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by   -   January 24, 2013

Based on the following press release, iRobot, a leader in delivering robotic solutions, announced that the RP-VITA Remote Presence Robot has received 510(k) clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in hospitals. RP-VITA is the first autonomous navigation remote presence robot to receive FDA clearance.

iRobot Corporation and Rayheon BBN Technologies Corp. have filed a US patent entitled “Robotic Fabricator“, a completely autonomous all-in-one product fabrication robot that handles manufacturing (including 3D printing) and all the post printing work from seed component to mature product.

by   -   January 4, 2013

The annual CES – Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, is always a great opportunity for trendspotting and innovation hunting in consumer electronics including consumer robotics. CES 2013 will be held January 8-11 and some of the hot topics discussed this year will be mobility and connectivity, the new mantra of consumer electronics, the state of tech retailing in 2013 including show rooming, battling for online supremacy, OEMs going direct, private label. Other topics are cloud computing and the implications for consumer tech and the future of auto technology.

Consumer robotics is still an emerging technology issue and only a few companies are exhibiting products ready for sale, among them market leader iRobot, announcing the demo of the new Mirra 530 Pool Cleaning Robot and Looj 330 Gutter Cleaning Robot.

 

Credit: Suitable Technologies, Beam

Telepresence robots have been identified as a promising consumer application for many years and there is a growing number of start-up companies developing new mobile platforms for video conferencing, tele-traveling and remote control.

Read more

 

by   -   August 22, 2012

Max Nisen of Business Insider wrote recently of a list of seven stock picks discovered in a Credit Suisse report on long term trends. One of those trends was increasing global automation (particularly in China) and the seven picks relate to companies poised to benefit from those needs.

The article and list prompted a series of quick personal opinions concerning almost all of their selections which I thought might be interesting to followers of the robotics industry.

by   -   August 1, 2012
Last week I attended the 7th Annual Remote Presence Clinical Innovations Forum hosted by InTouch Health in Santa Barbara, CA, a two-day users conference disseminating the latest information regarding a wide range of telemedicine-related topics through presentations and workshops. The keynote address, by Yulun Wang, Chairman and CEO of InTouch Health and Colin Angle, Chairman, co-founder and CEO of iRobot, Remote Presence’s Future: From Enabling Access to Coordinating Care, provided the platform to announce and display InTouch Health’s new RP-VITA telepresence robot which autonomously brought itself onstage skillfully avoiding a few obstacles.

InTouch Health has installed their remote presence robots and portable devices in hospitals all over the world, and their devices are used more frequently year by year. In his keynote speech, Wang said they were in “500 hospitals and have 60,000 high acuity consults a year now, and growing at a nice clip.” This is up from 300 hospitals and 20,000 consults two years ago.

by   -   August 1, 2012
 By Frank Tobe, editor/publisher, The Robot Report

Last week I attended the 7th Annual Remote Presence Clinical Innovations Forum hosted by InTouch Health in Santa Barbara, CA, a two-day users conference disseminating the latest information regarding a wide range of telemedicine-related topics through presentations and workshops. The keynote address, by Yulun Wang, Chairman and CEO of InTouch Health and Colin Angle, Chairman, co-founder and CEO of iRobot, Remote Presence’s Future: From Enabling Access to Coordinating Care, provided the platform to announce and display InTouch Health’s new RP-VITA telepresence robot which autonomously brought itself onstage skillfully avoiding a few obstacles.

InTouch Health has installed their remote presence robots and portable devices in hospitals all over the world, and their devices are used more frequently year by year. In his keynote speech, Wang said they were in “500 hospitals and have 60,000 high acuity consults a year now, and growing at a nice clip.” This is up from 300 hospitals and 20,000 consults two years ago.

After the address I spent a few moments with Colin and asked him about iRobot’s role with InTouch and about their goals for their new mobility platform.

