AlleyCorp Robotics | October Newsletter
October 2023 | Halloween Edition!
Hi folks -
What’s new in the world of robotics? Until AGI delivers the goods, we have to keep reading and thinking about this on our own, like the unaugmented humans we are. And - since life is hard enough as it is - we figured we’d share what we see with all of you!
Autonomy - we hear it’s hard! 🤖 🧭
What off the shelf solutions are you seeing that work for autonomy? We keep talking to people who struggle with autonomy off the beaten path, so we asked the question on LinkedIn. Many folks jumped in with thoughts. Solutions range from classic SLAM, to LiDAR SLAM to sensor fusion approaches to full on biomimicry cribbing from nature to get the grades.
On the biomimicry side of things - Nag Murty asked robotics X how a single celled creature can morph and control a de facto arm to grab a tiny object in 3D space… our own robotics control systems are so far from this accomplishment!
Nature has much to teach us - and companies like Opteran are cribbing from bees and other insects in an attempt to bring nature’s solutions to the field of robotics. We’re collecting a list of solutions to these problems - if you know of others, send them our way!
Are we holding our AI tools wrong? 😭 💡
Before we jump into the news - let’s go meta. This newsletter takes time to craft - we read the news daily, squirrel away links, triage for interestingness and story, summarize, organize, and share. Shouldn’t AI be able to magically do this?
Unfortunately, so far, no. Your author banged his head on our AI tools quite a bit and didn’t get a better result faster out of today’s LLMs… neither Bard nor GPT could handle the task. Anyone else making this work? Are we holding it wrong? On the plus side, we can generate an infinite number of bad robot comics!
The robotics community keeps growing! 🤖 📈
Coming up - robot news! 🤖 📰
That’s a wrap for the headlines - the robot news rollup for October follows. Too much going on to capture it all - if you feel we missed anything of note - let us know!
PS - read to the very end for a very cringey “Halloween Edition” surprise
Robotics News Rollup
State of Robotics
Is the U.S leading in robotics thanks to government funding?
Government Robotics Funding Critical Amid Global Competition - “I think the race is on,” Apptronik CEO Jeff Cardenas told me recently in a TechFirst podcast. “I think one of the reasons that you see the U.S. leading right now is because the U.S. government has invested so much money.”
Thesis validated - staff shortages lead to robot sales …
Staff Shortage Boosts Service Robots: Sales Up 48% - IFR reports - The total number of service robots sold for professional use hit 158,000 units in 2022 - an increase of 48%. Shortage of staff is a strong driver for companies to automate. 5 top areas - logistics, hospitality, medical, agriculture, cleaning. So - basically - the economy :D
Japan wrestles with its views on ‘outside people’ amid population crisis - Low birthrate and ageing population pose ‘an urgent risk to society’, but can opening its borders to skilled overseas workers fix the problem?
They're showing up big time in the service sector …
Start-up Rice Robotics brings ‘friendly’ AI bots to the service sector - The start-up has deployed its fleet of autonomous robots in Hong Kong’s Citic Tower skyscraper, where they can freely use lifts. The company has built up a lot of traction in the Japanese market, where AI robot adoption is being driven by labour shortages. Plus this little guy is super cute:
And WIRED says this is a good thing! We agree 😀
Do Not Fear the Robot Uprising. Join It | WIRED - Stories about AI liberation aren’t obsolete—and they aren't really about robots, either. … We shouldn’t fear the synthesis of humans and machines; we should fear its misdirection by the meanest pecuniary interests. Optimistic stories about impossibly sapient AI help us think through these problems
Innovations in Autonomy (now with boats ⛵ 🛥️ and trains 🚂 🚃)
We love AlleyCorp portfolio news - congrats Koop!
Koop receives strategic investment from Hyundai and Kia - 🚀ANNOUNCEMENT: We are delighted to announce that Hyundai Motor Company (현대자동차) and Kia Corporation, a leading global automotive OEM conglomerate, became a strategic investor in Koop Technologies! Our company plans to work with Hyundai and Kia on increasing the adoption of robotics-based products and services through proprietary risk evaluation and convenient delivery of new insurance coverages.
We love boats - especially modern electric hydrofoil boats!
A scientist designed a foiling boat that could reshape the industry
[ Navier builds electric hydrofoil boats ] Instead of thinking smaller, she went bigger: “It became clear the answer was not retrofitting,” she says. “It was imagining the next-generation vessels from the ground up.”
Similarly - OCEANFLIGHT unlocks sustainable boating
[ So do these folks - the space is heating up ] Hydrofoil boats create a new way of boating. They enable sustainable electric drive trains and significantly outperform conventional boats in efficiency. It’s the new way of cruising on water: Super comfortable and minimal-invasive for the environment.
Not hydrofoil - but autonomous sails generating hydrogen == awesome
This 190-Foot Sailing Catamaran Concept Can Make and Store Hydrogen - This particular sailing yacht spans 190 feet and is capable of producing more than 154 tons of green hydrogen a year.
