The business world is always in flux. New technologies and strategies are released at what feels like the speed of light. One of those technologies receiving a lot of talk on blogs and social media is robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI). To help you wrap your arms around this emerging technology, I put together a high-level overview of the RPA landscape. RPA defined RPA is the use of machines to perform tasks with high precision at rapid intervals. Virtual robots (as opposed to the robots wandering in the Amazon warehouses) are used to perform automated steps in a process. A distinct aspect of virtual robots is that their actions are performed based on the end user perspective. This gives additional visibility into the viability of a software or process that a system monitoring tool would not address. Usually, these transactions are performed repetitively, and at high volumes, since the virtual robots are able to run 24/7. Types of … [Read more...] about Intro to robotic process automation
This article is the first of a series that will explore recent advances in surgical and medical robotics and their potential impact on society. More articles, videos, and slideshows will appear throughout the year. How can the skill of a surgeon be measured? A patient's body has no buzzer that alerts the surgeon when mistakes occur during an operation. There is no Yelp-like website that ranks a surgeon based on user reviews. It is surprising that people can spend less time selecting a surgeon for an operation than they might selecting a restaurant for dinner or a mechanic to fix their car. According to a study from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, surgical complications, including postoperative infections, foreign objects left in wounds, surgical wounds reopening, and post-operative bleeding, resulted in a total of 2.4 million extra days of hospitalization, $9.3 billion excessive charges, and 32,000 mostly surgery-related deaths in the United States in 2000. To … [Read more...] about Using Robots to Train the Surgeons of Tomorrow
Steven Cherry: Hi, this is Steven Cherry for IEEE Spectrum's "Techwise Conversations." For half a century, we've watched as computers, sensors, and robots have eliminated jobs-sometimes entire job categories-but also been responsible for them. Sometimes both. For example, technology created 350 000 telephone operators, only to lose them. By the way, that's roughly the same number of people employed at-take your pick-HP, Panasonic, or Samsung, plus Intel. For decades, it's been generally believed that the effect is net positive, that is, that technology has always created more jobs than it's destroyed. But as worker productivity continues to rise, while the legion of the unemployed remains large as well, some experts believe we may be reaching a tipping point. In a recent interview on this show, a distinguished engineering professor at Rice University, Moshe Vardi, said that "by 2045, machines will be able to do if not any work that humans can do, then a very significant fraction of … [Read more...] about Robots Are Not Killing Jobs, Says a Roboticist
This is it, folks. Tomorrow we head to Japan, and into the loving embrace of IROS (IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems) and iREX (International Robot Exhibition), from whence few ever return. Well, I guess we should say that pretty much everybody does actually return, but that doesn't make it any less death-defying for your intrepid team of bloggers. We've got 153 sessions on our schedule for IROS alone, and iREX (which only happens every other year) is a big exciting unknown. Over the next week, we'll probably be on a weird schedule (whatever time zone you're in, Tokyo is probably the opposite of it), but keep checking back because we'll be putting up as much robotic amazingness as we possibly can without killing ourselves. Or maybe a little bit beyond that. So yeah, definitely stick with us, because you won't want to miss anything that happens next week. And if you missed anything that happened this week, we'll get you all caught up courtesy of Video … [Read more...] about Video Friday: Unstoppable Drones, Rock-Paper-Scissors Robot, and Nao Is a Chatterbox
In this guest post, Frank Tobe, a robotics analyst and publisher of The Robot Report, describes the launch of Robo-Stox, a stock index of robotics and automation companies. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE. On Tuesday, a sleek robotic arm rang the closing bell of the Nasdaq stock exchange. It was the first time a robot performed the task. The event celebrated the launch of Robo-Stox, a stock index focused on robotics, automation, and related technologies. Thanks to Robo-Stox, individuals and institutions can now easily invest in the continuing growth of the robotics industry worldwide. The index, based on an algorithm and database of robotics I helped develop, is something I've dreamed of and worked on for almost eight years. First, some background on investment terms and what Robo-Stox represents. You might be familiar with major stock indices like the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and … [Read more...] about Robo-Stox: Investing in the Robotics Revolution