I saw and played with the new RP-VITA robots and they are truly slick. But the most enlightening thing I saw was four hours of tightly-packed presentations by critical care doctors and hospital administrators, all users of InTouch Health’s remote presence robots, and all portraying different aspects of why remote presence in health care is relevant, is saving lives and is necessary today and why it will continue to be in the future.

  • A Trauma Telemedicine outfit from Halifax, Canada is providing pre-natal care in a Third World South American nation. They are using InTouch Health’s portable remote presence devices with a traveling nurse to assist in taking and discussing ultra sound exams and other pre-natal treatments with health care professionals in Canada for rural pregnant women.
  • Two hospital systems (one in Florida and the other in Pennsylvania) are letting their patients see their doctors by telepresence at nearby local facilities using InTouch’s robots and other telepresence technology thereby making in unnecessary to drive to a big city university hospital.
  • Virtual tutoring was presented – in which an amazing feat of software was shown – superimposing the consulting surgeon’s hands over the view of the actual surgery so that it could be seen and discussed by both the consulting and on-site physicians.
  • Robots were used to provide admitting and initial diagnosis — one system actually has a 7 pm to 7 am robot shift. Nurses commented that by using the robots they could quickly get nighttime help and, because of the cameras and two-way dialogue capabilities, there has been no disagreement about what is seen by each of the various people involved.
  • A survey at one hospital utilizing InTouch robots showed a reduction of length-of-stay by 1+ days, the average patient census was down by 1, and there was an increase in cases by 9.
  • In a couple of presentations, a mobile robot was hooked up to the ballroom speaker system when the speaker had to be in two places at the same time. One doctor was a team physician for an Olympic soccer team in London; another missed a plane and was using his laptop at the airport to operate the robot on the stage.
  • There was one testimonial after another — and that was before the announcement of the new RP-VITA robot!

iRobot’s Mobility Platform

iRobot’s mobility platform is as slick, shiny and elegantly crafted as is the re-designed InTouch Health application station and “head” that is mounted atop it. Neatly encased in iRobot’s pedestal are three PrimeSense 3D sensors (two below and one above), four omni-directional Swedish wheels, an acoustic sensor, a laser sensor and iRobot’s Aware2 operating system. For the joint venture with InTouch, iRobot has provided an enhanced navigation system so that the device can quickly and autonomously move from point to point, rerouting as necessary for collision avoidance. This frees the health care professional from remotely driving the robot. [The autonomy feature is pending FDA approval which is expected in Q4.]
Also, the new RP-VITA specs contain a simple-to-use iPad interface for navigation and interaction with the patient and health care team. Thus, with the Aware2 operating system and software developer kit (SDK), and an iPad SDK both available to developers, thousands of developers can provide applications for a single, solid, proven platform.
Product engineering and appearance are always important considerations. Continued Colin, “When we test drove the RP-VITA without the skin, people thought it moved too fast and was unstable. But when we encased it and made it look as it does now, there were none of those complaints.”

Colin Angle stated that iRobot’s ultimate goal is to have a multi-purpose mobile robot in every home for every type of care and service. Thus, with this smooth-running new RP-VITA platform and the Aware2 SDK, iRobot is ready to take its know-how anywhere and everywhere. About the joint venture, Angle commented that “It was definitely the beginning of something important.”

InTouch Health’s RP-VITA Mobile Robot

Over the past 10 years, InTouch Health has been modifying it’s remote presence products to adapt to what health care professionals have needed. They gradually came to the conclusion that one methodology doesn’t fit all needs. Enabling a doctor to be in two places at once involves a whole series of products and systems. Currently they have three very capable solutions to those remote presence needs: a portable Xpress device for ambulances and remote locations unfriendly to mobile robots; a portable operating room station (Vantage and Lite); and the new mobile VITA robot. The swiveling wide-angle and zoom cameras and monitor and the two-way communication are integral parts of all of their products. The general purpose of each product is to easily perform real-time consults with patients and other physicians and health care providers through the use of secure interfaces supported by a speedy and secure network infrastructure.