Not boats, not trucks, but trains? Ars has more below …
Autonomous truck platoons are a bust, but work if you put them on rails - A better idea would be to shift some of that cargo to our underutilized railways—here, the idea of platooning is an old one, better known as a "train." Parallel Systems hopes to do just that with its second-generation autonomous battery-electric freight railcar.
Enter the email, do the thing!
Industrial Robotics (forest fire edition 🌲 🔥)
Bad news for the climate means automation is important
Many scientists don’t want to tell the truth about climate change - the UN scientists were pretty clear: 1.5 C is coming. … I think that 1.5 C has moved from “ambitious goal” to “magical thinking.” And the scientists are telling themselves a story to stave off despair.
Forest fire risk can be reduced through autonomy and AI
Vibrant Planet raises $15M to help PG&E trim wildfire risk - Vibrant Planet primarily sells a SaaS package it calls Land Tender. It gives organizations access to remotely sensed data, including satellite and lidar data, as well as tools to understand how different approaches to managing a landscape could affect the ecosystems they contain. That includes everything from the plants and animals that live there to how they interact with the land, water and each other.
Earth Force speaking at the Forest Innovation Summit - Earth Force CEO Justin will share how Earth Force utilizes field-based sensors and computation to provide real-time guidance to forestry operators in a time of great peril for Forests and share his passion for climate and sustainability.
Earth Force CEO Justin on climate and forest fire - “Not only are wildfire emissions overwhelming all the climate wins from renewable energy and electric vehicles, they are economically crushing. As in $100B crushing, and that's just California.”
As the climate changes, automating ag is critical
Robotics evolving the agricultural industry - The International Forum for Agricultural Robotics, or FIRA, has people coming from all over the world to Salinas to demonstrate what their robots can do. … from planting, to weeding, to harvesting — farmers are looking for robots and autonomous solutions to answer the environmental and labor issues their industry is facing.
Home and Kitchen
Remember that staff shortage? White Castle has a (robotic) plan 🥙
White Castle is hiring robots as fry cooks and seeing improvements - The Ohio-based fast-food chain has been implementing Miso Robotics' "Flippy 2" as fry cooks across the country, according to a recent report from Today.
Our portfolio co. Appetronix is working the problem as well 🍕
Donatos Pizza CEO on Appetronix and the future of food automation - Donatos Pizza is continuously working to improve and enhance automation. This past July, Donatos Pizza announced our partnership with food tech company Appetronix to develop a fully autonomous pizza vending machine. In a recent article published by Restaurant Dive, Tom Krouse, CEO of Donatos Pizza, and Jeff Baldwin, VP of Development and Franchising, discuss the partnership and outlook for the future of automation at Donatos.
Staff shortages in the backyard? There’s a robot for that 🌱
How Well Do Robotic Lawn Mowers Work? - Expensive and often not up to par with their push-mower and self-propelled counterparts, robotic lawn mowers often get a bad rap. This is the model that changed my mind.
Government and Military
Killer robots make for scary headlines
Inside Ukraine’s plan to build an army of killer robots to defeat Russia - Ukraine’s youngest minister has seen Soviet-legacy laws scrapped to pave the way for the next generation of weapons … building an army of killer robots and hopes to find his country’s answer to English engineer Barnes Wallis to help defeat Russia...
Gen Z gamers help Army race towards robotic future force - As the Army puts experimental Robotic Combat Vehicles through field tests in anticipation of a contract award in 2024 and a First Unit Equipped in 2028, young soldiers are providing vital feedback on how to streamline awkward interfaces and complex controls to a robust system they might actually trust their lives to in combat.
The real story is in logistics though… supply chains win wars
Simulation to reality: Digit the robot travels to the Pentagon - “When people hear about robots and the military, their minds go to scary places. Our focus is on getting robots that can do the grunt work involved in civilian and military applications. Think warehouse work, setting up base camps, general logistics, etc.” Fern said.
Construction and Fabrication
Yep, construction has that labor shortage thing too
Solving the Construction Worker Shortage - The US has a shortage of more than half a million construction workers, and the problem is only getting worse. Who is trying to fix it? … The problem is likely to get even worse over the next decade, with almost a quarter of US construction workers over the age of 55
And our portfolio companies are working the problem
Renovate Robotics joined the Roofing Technology Think Tank Podcast - RT3 podcast sits down with the founders of Renovate Robotics … The New York-based startup is looking for beta testers to perform pilot projects with a robot that installs asphalt shingles … grab your notepad and let's innovate!
