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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Robot Stocks 2010

Google Robot Portfolio 2010
The 2010 Robot Stock Winner of Roboland´s robot portfolio is iRobot with +39,38% increase. The stock has now passes the initial $24 IPO price, which is a nice milestone for the company. Irobot has a market cap of $636.6 million; its shares were traded at around $25.01 with a P/E ratio of 30.5 and P/S ratio of 2.1. In November iRobot was named to Forbes’ List of “Best Small Companies in America”.
German KUKA started stock lifting during second half an reached 38,90% driven by new orders from China, USA, South America and Germany. Even the successfully placing of corporate bond was a positive signal for the investors.
Adept had an impressive uptrend during the year but fell back to 27,37% in the last months due to increased losses in First Quarter Fiscal Year 2011 Results.
Intuitive Surgical had a downtrend since April 2010 ending at minus 15,31% caused by weakness in procedure volumes in the second half of the year caused by the economic downturn and remaining hight  unemployment rate. Patients who have lost private insurance coverage are simply not getting medical care at the rate they once did.

Robots@CES 2011

  • Few robot innovations announced 
  • Robots from USA, Japan, Korea, China and Israel 
  • Vacuum cleaning robots and educational toys
  • European robotics is missing
Consumer robotics is still a marginal industry with few international players, few attractive products and hard competition from established segments such as audio, digital imaging, home theater, wireless, content and gaming markets. Only 2% of 2700 exhibitors are listed as robotics exhibitors at the International CES 2011, 6-9 January, Las Vegas, USA, the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow. About 20 companies are represented in the Robotics Tech Zone as part of the Emerging Technology Section.

U.S. Robotics is represented by 6 robot companies - iRobot, Neato Robotics, Metapo, Owirobot and Orbotics, Innovo Labs -, one media company Robotics Trends and the QoLT Foundry, a CMU center for Quality of Life Technology.
Infonaut/GRB CES 2011 Robotics Exhibitors

The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is presenting the Japan Pavilion at the 2011 International CES Robotics TechZone, for the fourth time since 2007. This year's Japan Pavilion features nine exhibitors, many of them pioneers in their fields such as Cyberdyne, Vstone Co. Ltd, Murata Electronics, PARO. JS-Robotics Inc. is a business venture focusing on research, development, manufacturing and sales of education-oriented IT and robotics. The JETRO promotion brochure claims that JS-Robotics since its establishment in 2006 has achieved sales of over 1000 Educational Robotic Kits. (A small volume in a country with 35.000 elementary and secondary schools)

Korean Robotics is represented by four companies: Yujin Robotics, Mami Robot Corporation, RoboBuilder Co., Whitebox Robotics and Ilshim Global Company Ltd. presenting Windoro is a flat, autonmous window cleaning robot that uses water, detergent and rotating pads to clean glass while navigating with obstacle sensors.

China will be represented by four companies specialized in ODM/OEM robotics such as Jetta (iRobot manufacturer), Shenzen Silver Star, Ecovacs, showing vacuum cleaning robots.

Surprisingly no European robotics company is listed as exhibitor. 

Robotics in the Mind of Ray Kurzweil

Tech visionary and singularity-guru Ray Kurzweil replies to former editor-in-chief of Scientific American John Rennie’s December 2010 critical review of this "slippery futurism". Rennie claims that many of Kurzweil´s predictions "don´t look so good on close inspection." Kurzweil replies with reference to his prediction essay "How My Predictions Are Faring" (October 2010) where he reviews the accuracy of his predictions made for 2009 in The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) and in The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990), and predictions for 2010 in The Singularity is Near (2005). Kurzweil claims that 89 of his predictions by end 2009 have been "entirely correct", 13 "essentially correct" (realized within just a few years), 3 "partially correct", 2 are "10 year off", 1 "just wrong".

A review of Kurzweil´s predictions shows that robotics is part of his futurist world view but not very dominating. In 1999 Kurzweil predicts "Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices" (2009). For 2019 he predicts "exoskeletal robotic walkers", "household robots are ubiquitous and reliable", Humans are beginning to have deep relationships with automated personalities. In 2029 a real "robot rights" movement will start and an "open, public debate over what sorts of civil rights and legal protections machines should have." In 2099 "robotic bodies" will populate the world controlled by "thinking computer programs".