As a pioneer in the field of health care telepresence, InTouch Health has had the unenviable task of keeping up with technological change while offering state-of-the-art remote presence robotic products. The release of this new RP-VITA robot and the partnership with iRobot, indicate how this new venture is paying off: the integration of new iPad apps integrated with the iRobot platform and an API making further clinical apps easily available, InTouch seems to have a viable forward plan.

However, competition is just around the corner. VGo Communication, Giraff Technologies and other telepresence robot companies are working with hospitals and municipalities to find uses their products can provide:

  • Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire has leased four VGo robots for a pilot program. They will be on site to supplement nurses in homes of patients in the group’s hospice to allow medical specialists in other locations to have live consultations about the case.
  • Another pilot program using VGos is under way with Children’s Hospital Boston where the hospital sends VGos home with kids after their operations so that doctors can check on their young patients once they’re home and talk with parents or caregivers about their care.
  • Giraffs are being placed by visiting nurses where frequent contact is desired. Giraffs can also be used by family members for communication and video conferencing.

Certainly, the joint venture with iRobot has freed InTouch to focus more on what it does best and leave the driving to iRobot.

by   -   July 27, 2012


In a joint press release, US companies InTouch Health and iRobot have announced a new telepresence robot for hospitals. The robot called “RP-VITA” builds on iRobot’s AVA platform introduced at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Similar to the AVA, the RP-VITA uses a tablet as the user interface and has autonomous mapping and navigation capabilities. The RP-VITA can also connect with diagnostic devices, such as otoscopes and ultrasound, and comes equipped with the latest electronic stethoscope. The robot is currently pending clearance by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), with results expected in the last quarter of 2012.

by   -   May 11, 2012

2. Broader Financial Climate

A positive indicator for robotics startups is the improving financial climate. There are signs that the US housing market is stabilizing. Fannie Mae, the government backed mortgage company, has posted a profit for the first time since 2007 without needing a government bailout. The decline in home prices is slowing, as are mortgage delinquency rates and the rate of American home purchasing is on the rise again.

“We expect our financial results for 2012 to be significantly better than 2011,” Susan R. McFarland, Fannie Mae’s chief financial officer, said in a statement. “As our serious delinquency rate declines and home prices stabilize, we expect to reduce our reserves, which combined with revenue from our high-quality new book of business will drive our future results.” [1]

While not everyone is getting rich yet, the overall financial indicators show that the U.S. economy has rebounded faster than predicted. The stock market has doubled since 2009, corporate profits are surging and the U.S. economy is growing at 3% pa. As financial journalist Daniel Gross puts it:

“Like the world’s first bionic man, the U.S. economy has come back—better, stronger, and faster than most analysts expected, and than most of its peers.” [2]

While this is a U.S. centric view and some of Europe is still in financial crisis, nonetheless China and S.E.Asia are surging and many African economies are showing very promising proportional growth rates. There are other sources that describe the current world economic status but it’s no longer a bad time for a capital intensive industry like robotics to grow. Particularly if business models lower the risk by utilizing lease models or the rapid cheap trial and error methods of startups.

Where Defense budgets are tightening on traditional robotics, like unmanned systems, the Whitehouse is committing spending towards other newer robotics growth areas. All this indicates that robotics is ready to support itself as an industry, rather than be supported as a research project. Legislation is being passed allowing the introduction of driverless cars and by 2015 we may see changes permitting the commercial use of small drones in U.S. airspace.

3. Maturity of Robotics Technology

Rodney Brooks, founder of iRobot and current CEO of Heartland Robotics, is one of many expressing the view that robotics has progressed beyond a cool new research area and into the world of robot products. While making new discoveries is exciting, there isn’t enough effort going in to using those same exciting new technologies in everyday applications.