Photo: Robert W. Kelley/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images ROBOT DREAMER: The physicist William Shockley [shown in a 1963 photo] had many interesting ideas during his long career but perhaps none quite so sci-fi as his vision of a robotic workforce that would replace humans on factory floors and in the home. His passion for robotics and automation would form the backdrop for his decision to leave a successful career at Bell Labs and strike out for the West Coast. There, in 1955, he founded the first silicon electronics lab of what would become Silicon Valley. Photo: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office SMART BOMB: In 1948, the same year he conceived the junction transistor, William Shockley filed a patent application for a "radiant energy control system"-basically a feedback control system that used a visual sensor. Shockley outlined various uses for this system, including the self-guided bomb shown here. His application was quickly met with a patent secrecy order and remained … [Read more...] about How William Shockleys Robot Dream Helped Launch Silicon Valley
Ever faster processors, cheaper sensors, abundant open-source code, ubiquitous connectivity, and the advent of 3D printing are some of the forces behind the recent proliferation of robots. As I see things, these forces will only get stronger, and as more robots become part of our lives-in homes, offices, factories, hospitals, and many other places-we'll inevitably face challenges involving our adoption and use of robots. Some observers are voicing their fears about a decline in human-human interaction, while others warn of an irreversible and senseless loss of jobs, with robots taking over tasks that, they argue, should not be performed by machines (such as caring for the elderly). Trade-offs will certainly be part of our growing reliance on robotics and automation. And it will be up to us to manage these trade-offs, just as we have with other technologies such as electricity, the automobile, aviation, nuclear power, computers, and the Internet. As a VC looking for investment … [Read more...] about Five Myths and Facts About Robotics Technology Today
In one of the wilder ideas we've heard for planetary exploration, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is proposing that we send a little robotic helicopter to Mars as an aerial scout for a rover on the ground. The copter would be completely self-contained, using a small solar panel to give it a few minutes of flight time every day, while simultaneously storing up enough energy to keep itself from freezing to death at night. This is more than just a concept, too: there's video of the prototype flying in Martian atmospheric conditions which you can see after the break, because hey, it's Video Friday. The JPL Mars Helicopter could potentially triple the distance that rovers are able to drive each day, since the robot will be able to confidently survey the route and pre-plan ways around obstacles or dangerous areas. Also, the helicopter could fly around to check out potential sampling sites, making sure that the rover only has to travel between areas that have already been identified as … [Read more...] about Video Friday: Mars Helicopter, 100 Dancing Robots, and Putins Combat Cyborg
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your non-flexible 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!): International Collaborative Robots Workshop - May 3-4, 2016 - Boston, Mass., USA ICARSC 2016 - May 4-6, 2016 - Bragança, Portugal Robotica 2016 - May 4-8, 2016 - Bragança, Portugal ARMS 2016 - May 9-13, 2016 - Singapore National Manufacturing Week - May 11-13, 2016 - Sydney, Australia ICRA 2016 - May 16-21, 2016 - Stockholm, Sweden NASA Robotic Mining Competition - May 18-20, 2016 - NASA KSC, Fla., USA Skolkovo Robotics Conference - May 20, 2016 - Skolkovo, Russia Innorobo 2016 - May 24-26, 2016 - Paris, France RoboCity16 - May 26-27, 2016 - Madrid, Spain RoboBusiness Europe - June 1-3, 2016 - Odense, Denmark Dynamic Walking 2016 - June 4-7, 2016 - Holland, Mich., USA IEEE RAS MRSSS 2016 - June 6-10, 2016 - … [Read more...] about Video Friday: iCub Does Yoga, Wooden Walking Robot, and Wind Tunnel for Drones
Czech writer Karel Čapek's 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), which famously introduced the word robot to the world, begins with synthetic humans-the robots from the title-toiling in factories to produce low-cost goods. It ends with those same robots killing off the human race. Thus was born an enduring plot line in science fiction: robots spiraling out of control and turning into unstoppable killing machines. Twentieth-century literature and film would go on to bring us many more examples of robots wreaking havoc on the world, with Hollywood notably turning the theme into blockbuster franchises like The Matrix, Transformers, and The Terminator. Lately, fears of fiction turning to fact have been stoked by a confluence of developments, including important advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, along with the widespread use of combat drones and ground robots in Iraq and Afghanistan. The world's most powerful militaries are now developing ever more intelligent … [Read more...] about Do We Want Robot Warriors to Decide Who Lives or Dies?
