SoftBank, the giant telecom company, is venturing out into the world of robotics and transportation services. DealStreet Asia said that SoftBank is trying to transform itself into the ‘Berkshire Hathaway of the tech industry’ with the recent launch of a $100 billion technology fund.
UPDATED 5/24/17: SoftBank’s acquisition of 4.9% of the outstanding shares of Nvidia Corp.
Dig below the surface of some of today’s biggest tech controversies and you are likely to find an algorithm misfiring. These errors are not primarily caused by problems in the data that can make algorithms discriminatory, or their inability to improvise creatively. No, they stem from something more fundamental: the fact that algorithms, even when they are generating routine predictions based on non-biased data, will make errors. To err is algorithm.
This week I attended an “Artificial Intelligence (AI) Roundtable” of leading scientists, entrepreneurs and venture investors. As the discussion focused mainly on basic statistical techniques, I left feeling unfulfilled. My friend, Matt Turck, recently wrote that “just about every major tech company is working very actively on AI,” which also means that every startup hungry for capital is purchasing a dot ‘ai’ domain name. As the lines blur between what is and what reallyisn’t, I feel it necessary to provide readers with a quick lens of how to view intelligent agents for mechatronics.
After reading the press releases for this batch of 24 research reports, although they vary widely in their forecasts, they almost all agree that most segments of the robotics industry are expected to grow at a double-digit pace at least through 2022.
iRobot (IRBT on the NASDAQ stock exchange) jumped from $70 to $80 per share on news that iRobot’s quarterly earnings were so good that the company raised their forecast for 2017 to new highs. KUKA also had good Q1/17 earnings as did Intuitive Surgical.
According to AgFunder’s 2016 AgTech Investing Report (supported by The Robot Report’s own research), 2016 drone funding fell 64% from 2015 levels. Also, the type of companies getting funded were sensor, payload and analytics-based add-ons or service-providing companies rather than drone makers.
April 2017 had 16 robotics-related fundings totaling over $337 million – a fourth solid month for 2017 – $995 million year-to-date. Acquisitions also continued to be substantial with ABB’s $2 billion acquisition of Bernecker & Rainer, plus Baidu, iRobot and Cognex each making strategic acquistions. And there was some IPO activity (but no new stocks).
Most of us are familiar with the podcasts about robotics from the Robots Podcast group. For different perspectives, from the funder’s point of view, here’s a list of podcasts from the VC’s that fund robotics and technology ventures — funders like Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Greylock Partners and Y Combinator.
Tactile sensing and force feedback are – and have been – problem areas for robot grasping. Humans could see, select and pick so much faster. Yet to handle the millions of different everyday items in our factories and warehouses, costly positioning and camera systems have been required. These systems made it easy for fast robots with simple grippers to pick items as they came along – but at great cost.
CBS News, and reporter David Pogue, displayed some new technologies threatening jobs, while the International Federation of Robotics suggested that deploying robots actually increases jobs. Are either true? Or both?
March 2017 had 29 robotics-related startups get funding totaling over $222 million – another solid month for 2017 and $658 million year-to-date. Acquisitions also continued to be substantial with Intel’s eye-popping $15 billion acquisition of Israeli Mobileye. Plus, there were three IPOs.
A new white paper by the Robotics Industries Association (RIA) says that as many as 2 million US manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in the next ten years due to a lack of skilled workers. According to the paper: “80% of manufacturers report a shortage of qualified applicants for skilled production positions, and the shortage could cost US manufacturers 11% of their annual earnings.”
A new report from Navigant Research includes the chart shown below, ranking various teams on the race to robocar deployment. It’s causing lots of press headlines about how Ford is the top company and companies like Google and Uber are far behind. I elected not to buy the $3,800 report, but based on the summary I believe their conclusions are ill founded to say the least.
ABB, one of the Big Four global robot makers, has acquired Austrian industrial automation integrator and components manufacturer B&R (Bernecker & Rainer) Automation for an undisclosed amount but estimated to be “close to $2 billion.” The purchase is being funded from ABB’s own cash and is expected to close by mid-year.