 ”Users just want to get a task done. They don’t care if it’s a cool robot. You may, but they may not care if it’s a robot at all,” [3]

So, the question now isn’t what robots can we build, it’s what can we do with the ones we’ve built already. The robots that are successful products seem simple and boring, eg. industrial arms, vacuum cleaners, cars. But when applied to the right problem, even simple robots are transformative. The first successful consumer robot was of course iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner with more than 7 million sold worldwide. But the biggest acquisition of a robotics company was Amazon buying Kiva in March 2012 for $775 million.

Kiva’s system relies on small orange turtle like robots that move shelves around in warehouses. The brains are largely on servers. The robots aren’t ‘cool or exciting’. They are barely even robots. But they solve the problem that sank WebVan, one of the most spectacular e-commerce failures. You can only do half your e-commerce in the cloud. Somewhere real products have to be shipped to real places.

Kiva founder Mick Mountz is an MIT engineer who worked at WebVan. “We decided products that could walk and talk on their own would be the best way to solve the problem,” he laughs. [4]

Think of Kiva bots as the hands and feet of the Cloud.  They are not autonomous Star-Trek-like agents, but are wirelessly connected to and controlled by the Cloud in real-time. [5]

Amazon, like WebVan, has to ship product. Reportedly, phsyical order fulfilment cost nearly 9 percent of Amazon’s $40 billion global revenues. This is a big enough pain point for some companies to be willing to trial the Kiva System in a few locations, especially smaller retailers, like Staples in 2004, who faced increasing competition in cloud commerce.

Kiva’s robots today are processing millions of orders a year in retailers’ warehouses across the United States, the UK, and Europe, quietly driving Kiva’s startling 80 percent annual growth. On the distant horizon is a plan to bring Kiva’s approach to the manufacturing sector. [6]

Jeff Bezos from Amazon is also investing heavily in Heartland Robotics. Brooks has a vision of transforming the workplace by making robots that can be safely worked with, shifting robots out of sterile, safe factory environments and bringing them alongside people. His analogy is with mainframe computer systems in the 1960s to the personal computer of the 1980s.

“Originally ordinary people couldn’t touch computers. Now they can. What if ordinary people could touch robots?” [7]

The future of robotics is exciting, but we’ve barely begun to fully explore the potential of the simple robots we already have.

next post: Increasing modularity & commonality plus decreasing component costs

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/business/fannie-mae-profit-signals-a-stabilizing-housing-market.html
  2. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/04/29/myth-of-decline-u-s-is-stronger-and-faster-than-anywhere-else.html
  3. http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57391570-76/robots-still-lack-the-human-touch/
  4. http://www.forbes.com/sites/markpmills/2012/03/23/amazons-kiva-robot-acquisition-is-bullish-for-both-amazon-and-american-jobs/
  5. http://www.alumni.hbs.edu/bulletin/2012/march/innovation-mountz.html
  6. http://www.alumni.hbs.edu/bulletin/2012/march/innovation-mountz.html
  7. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2012/05/heartland_robotics_will_unveil.html
by   -   March 22, 2012

What’s the best approach to building commercially successful robotics companies? Here are two arguments from two prominent people in the robotics industry:

  1. Identify a need that can be filled with a robotic solution in a large marketplace and build a practical and specialized robotic product to satisfy that need.
  2. Make it free and easy to design, program, simulate and test robotic applications and share your progress, problems and results with others all over the world using a common platform and the applications will come.

These two points of view were presented in a spirited cocktail party debate the other evening in Lyon, France at InnoRobo 2012, an innovation forum and trade show for service robotics. Here’s how it happened, who they were, and what they said.

by   -   March 22, 2012
A version of this post originally appeared on Automaton, IEEE Spectrum’s robotics blog.
By Frank Tobe, editor/publisher, The Robot Report

What’s the best approach to building commercially successful robotics companies? Here are two arguments from two prominent people in the robotics industry:

  1. Identify a need that can be filled with a robotic solution in a large marketplace and build a practical and specialized robotic product to satisfy that need.
  2. Make it free and easy to design, program, simulate and test robotic applications and share your progress, problems and results with others all over the world using a common platform and the applications will come.