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 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 Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos. Need help preparing a romantic dinner for two? ARMAR will give you a … [Read more...] about Video Friday: A Humanoid in the Kitchen, Transparent Gel Robots, and NFLs Ball-Dropping Drone
Taking men and women out of the so-called kill-chain was a primary goal during the war in Iraq. The idea was to reduce risk by replacing people in certain situations with machines that could gather intelligence. Since information gathering and risk reduction are perennial business issues as well, many of these same technologies are likely to make their way into private industry. In Iraq, the military used smart robots and smart drones to reduce danger to personnel. In the future, perhaps another DARPA-supported technology called Smart Dust will reduce casualties and gather information even more effectively. As conceived by University of California, Berkeley, professor Kris Pister, Smart Dust is an "autonomous sensing and communications device in a cubic millimeter" package. He has not achieved this ideal size yet, but the goal is to package inside one cubic millimeter a light chemical or biochemical sensor, power supply and circuitry, a bidirectional communication device, and a … [Read more...] about Battle-tested tech: robotics and automation
A quiet revolution with a potential impact on the IT workforce reminiscent of outsourcing may be under way in the form of robotic process automation. Geared toward automating a variety of business and computing processes typically handled by humans, RPA will stir passions at organizations that deploy the technology, with its potential to slash jobs, shake up the relevant skills mix, and if implemented strategically, stave off the specter of outsourcing. [ Here are 6 skills a solid IT generalist should master, no matter where your life in IT leads. | Get the latest practical data center info and news with Paul Venezia's Deep End blog. ]The reason: Thanks to advances in software and artificial intelligence, automation has its sights on higher-value tasks than ever before -- and it’s already having an impact at organizations currently deploying these systems. What exactly is robotic process automation? At its core, RPA is “robotic” software that organizations configure … [Read more...] about Robotic process automation: The new IT job killer?
What’s Italy’s biggest export right now? If you answered food, fashion, wine, or sports cars, you’ve guessed wrong. There’s no question that Italy remains famous for its great cuisine, world-class wines, and incomparable automobiles. But the country’s strongest export industry today is high technology. In fact, about 60 percent of Italy’s exports are in machinery, technology, and related industries, according to the Italian Trade Agency (ITA). On the Horizon While Italy’s leaders appreciate their country’s rich history, they believe its future depends on technology, automation, and manufacturing. “The past is gorgeous. The past is incredible. The past is fantastic,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said at the ITA’s recent i3 Forum in Chicago. “We love our past. But we also love our tomorrow.” The event—whose three “i’s” stand for “impact,” “innovate,” and … [Read more...] about Think Italy. Think Innovation, Impact, and Integration.
