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Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report. After selling his business and retiring from 25+ years as a computer services consultant to the DNC and major presidential, senatorial, congressional, mayoral campaigns and initiatives all across the U.S., Canada and internationally, he has energetically pursued a new career in researching and investing in robotics.
“Early in 2008, in a personal effort to learn about the robotics industry and the future of robotics, with an eye toward selectively investing in publicly-traded and privately owned robotics businesses, I began an intensive research project that took me to Japan, Korea, China, France, Germany, Switzerland and all over the Internet. My eyesight has suffered but not my mind. I love what I’m doing and finding out and, in an effort to share my research, I set up the website, The Robot Report, to track the business of robotics."
"Early in 2009 I set up the Everything-Robotic blog to supplement The Robot Report with periodic in-depth personal insights.”
Amazon isn’t the only delivery service testing flying robots. DHL and microdrones are testing drones that could be used to deliver urgently needed goods to hard-to-reach places, eg, medicines to remote sites.
Deutsche Post DHL, Germany’s express delivery and mail company, is working with German UAV provider microdrones GmbH to test various methods of flight (piloted or autonomous), types and weights of packages, etc.
There is serious momentum in robotics these days, evidenced by recent news from Apple, Amazon and Google:
Apple announced that they were investing $10.5 billion in supply chain robots and automation equipment and recently confirmed their acquisition of PrimeSense for $350 million (PrimeSense is the developer of the Kinnect 3D system used by MS Xbox)..
Amazon, in a CBS 60 Minutes piece aired last Sunday, displayed a new concept delivery system using an octocopter. Remember that in 2012 Amazon spent $750 million to acquire Kiva Systems, the robot technology enabling robotically-delivered goods to a picker/packer.
And now Google has set up a robotics division headed by the man behind the Android operating system, Andy Rubin. In Rubin’s first six months he has acquired seven robotic companies to jump start his new operation.
In a revealing NY Times interview with Google’s Andy Rubin, some heretofor unknown things came to light. Google is now in the robotics business. They’ve made seven acquisitions in the last six months to give them some talent and a head start. And they are as closed mouth about their plans for their new robotics division as Google has been about everything else.
On Sunday, Charlie Rose from CBS News 60 Minutes, interviewed Jeff Bezos about what is next for Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer with more than 225 million customers.
Volume can reach 300 items a second on special sales days and that volume feeds the activities at 96 Amazon warehouse/distribution centers around the world. Amazon’s goal is to sell everything to everyone and their warehousing and shipping methods have been of constant interest because of their success at being able to deliver as promised. For robotics-interested people, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems and their robotic shelf-to-picker system for $750 million two years ago. Interestingly, in this 60 Minutes interview, no mention was made of Kiva or that method of pick and pack. [Why was that?]
As the need for training on new-tech devices increases, virtual and physical simulation systems are in demand at medical schools and hospitals worldwide. One novel new robotic invention is Patrick, the robotic prostate exam mannequin. Developed by a MD and a virtual experiences research team, Patrick is being trailed at two hospital teaching centers in the US.
On Tuesday, a sleek robotic arm rang the closing bell of the Nasdaq stock exchange. It was the first time a robot performed the task.
The event celebrated the launch of Robo-Stox, a stock index focused on robotics, automation, and related technologies. Thanks to Robo-Stox, individuals and institutions can now easily invest in the continuing growth of the robotics industry worldwide. The index, based on an algorithm and database of robotics I helped develop, is something I’ve dreamed of and worked on for almost eight years.
The new Sense scanner is hand held and you have to slowly wave the device at the object being scanned, watch the viewer to insure coverage, and scan until you are happy with the visual effects.
The MakerBot Digitizer is a turntable where cameras and lasers do a 9-minute scan while the table slowly turns. There are many enthusiastic reviews for this scanner.
As costs of 3D printers continue to drop, these two new low-cost 3D scanners add to the magic of 3D printing by enabling users to easily make scans. The scanners can also be used for other activities like gaming, cake manequins, clothing marketing, etc.
Two images remain in my mind from IROS 2013 last week in Tokyo. The respect for Professor Emeritus Mori and his charting of the uncanny valley in relation to robotics, and the need for a Watson-type synthesis of all the robotics-related scientific papers produced every year.
Let me explain.
Almost all of the presentations at IROS were abstract and technical except for the discussion about Prof. Mori’s Uncanny Valley theory. First of all, he was there and described how he came to observe the uncanny valley under different situations and circumstances. Secondly, all of the presenters and audience were respectful of Prof. Mori’s work, his theory, and him as a person. Third, and most interesting to me, each of the other speakers in this special lecture session described how the uncanny valley theory was relevant in different settings and disciplines. In art, philosophy, psychology — in the works of David Hanson and Hiroshi Ishiguro (both of whom were there) — as well as in medicine, prosthetics and in robotics in general. To me it was a reminder that robotics crosses sciences and connects with humans in many different forms, and this tribute presentation at IROS brought the personal relationships and the breadth of their reach to the forefront, and away from the abstract, theoretical and mechanical side of IROS.
In this video by IEEE/Spectrum, filmed outside the door of the room where the session was held, one can clearly see the multi-science and psychological/philosophical aspects of the theory:
Worse, 90% of scientists don’t even know whether their research is “new” or not.
Ever since I learned of the IBM Watson Jeopardy project my mind has been fascinated with possibilities for practical applications. IBM is on that trail as well and is using Watson to help with medical diagnoses and legal research and briefing. My idea is to get the NSF and IEEE (and other organizations) to commission a Watson project to synthesize robotics and AI-related science papers into a meaningful resource for all to use. At present, there are so many papers published that a researcher cannot possibly read them all. Consequently we don’t even know what we already know. But with Watson, we could know — and we could redirect research activities truly into the unknown without reinventing things over and over.
UPDATE 11/12/13: NASDAQ’s 10-story tall sign was all about Robo-stox LLC, ROBO the ETF, and a Universal Robot with a Schunk hand ringing the NASDAQ closing bell. Quite a spectacle. The arm/hand combo was also used to draw the company logo in a neat video.
NASDAQ:ROBO is a new ETF (exchange traded fund) launched at a price of $25. First day volume was over 225,000 shares.
The new ETF uses a specially formulated index which attempts to reflect the global robotics industry. The index is comprised of 77 companies – 38% domestic; 62% international – in the rapidly developing global robotics and automation industry, with operations in over 15 different countries around the world and listings on multiple foreign and domestic exchanges.