These two points of view were presented in a spirited cocktail party debate the other evening in Lyon, France at InnoRobo 2012, an innovation forum and trade show for service robotics. Here’s how it happened, who they were, and what they said.

Left: Robert Bauer, Executive Director, Commercialization, Willow Garage, a privately held corporation.
Right: Colin Angle, Chairman of the Board, co-founder and CEO, iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT).

I interviewed Colin Angle shortly after he gave a presentation about the need for robotic solutions in health care and asked him, amongst other questions, what he thought about Willow Garage’s ROS open source software concept. He said he thought it was dangerous to the industry and was fearful that it was also detrimental to the monetizing of the service robotics sector in particular.

Later I was meeting with Tim Field from Willow Garage when Robert Bauer joined the conversation. Bauer was a substitute Willow Garage speaker because Steve Cousins had to alter his travel plans. In his presentation, Bauer made the point that hardware was farther along than AI software and that AI, 3D and application software were where the robotics industry needed help.

Out of fun I told Bauer what Angle said and he became feisty and said he’d love to debate Angle as to which method contributed more to product development and commercialization.

Coincidentally, at a cocktail party for speakers, exhibitors and hosts that same evening, I was casually talking with Bauer when Angle came by to say hello to me and I introduced him to Bauer — and the fun began.

Angle suggested that freely providing such a key and critical component as the robotic operating and simulation system – and the extensive libraries that go with ROS – as Willow Garage does with their open source and unprotected robotic operating system (ROS) – was tantamount to letting the biggest consumer giant(s) gobble up any mass market applications and re-market them globally at low cost because they already have (or could easily reverse-engineer) the hardware, could produce it cheaply, the operating system was free courtesy of ROS, and the only real cost was the acquisition of the application(s).

Cover of 3/19/2012 issue of
Bloomberg Businessweek magazine

Angle thought that it was dangerous and led to losing a potentially American/European market to offshore commodity conglomerates and said:

Robotics innovation represents a tremendous opportunity for economic growth akin to automobiles, aerospace and information technology. If we are to freely share our ‘intellectual capital’ on the open market we risk losing the economic engine that will advance our economies and send growth and jobs overseas.

The issue of losing trade secrets to foreign conglomerates was the subject of this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Here’s a particularly relevant quote from the cover story – and keep in mind that the operating system mentioned was protected but hacked; nevertheless the story is relevant to this discussion:

In November, 14 U.S. intelligence agencies issued a report describing a far-reaching industrial espionage campaign by Chinese spy agencies. This campaign has been in the works for years and targets a swath of industries: biotechnology, telecommunications, and nanotechnology, as well as clean energy.

As the toll adds up, political leaders and intelligence officials in the U.S. and Europe are coming to a disturbing conclusion. “It’s the greatest transfer of wealth in history,” General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said at a security conference at New York’s Fordham University in January.

[The article went on to describe the plight of AMSC, an American wind turbine developer, as they discovered that not only had their software been stolen, but Chinese companies had duplicated most of their component parts as well.] 

AMSC technicians tapped into the turbine’s computer to get to the bottom of the glitch. The problem wasn’t immediately clear, so the technicians made a copy of the control system’s software and sent it to the company’s research center which produced some startling findings. The Sinovel turbine appeared to be running a stolen version of AMSC’s software. Worse, the software revealed that Sinovel had complete access to AMSC’s proprietary source code. In short, Sinovel didn’t really need AMSC anymore.

