in autonomous forklifts and other logistics robotics. Announced this week $76 million big round which valued it at half a billion. This money will be used for research and development and further commercialization.

“Before, we mainly provided indoor solutions. Now that we are moving to unmanned truck loading, which often takes place halfway outdoors, we will inevitably be working in high light,” Vice President Don Dong told Rita. “That’s why we’re adapting a combination of vision and radar technology to navigate our robots.”

Image credits: Massachusetts Institute of Technology CSAIL

Some are very fun research from MIT this week. I give you Banana Fingers. CSAIL has developed a system for autonomous knitting of soft, touch-sensitive wearable robots. Applications have included everything from assistive gloves to soft exoskeletons.

“The use of digital machine knitting, which is a very common manufacturing method in today’s textile industry, allows the design to be “printed” in one go, making it much more scalable,” newspaper executive Yiyue Luo said in his release. “Soft pneumatic actuators are inherently compatible and flexible, and when combined with smart materials, they have become the backbone of many robots and assistive technologies, and we hope that rapid fabrication with our design tool can increase simplicity and ubiquity.”

Also worth highlighting US Robotics Cluster Alliancewhich brings together MassRobotics, Pittsburgh Robotics Network, and Silicon Valley Robotics to support startups, collaborations, and simply advocate the interests of the industry.

“The role of robotics cluster organizations must grow to keep pace with the rapid expansion of robotics in the US. Our organizations have always worked together informally, but are now collaborating strategically to improve the productivity and resilience of the US economy,” Silicon Valley Robotics said in a statement. “The United States is the world leader in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence, and we are applying these technologies for both the common good and to solve global problems.”

Don’t you like it when the cluster comes together?

Image credits: Cybernetics Ventures

Another big piece of news for early-stage robotics came with the launch of an investment firm on Tuesday. Cybernetics Ventures. MassRobotics co-founder Fadi Saad serves as general partner, and the advisory board includes notables such as Helen Griner, Steve Ricci, Rick Faulk, Peter Wurman, and Elaine Chen. The firm is investing $50 million in robotics, artificial intelligence and automation companies.

Saad says:

With the launch of Cybernetix, robotics startups will have access to a one-of-a-kind fund from the robotics community, led by robotics leaders, for robotics. It is clear to us that robotics is a separate class of investment, separate from established categories such as software and biotechnology, with its own investment models, metrics and portfolio engagement. Most investors are just beginning to realize the true value of the innovative possibilities of robotics in the early stages. With the creation of this foundation, we are here to influence what will have the greatest long-term impact and share all of our knowledge and connections with companies we believe in.

Image credits: Bear Robotics

News comes from the “Things I Missed” section that the Bear Robotics Rita robot is being deployed in an additional 51 Chili restaurants, adding to the existing 10. The company tells TechCrunch that this is the largest deployment of Bear robots in the US. I’ve written a bunch of Bear and other serving robots in the past, but the bottom line is that the systems are more about augmenting rather than completely replacing waiters. Instead of serving customers directly, they essentially use an additional set of weapons.

Thank you and may Cinco de Mayo be with you.

Image credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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