Let’s talk about humanoids Could you wait a minute? Why do so many roboticists insist on building robots that look like us? Get ready to see more humanoid robots.
This theme is top priority for several reasons. First, and most notably, is the fact that Tesla is planning to unveil a version of Optimus (a.k.a. Tesla Bot) that isn’t just a spandex human. Tesla describes the project as follows:
Develop next-generation automation, including general-purpose bipedal humanoid robots that can perform unsafe, repetitive, or tedious tasks. We are looking for mechanical, electrical, controls and software engineers to help us leverage our AI expertise beyond vehicle fleets.
Having announced that a prototype could be ready as early as next year, Musk has faced criticism from the robotics community for his ambitious (if not impossible) project. Robot’s next debut must do more than just walk on stage to silence skeptics. Could it be that smart and well-funded brains haven’t been able to achieve it?
Another reason it comes to mind has to do with our talk this morning. Figure’s Self-Funded Effort to Introduce Unique Humanoids Courtesy of an impressive staff of former Apple, Tesla, Boston Dynamics and Google employees. Given that the project has yet to announce a product, or for that matter the company, it’s too early to judge a product.
A slightly easier question to answer is why humanoids. This is something I’ve discussed with many roboticists over the years. Our brains are wired to think of robots as mechanical versions of ourselves. Decades of science fiction have seen it. But roboticists’ approaches are often pragmatic. The right form factor for the job is a good rule of thumb. Beyond that, you end up with more potential points of failure while raising the price tag.
There’s a reason the world’s most popular consumer robot is a hockey puck that vacuums. It’s designed to do one specific job well (refined over generations) in the way that makes the most sense for that job. Introducing some degree of human-like functionality (like Amazon’s Astro) would help anthropomorphize the robot, perhaps allowing users to form emotional bonds with things, but it’s not required. . And iRobot is already struggling enough to give him his MSRP of less than $1,000.
But the counterargument is persuasive in itself. A few years ago, I spoke with some of the team testing NASA’s Valkyrie bipedal robot. As they point out, humans tend to shape the world around them. Buildings and streets are constructed to the specifications of our own evolution, so robots designed to navigate those spaces will end up like us. Automation is the most sincere form of flattery.
We stare into this space.
Speaking of humanoids, SoftBank Robotics Europe’s journey seems to have finally come to an end. Aldebaran ultimately struggled as he transitioned from NAO research robots to Pepper after his 2015 acquisition. The latter was built on the premise that a friendly face built on top of a limited-capability robot would help drive traffic to your business.
SoftBank eventually sold the company to German firm United Robotics Group this summer after reports it was halting production of Pepper. This week, URG announced that it will be reverting the brand back to its original name while working to “improve our existing product offerings such as Pepper and Nao.” Meanwhile, SoftBank remains a shareholder.
in the meantime, NVIDIA of the week We unloaded a ton of product news, including several items on our robotics platform efforts. Specifically, CEO Jensen Huang brings the Isaac Sim robotics simulator to the cloud via the AWS RoboMaker service I explained in detail the chip maker’s efforts. NVIDIA said:
Isaac Sim in the cloud enables roboticists to generate large datasets from physically accurate sensor simulations to train AI-based perception models in robots. Synthetic data generated in these simulations improves model performance and provides training data that often cannot be collected in the real world.
News from the forefront of ‘general-purpose’ robotics Apptronik explains The next Apollo robot. Austin’s company has already won a contract to bring his own humanoid to NASA.
“Traditional robots are designed to do highly reproducible things in structured environments,” co-founder and CEO Jeff Cardenas told TechCrunch. “What we have really been focusing on is how to build a robot that can operate in a dynamic environment that is highly changeable. So how can we build robots to work in spaces designed for humans?”
Naturally, the company positions the system as a platform on which developers can build various functions. Apptronik hopes to show off the Apollo at next year’s SXSW in his hometown of Austin.
Other big news on small robots this week, covered by Devin Antbots at Cornell University, “It’s actually the size of an ant to an ant”, if you can get your head around that sort of thing. The system uses solar cells for power and tiny circuits to move its tiny legs. Potential applications are the standard types cited for such micro-robots.
Applications range from environmental cleanup and monitoring, to targeted drug delivery, cell monitoring or stimulation, and microsurgery. In all these applications, robots with on-board control systems to sense and respond to their environment and to operate autonomously offer remarkable advantages and produce positive outcomes in the world around us. Setting the stage for ubiquitous smart micro-robots with the ability to bring
Not so small, but interesting is this robot from KEYi Tech. About to break the $1 million mark There’s just over a month left on Kickstarter. Comparisons between Loona and her Cozmo robot from Anki are inevitable, but the creators of ClicBot have done a very nice job of representing and moving the robot. As I mentioned in my article on Anki, I asked the company to send me the raw video to make sure it wasn’t a render.
Finally, this week, $5 million in funding citizen roboticsThe Bay Area-based company built an autonomous robot to create land surveys for construction sites. Co-Founder and CEO Tom Yeshurun said:
The construction industry faces the challenge of a labor shortage. CivDot makes work more efficient and safer while driving projects forward from the start. Already, a leader in the EPC industry, his Bechtel employs his CivDots for research. Today’s funding shows that as a company, we have an opportunity to build the world around us.
The seed round was led by ff Venture Capital and Alley Robotics Ventures, with participation from Trimble Ventures. So many ventures, so little time.
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