On April 5, AMSC had no choice but to announce that Sinovel—its biggest customer, accounting for more than two-thirds of the company’s $315 million in revenue in 2010—had stopped making purchases. Investors fled, erasing 40 percent of AMSC’s value in a single day and 84 percent of it by September. The company’s stock chart looks like the EKG of a person rushing toward white light.

Colin Angle has consistently held that we are going about developing the robotics industry wrong: “The idea that a humanoid robot with arms would push a vacuum cleaner is an image that has set many expectations and, in some ways, has set back the industry,” when, by just rethinking what needs to be done, we can build a product that satisfies a specific need (vacuuming), as iRobot did with their Roomba line of robotic vacuums. “I used to think that I was a self-respecting high-tech entrepreneur, but it took me becoming a vacuum cleaner salesman to actually have some success for my company, my investors and myself.”

Bauer said that Willow Garage’s objectives were to stimulate the industry by enabling participants to not have to reinvent the many cross-science elements of robotics ventures; to reuse software under the premise that by so doing it saves developer time and allows researchers to focus on research. By giving them free access to the tools, libraries and simulation capabilities of ROS, its many libraries, and access to the PR2s that are available for testing and experimentation, Willow Garage hopes to advance the state-of-the-art in autonomous robotics technologies. Says Steve Cousins, CEO, “We want everyone to work together. We’re happy having a smaller piece of the pie, but having the pie be much bigger.”

Bauer also said that, once a successful app was developed, then the new endeavor would likely lock down the operating system and application software in order to protect their invention.

Kiva Systems shelf-moving robots.
They slip under the shelves, screw themselves tight, and then bring the shelves to the picker/packers.

Supporting Angle’s position to find a problem and develop a unique robotic solution is today’s news that Amazon has acquired Kiva Systems (for $775 million!). Kiva Systems is the company that turned warehousing upside down by using robots to bring shelves to the pickers and packers instead of vice versa.

To Bauer, Angle suggested that ROS itself could be locked down, protected, and commercialized now – and that it should be done right away – and that what the robotic industry needs for inspiration is winning robotics companies – profitable companies with millionaire employees selling in-demand products, as would happen if ROS privatized; not more notches on the oversized belts of big offshore conglomerates. But he also said that unless ROS is protected and made stable and secure, it could never be used for sensitive (defense, space, security) solutions, and until it became rugged, secure and stable, it could never be used in factories that cannot afford down time from their robots or software.

He said it would make him happy if all the people that displayed their robots at Innorobo were successful and wealthy, but that the opposite was more likely because the right big-market robotic applications hadn’t happened just yet.

The discussion went on and ended with Bauer inviting Angle to continue the discussion onsite at Willow Garage and Angle agreeing to do it.

I hope I have presented the two positions fairly because I think that both sides have merit. Using the analogy that developing apps for smartphones and tablets is similar to developing applications for service robots in the open source community of shared libraries, imagine how much talent is being squandered in the whimsy of making a fun app? Do we have to sift through the chaos and diversity of thousands of apps to find the few – if any – that are suitable for real business tasks? Or would we be better served to rethink how we satisfy real needs by building specific products to satisfy those needs?

What do you think?

by   -   February 6, 2011

And so it begins! The January 14th episode of Robots Podcast features an interview with Joe Jones, CTO of Harvest Automation (previously with iRobot).

 

Harvest Automation didn’t start out with the idea of building robots for greenhouse operations, instead they looked around for a market where their initial efforts, to develop what was essentially a larger, more powerful version of the Roomba (without the vacuum), would be applicable outside of the initial context, instead of their having to start from a blank slate for each application.

 

They settled on agriculture, beginning with a machine to move potted plants around, operating alongside human workers. It isn’t hard to imagine how this platform might develop in various directions to perform other horticultural tasks, eventually evolving into a scalable system capable of applying intensive methods to large land areas. That’s not the stated goal of Harvest Automation, but the profit motive may very well lead them in that direction.



Solid State Lidar – the 3D Camera
June 29, 2020


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