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Indoor robots for commercial spaces: Cobalt Robotics, Aethon, Simbe, Savioke, Diligent Droids, and PAL Robotics

Why Indoor Robots for Commercial Spaces Are the Next Big Thing in Robotics

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Venture funding for robotics has exploded by more than 10x over the last six years and shows no signs of stopping. Most of this investment has been focused on the usual suspects: logistics, warehouse automation, robot arms for manufacturing, healthcare and surgical robots, drones, agriculture, and autonomous cars.

But after looking into the robotics industry as I set out to launch my own robot company, Cobalt, founded last year and which came out of stealth today, I became convinced that there is a new emerging segment about to become one of the fastest-growing in coming years: Autonomous indoor robots for commercial spaces.

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Cobalt Robotics security robot

Cobalt Robotics Introduces a (Mostly) Autonomous Mobile Security Robot

Finding a viable business case for a commercial mobile robot is very tricky. At this point, the most you can realistically expect from a reliable and affordable autonomous platform is the ability to navigate in a semistructured premapped environment, which Savioke (to take one example) has managed to do with its delivery robots for hotels. Despite the fact that robots can do work for businesses, it’s been difficult to identify use cases where they can be valuable enough that said businesses will pay money to use them.

Today, Cobalt Robotics (a startup based in Palo Alto, Calif.) is announcing an autonomous mobile robot designed for indoor security applications that can “work alongside human guards to provide better security than people can do alone.”

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Ghost Robotics' Minitaur robot

Ghost Robotics' Minitaur Demonstrates Impressive New Skills

Last time we saw Ghost Robotics’ Minitaur (which was also the first time we saw Ghost Robotics’ Minitaur), it was getting around mostly by using a sort of hopping or bounding gait. Minitaur can move fairly quickly like this, but one of the advantages that it has as a quadruped is the potential to use a variety of different gaits to help it adapt to different conditions.

In a new video just posted today, Minitaur demonstrates how it’s able to handle all kinds of terrain by dynamically adjusting its gait. And it can climb. And jump. And walk on ice. And walk on two legs. And lots of other things!

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Boston Dynamics' Handle robot

Boston Dynamics Officially Unveils Its Wheel-Leg Robot: "Best of Both Worlds"

When Boston Dynamics introduced its massively upgraded Atlas last year, we said the robot could “do things we’ve never seen other robots doing before, making it one of the most advanced humanoids in existence.” But now, after seeing the video that Boston Dynamics just released to officially unveil its newest creation, Handle, a sort of Atlas on wheels, we’ll just say it again: Handle can do things we’ve never seen other robots doing before, making it one of the most advanced humanoids in existence.

“Wheels are a great invention,” Marc Raibert, founder and president of Boston Dynamics, tells IEEE Spectrum, adding that Handle, which uses a wheel-leg hybrid system, “can have the best of both worlds.”

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Tokyo Tech's Giant Robot Bug TITAN-XIII

Video Friday: Giant Robot Bug, SpaceX Rocket Landing, and Flamethrower Drone

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

Robotics Alley – February 28- March 1, 2017 – Minneapolis, Minn., USA
HRI 2017 – March 6-9, 2017 – Vienna, Austria
IEEE ARSO – March 8-10, 2017 – Austin, Texas, USA
IEEE SSRR – March 10-13, 2017 – Shanghai, China
NYC Drone Film Festival – March 17-19, 2017 – New York, N.Y., USA
European Robotics Forum – March 22-24, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland
NDIA Ground Robotics Conference – March 22-23, 2017 – Springfield, Va., USA
Automate – April 3-3, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
ITU Robot Olympics – April 7-9, 2017 – Istanbul, Turkey
ROS Industrial Consortium – April 07, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 8-16, 2017 – USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-20, 2017 – NASA KSC, Florida, USA
RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
RoboGames 2017 – April 21-23, 2017 – Pleasanton, Calif., USA

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.


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Hexapod robot

Six-Legged Robot One-Ups Nature With Faster Gait

Usually, biologically inspired robotics is about figuring out evolution’s clever tricks and then trying to apply them to your robot to make it faster or more efficient or more skilled or whatever. It isn’t very often that a robot ends up beating nature at its own game—evolution is a very intelligent designer, and roboticists are going up against a half billion years of trial and error.

