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Please don’t knock the robot over • TechCrunch


Greetings from Cupertino, California, where the temperature cooled to a much more reasonable 101 degrees. That’s a nice change from the 109 degrees we hit here on Tuesday. I’m here this week for the big Apple event. There was no robotics news to speak of, but that’s why we’re coming to you a day late with Actuator. I will try not to make it a habit.

We have an interesting selection of robotics news this week. It is truly a testament to the extent of this field over the past few decades. But first, let’s start with a few familiar businesses. I wanted to quote this passage from Kirsten’s recent article on Uber’s deployment on the autonomous Nuro sidewalk for Eats food deliveries:

Uber Eats customers will be charged the same for delivery, whether it’s a Nuro bot or a human worker. However, there may be cost savings as Nuro robots cannot accept tips. Customers will not know at the time of ordering whether they are receiving their own delivery or if it is a typical courier delivery. If the Eats customer pre-selects the tip option and Nuro makes the delivery, that tip will be refunded.

I point this out for two reasons:

  1. It’s just objectively funny, reimbursing an accidental robot tip.
  2. It’s an important reminder of all the unintended consequences of implementing new technologies.

Picture credits: Noro

This is a great opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of an Uber Eats customer (a position many of us have no doubt held more than once in the last 2.5 years). Imagine this scenario: you place an order for one of these huge mission-style burritos at your favorite neighborhood taqueria. While waiting for that massively dense cylinder of guacamole and beans, consider this: who would you rather see at the door? A robot or a human being?

No judgement. There are many things to consider. First and foremost, the novelty factor. This is something I discuss a lot with people who make food robots like Flippy. There’s some tangible excitement there, seeing your pizza or burger being prepared by a robot for the first time. Of course, such things wear off pretty quickly and suddenly the value of the product comes down to its effectiveness. I suspect for many people there will be genuine excitement the first time one of these little robots stops on their doorstep.

Beyond that, do you have a particular preference? Do you want the human touch? Do you want a robot that is not a potential vector of disease (something that, again, has undoubtedly been a priority for many in recent years)? Do you feel guilty that a worker delivers your burrito on a bike in the rain while you’re sitting comfortably at home and dry? What about the pang of guilt you feel knowing that a robot has replaced a source of income for a human?

You probably don’t feel particularly guilty about not tipping the robot like you would a human (feeling guilty about not tipping people should be on the Turing test, frankly). And there’s definitely something to be said for saving $5 or $10 on a tip for a $20 order. None of this happens overnight, of course. Even after years of research, development and piloting, there are still many regulatory and other hurdles to overcome. So you have time to understand all of the above.

Real-time robotic real-time controller

Picture credits: Real-time robotics

The big fundraising news of the week is a medium-sized round raised by Realtime Robotics. The $14.4 million round comes 15 months after the Boston-based robotics deployment company announced a $31 million Series A round. Realtime is one of the few companies working to solve problems with industrial robots. Specifically, how can non-robotics deploy these machines and help avoid some potentially nasty accidents down the road?

“We have seen tremendous industry response to the launch of RapidPlan and its ability to make collision-free operations a reality for industrial robotics, accelerating programming time and increasing throughput,” said CEO Peter Howard in a statement. “We recently transitioned from hardware to pure software, making it even easier for all of our customers and partners to integrate our revolutionary technology into their existing stack and workflows. This latest round of funding will help us scale to meet demand. »

Roomba

Picture credits: Brian Heater

The We All Saw This Coming department learns that the FTC is investigating Amazon’s planned acquisition of iRobot. The news has both excited home robotics enthusiasts and sent serious red flags among privacy advocates.

If you’ve been following Amazon for a while, you know the myriad concerns about things like law enforcement’s use of its Rekognition people detection software, as well as Ring security cameras. An iRobot acquisition takes these issues to a new level. Specifically, higher-end Roombas have sensors designed to map the interior of your home.

Politico notes in the report that “the companies are bracing for a potentially long and arduous investigation, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.” The news comes as The Wall Street Journal reports that the agency is also investigating Amazon’s proposed acquisition of One Medical.

Please don't knock the robot over • TechCrunch

Picture credits: Ghost Robotics

Speaking of governments and robots, the Defense Equipment and Support unit of the UK Ministry of Defense has announced that it is testing potential use cases for Ghost Robotics’ dog within the UK military. The DE&S Future Capability Group (FCG) also pilots Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot, although Ghosts’ systems have raised a lot more eyebrows lately, due to the company’s fairly agnostic approach to usage. of the system in conflicts, including the development by third parties of an autonomous rifle.

For now, at least, much of the interest revolves around sending the robot to dangerous places to potentially save human lives. Says Dave Swan of the incongruously and deliciously named FCG Expeditionary Robotics Center of Expertise:

In the modern battlespace, robotics is becoming increasingly important to allow soldiers to operate faster and longer. The Ghost V60 Quadruped provides enhanced situational awareness for soldiers on the ground. It has the potential to be the eyes and ears of frontline military personnel, increasing the accuracy of target identification and acquisition.

This offers many potential use cases for the British military, from delivering mission-critical supplies, detecting dangerous areas, or carrying out combat tasks deemed too dangerous for humans. Ultimately, the Ghost V60 quadruped is designed to reduce the risk to life and the burden on military personnel.

Portrait of the head of an adult black and white cow, soft look, pink nose, in front of a blue sky.

Picture credits: Getty Images

Here is an eye-opening story about choosing the “right herd” for robotic milking systems. Marvel at such incredible phrases as “Good udder conformation.” This allows the robot to easily attach the milking unit and clean the teats. This is perhaps an inversion of how we might traditionally think of this system, as robots conforming to cows, rather than the other way around.

Please don't knock the robot over • TechCrunch

Picture credits: Softbank Robotics

Finally, from the University of Cambridge comes a study to determine the usefulness of social assistance robots (SAR) as part of a therapeutic process for children. The study, which used Softbank’s Nao robot, looked at children between the ages of 8 and 13 and noted:

Our results show that robotic assessment appears to be the most appropriate mode for identifying child well-being-related abnormalities in all three groups of participants compared to self-report and parent-report modes. In addition, children with decreasing levels of well-being (lower, middle and higher tertiles) show different response patterns: children in the upper tertile are more negative in their responses to the robot while those in the lower tertile are more positive. in their responses to the robot. The results of this work show that SARs can be a promising tool to potentially assess problems related to mental well-being in children.

Please don't knock the robot over • TechCrunch

Picture credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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