Inside a large, windowless room in an electronics factory in south Shanghai, about 15 workers are eyeing a small robot arm with frustration. Near the end of the production line where optical networking equipment is being packed into boxes for shipping, the robot sits motionless. “The system is down,” explains Nie Juan, a woman in her early 20s who is responsible for quality control. Her team has been testing the robot for the past week. The machine is meant to place stickers on the boxes containing new routers, and it seemed to have mastered the task quite nicely. But then it suddenly stopped working. “The robot does save labor,” Nie tells me, her brow furrowed, “but it is difficult to maintain.” The hitch reflects a much bigger technological challenge facing China’s manufacturers today. Wages in Shanghai have more than doubled in the past seven years, and the company that owns the factory, Cambridge Industries Group, faces fierce competition … [Read more...] about China Is Building a Robot Army of Model Workers
The robots didn’t really take over in 2015, but at times it felt as if that might be where we’re headed. There were signs that machines will soon take over manual work that currently requires human skill. Early in the year details emerged of a contest organized by Amazon to help robots do more work inside its vast product fulfillment centers. The Amazon Picking challenge, as the event was called, was held at a prominent robotics conference later in the year. Teams competed for a $25,000 prize by designing a robot to identify and grasp items from one of Amazon’s storage shelves as quickly as possible (the winner picked and packed 10 items in 20 minutes). This might seem a trivial task for human workers, but figuring out how to grasp different objects arranged haphazardly on shelves in a real warehouse is still a formidable challenge for robot-kind. Later in the year, we also got an exclusive look inside one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers, which showed just how … [Read more...] about What Robots and AI Learned in 2015
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles about the effects of software and automation on the economy. You can read the other stories here and here. The way Hod Lipson describes his Creative Machines Lab captures his ambitions: “We are interested in robots that create and are creative.” Lipson, an engineering professor at Cornell University (this July he’s moving his lab to Columbia University), is one of the world’s leading experts on artificial intelligence and robotics. His research projects provide a peek into the intriguing possibilities of machines and automation, from robots that “evolve” to ones that assemble themselves out of basic building blocks. (His Cornell colleagues are building robots that can serve as baristas and kitchen help.) A few years ago, Lipson demonstrated an algorithm that explained experimental data by formulating new scientific laws, which were consistent with ones known to be true. He had automated … [Read more...] about Who Will Own the Robots?
When some of the world’s most advanced rescue robots are foiled by nothing more complex than a doorknob, you get a good sense of the challenge of making our homes and workplaces more automated. A robot operated by a team from the Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) keels over while traversing uneven ground. At the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a contest held over the weekend in California, two dozen extremely sophisticated robots did their best to perform a series of tasks on an outdoor course, including turning a valve, climbing some steps, and opening a door (see “A Transformer Wins DARPA’s $2 Million Robotics Challenge”). Although a couple of robots managed to complete the course, others grasped thin air, walked into walls, or simply toppled over as if overcome with the sheer impossibility of it all. At the same time, efforts by human controllers to help the robots through their tasks may offer clues as to how human-machine collaboration … [Read more...] about Why Robots and Humans Struggled with DARPA’s Challenge
Packets of Oreos, boxes of crayons, and squeaky dog toys will test the limits of robot vision and manipulation in a competition this May. Amazon is organizing the event to spur the development of more nimble-fingered product-packing machines. Willow Garage’s PR2, one of the robots involved in the challenge, uses this conventional gripper. Participating robots will earn points by locating products sitting somewhere on a stack of shelves, retrieving them safely, and then packing them into cardboard shipping boxes. Robots that accidentally crush a cookie or drop a toy will have points deducted. The people whose robots earn the most points will win $25,000. Amazon has already automated some of the work done in its vast fulfillment centers. Robots in a few locations send shelves laden with products over to human workers who then grab and package them. These mobile robots, made by Kiva Systems, a company that Amazon bought in 2012 for $678 million, reduce the distance human workers … [Read more...] about Amazon Robot Contest May Accelerate Warehouse Automation
About two months ago, a new employee arrived on the production line at Vanguard Plastics in Southington, Connecticut, a town that was once a hub of U.S. manufacturing but saw many of its factories disappear in the 1960s. The small manufacturer’s new worker, Baxter, is six feet tall, 300 pounds, and a robot. For a hulking machine, Baxter is remarkably expressive. A pair of eyes on the screen that serves as a face stare down as the robot picks up plastic components, look concerned when it makes a mistake, and direct its glance at its next task when one is finished. It’s cute. But the real point of these expressions is that they let workers nearby know instantly if Baxter is performing appropriately, and they provide clues to what it is about to do next. Even more amazing, when Baxter is done with one task, a fellow worker can simply show the robot how to start another. “Almost anyone, literally, can in very short order be shown how to program it,” says Chris … [Read more...] about This Robot Could Transform Manufacturing