In an article published last week in Nature Communications, researchers from EPFL, in Lausanne, Switzerland, managed to show that for legged hexapods, a bipedal gait (using just two active legs at once) is often the fastest and most efficient way of moving, even though insects use a tripedal gait instead.

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iCub humanoid robot

Video Friday: Robot Push-Recovery, Air-Water Drone, and DARPA Explains AI

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

Robotics Alley – February 28-March 1, 2017 – Minneapolis, Minn., USA
HRI 2017 – March 6-9, 2017 – Vienna, Austria
IEEE ARSO – March 8-10, 2017 – Austin, Texas, USA
IEEE SSRR – March 10-13, 2017 – Shanghai, China
NYC Drone Film Festival – March 17-19, 2017 – New York, N.Y., USA
European Robotics Forum – March 22-24, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland
Automate – April 3-3, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
ITU Robot Olympics – April 7-9, 2017 – Istanbul, Turkey
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 8-16, 2017 – USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-20, 2017 – NASA KSC, Florida, USA
RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
RoboGames 2017 – April 21-23, 2017 – Pleasanton, Calif., USA
ICARSC – April 26-30, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
AUVSI Xponential – May 8-11, 2017 – Dallas, Texas, USA
AAMAS 2017 – May 8-12, 2017 – Sao Paulo, Brazil
Innorobo – May 16-18, 2017 – Paris, France

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.


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Roomba uses tail to communicate with humans

Wagging Tails Help Robots Communicate With Humans

I have no idea what my Roomba is doing most of the time when it runs. It’s vacuuming, I know that, but sometimes it just sits there for a little bit, or slowly swivels back and forth, or does something else that doesn’t seem (strictly speaking) vacuuming related. This isn’t as much of a problem for Roombas specifically, but for robotics in general, it can be: If robots are bad at communicating what’s going on with them, it’ll be harder for people to accept them in our daily lives.

One thing that lets humans instantly grasp the abstract internal state of other humans is we look at each other’s faces. Now, as you can imagine, giving robots human faces can lead to other problems. The good news is we’re also hardwired to perform this intuitive abstract internal state reading trick on some other expressive living things, like dogs: When we look at a dog’s tail, we get an indication of whether it’s happy or not. It turns out that we can do the same for robots, as long as you can give them a tail.

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Magnetic Robot Swarm

Magnetic Control Could Help Robots Navigate Inside Your Body

There are two options for controlling a robot inside of the human body: Either you try and build some sort of intricate and tiny robot submarine with self contained propulsion and navigation, which would be really really hard to do, or you just make the robot with a tiny bit of something that responds to magnetic fields, and control it externally with some big magnets. The latter approach is vastly less complicated, but it has one major drawback, which is that it’s very hard to manage multiple robots.

Here’s the problem: Magnetic fields, being fields, aren’t easily constrained to specific areas. Realistically, if you’re using something like a clinical MRI scanner to create a magnetic field, whatever gradient you give the field will affect everything inside of the MRI, whether you’ve got one single microbot or a vast swarm of them. If you want two different robots to do two different things, you’re out of luck.

One potential way of getting around this is by making each of your robots slightly different, such that consistent control inputs have inconsistent effects on each robot. But for homogenous robots, it’s much more difficult. In a paper published today in Science Robotics, researchers from Philips, in Hamburg, Germany, describe a technique that can use magnetic fields to selectively actuate individual microbots, or individual components of a robot, even if they’re all made of the same stuff and located within the same field.

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DLR ROboMObil robotic car

Video Friday: DLR Robot Car, Lady Gaga's Drone Swarm, and Cassie Does Squats

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

Robotics Alley – February 28-1, 2017 – Minneapolis, Minn., USA
HRI 2017 – March 6-9, 2017 – Vienna, Austria
IEEE ARSO – March 8-10, 2017 – Austin, Texas, USA
IEEE SSRR – March 10-13, 2017 – Shanghai, China
NYC Drone Film Festival – March 17-19, 2017 – NYC, NY, USA
European Robotics Forum – March 22-24, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland
Automate – April 3-3, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
ITU Robot Olympics – April 7-9, 2017 – Istanbul, Turkey
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 8-16, 2017 – USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-20, 2017 – NASA KSC, Florida, USA
RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
ICARSC – April 26-30, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
AUVSI Xponential – May 8-11, 2017 – Dallas, Texas, USA

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.


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IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

Editor
Erico Guizzo
New York City
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Washington, D.C.
 

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