Civ Robotics expands to Canada with deployments in Alberta and BC - Civ Robotics is thrilled to exhibit at Electricity Transformation Canada #ETC2023 in Calgary, Canada, from Oct 24th - Oct 25th 🌎 Don't miss us; we'll showcase #CivDot, an autonomous surveying system that empowers solar field layout with great precision and speed, in Alltrade Industrial Contractors Inc.'s Booth #501 🌞👷🏽♀️
ARIX Technologies presented at the ASNT Conference in Houston - The NDT world is evolving at a rapid pace. From advances in technology, to artificial intelligence and machine learning, to an everchanging workforce, NDT continues to evolve. ASNT 2023: The Annual Conference is a reflection of this evolution.
Other Fun Robotics Tid-Bits
Shiny new AI is coming to make robot software better
Nvidia Introduces an AI Agent Powered by GPT-4 That Can Train Robots - With the help of this new AI, robots may be taught intricate feats like spinning pens in a manner akin to how people learn. Robots can learn through trial and error reinforcement thanks to Eureka's intelligent reward algorithms, which are created using generative AI and big language models like OpenAI's GPT-4.
DeepMind’s ‘remarkable’ new AI controls robots of all kinds - the new project, dubbed Open-X Embodiment, introduces two key components: a dataset containing data on multiple robot types and a family of models capable of transferring skills across a wide range of tasks.
Robots for the rest of us - five bits of robot news - Google DeepMind robot skills database, combat robot autonomy, economists on robots, why AI predictions aren’t so shiny, and privacy concerns with delivery bots
Shiny new research is coming to make robot hardware better
This insect-sized robot can carry 22 times its own weight - An insect-sized robot powered by tiny explosions can crawl, leap and carry a load many times its own weight.
Biosignals, Robotics, and Rehabilitation - IEEE Spectrum - In the MERIIT lab, he and his students build cyber-physical systems that augment the functionality of the next-generation medical robotic systems. They delve into haptics and robotics for a wide range of medical applications. Examples include telesurgery and telerobotic rehabilitation
The Lizard You Actually Want Crawling in the Walls - WPI researchers have partnered with the City of Worcester to develop a lizard-like soft robot that can creep into walls, ductwork, and pipes to perform inspections and three-dimensional mapping tasks that could be dangerous or impossible for humans.
Cover a robot in living fungus - A pair of researchers have created a living skin made of fungus, directly inspired by the 1984 film "The Terminator." At best, the project is a proof of concept, and at worst, it's a silly toy. But the two scientists hope their research could lay the groundwork for living skins
Plant-based isn't just about burgers anymore - A team of University of Waterloo researchers has created smart, advanced materials that will be the building blocks for a future generation of soft medical microrobots.
Educators gonna educate - we need more folks who can build!
Why CMU (finally) launched a bachelor of science in robotics - “Part of the reason that we waited until now to introduce this degree is because we were waiting for the jobs to become available,” co-director George Kantor said. Here's what students can expect from the new program.
UBTECH's Seven-in-One Kit for Building AI Educational Robots - One kit for seven robot designs, from a two-wheeled balance-bot to a four-legged "spider" — and with local and remote AI powers, too.
And - finally - robotics poetry and GenAI art
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace - DALL·E edition - an X follower flagged a great poem for me that I think our friends will appreciate: "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" by Richard Brautigan.
Upcoming robotics events 📅
AlleyCorp & friends will be there - will you?
11/6 | Civ Robotics @ speaking at Trimble Dimensions - Civ Robotics made the finals of the Cemex Ventures competition, and will be speaking at Trimble’s conference Nov 6th in Las Vegas
11/8 | AlleyCorp @ ffVC’s Drones & Robotics AI Summit - our good friends at ffVC are holding their 3rd annual summit on November 8th in NYC - we’ll be there!
11/16 | AlleyCorp @ RoboPGH’s Network Discovery Day - we love Pittsburgh! AlleyCorp, Viam, and Koop will be visiting on Nov 16th and holding a fun event in the middle of the show - stay tuned for more details!
Some other great events in our space
11/2 | Greentown Labs Climate Tech Summit - many robotics companies are working on solutions for climate challenges - and Greentown is hosting a crew to talk about this and more - coming right up on Nov 2nd.
11/2 | Venture Trends in Q3’23 - CBINSIGHTS - less robots, more venture broadly - but might be interesting - upcoming webinar on Nov 2nd.
11/3 | Swiss Robotics Day 2023 - a number of our friends in Europe will be present this Friday to showcase all the cool things happening in Swiss Robotics 🇨🇭 - we can’t make it this time - but if you can, you should!
11/16 | MassChallenge BlueTech Showcase - we talked about boats and military tech up above - MassChallenge is jumping into these topics on Nov 16th here in Boston.
[Some of this list is thanks to EventsforVC - keep ‘em coming!]
And that’s a wrap!
Thanks for reading and keep building!
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PS - You made it! Here’s our “Halloween Edition Surprise” - your very own, custom, one of a kind, DALL·E 3 generated “robots trick or treating” drawing, preceded by a fun ~robotic pumpkin cat thing. Enjoy!
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