In his assessment essay Kurzweil refers to robot examples from Japan (Cyberdyne Robot Suit HAL), Korea (telerobotics) and USA (UAVs, iRobot, da Vinci, Simulated Surgical Systems) that he means verify his robotics predictions. Surprisingly European robotics is not on Kurzweil´s radar screen. It may be his trendspotting blindspot but could also depend on weak European robotics PR. More info here.

Happy New Year from Robotland

With your help, Robotland has met at least 17,000 unique visitors this year (according to Google  hosting statistics). Thank you so much for your continued support, and my best of wishes for the Next Year goes to you!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Global R&D Forecast 2011

Global research and development (R&D) spending is expected to increase by 3.6 percent in 2011 to $1.2 trillion, according to the closely watched Battelle-R&D Magazine 2011 Global R&D Forecast.
R&D Megatrends
• Globalization increasingly is narrowing the R&D gap between countries.
• The U.S. still leads all countries by funding one-third of global R&D.
• China has overtaken Japan as the second highest funder of global R&D.
ICT R&D Trends
Current hardware technology development is responding to growth in a number of areas including cloud computing, Internet servers, mobile computing, wireless, integrated power supplies, satellite-based communications, flexible circuits and displays, multiple-core processors, carbon nanotube circuits, printed circuits and more.
The software industry’s spending on R&D slowed during the recent recession but is projected to see increases in 2010 and 2011. The increase is driven, in part, by the increased adoption of embedded control and interface software in a wide range of applications. Sectors increasingly relying on more software to simulate, design, operate and control products, systems and manufacturing procedures include the telecom, automotive, energy, pharmaceutical, banking and finance, and aerospace and defense industries.
Defense & Security Trends
No segment has a stronger connection to public R&D investment than aerospace, defense and national security. In the past, defense budgets have been minimally affected during periods of budgetary constraints, but this is about to change. Many factors are aligning to change the level and focus of defense spending in the future, including significant budget deficits, the growing federal debt crisis and related scrutiny of discretionary spending like R&D, the sluggish economy, the changing status of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the evolving nature of U.S. defense activities in general. More info.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

US$ 26 Million to Promote Korean Service Robotics in 2011

The Korean Government continues to push Robot Industry forward targeting Korea's global robot market share from the current 10 percent to as much as 20 percent by 2018. The Ministry of Knowledge and Economy (MKE) has announced the service robot industry promotional plan which consists of 10 tasks to support overseas market entry, upgrade robot technologies and discover sectors with a great growth potential. The MKE will invest US$ 26 Million (KRW 30 billion) in 2011 and handpick 10 key areas to speed up overseas market entry by Korean robot makers. The promotional plan also contains market-specific export strategies to boost robot exports, for instance, surveillance robots will be mainly developed and exported to the Middle East, robot maids for the elderly to the US and the EU, and cleaning robots to China and Southeast Asian nations.
Infonaut/GRB: South Korean Service Robotics Industry 2010 (click image to enlarge)
South Korea aims also to take a lead in development of standards for the robot convergence sector and within the Best 8 Project promising robot products will be supported to gain technological competitiveness. The Korean robot industry's competitiveness will also be ramped up by pushing for joint R&D projects with advanced research institutions in the US, Japan and Germany.
So-called robot-meister high schools will be designated and more robot R&D centers will be built at universities. Robot experience centers will be run on a continuing basis and best robot contests will be held.

Monday, December 13, 2010

110 Million Euro for Robot Projects 2010

In 2010 the European Union (EU) has funded 32 robotics projects with 110 Million  Euro. Most of them are funded within ICT Challenge 2:  Cognitive Systems and Robotics focusing at enabling technologies that apply across domains such as robotics and automation, sensing and process control, complex real-world systems, image recognition, natural language understanding, and automated reasoning and decision support.
Infonaut: Robotics EU Projects 2010 (Click on image to enlarge)
The 2010 projects cover a wide range of applications from agrorobotics (CROPS, GARNICS and RHEA), industrial robotics (Custompacker, FIRST-MM, Robofoot) to assistive robotics (KSERA, Mindwalker, RADHAR). 
Two coordinating/network projects (euRobotics, INTRO) aim improve cooperation between industry and academia and to create a new generation of robotic researchers with a broad understanding of the research and technologies needed to build intelligent robots that function in close interaction with humans in unstructured, changing “real word” conditions.

EU ICT Work Programme 2011-2012

The new Work Programme covers activities foreseen to be financed through the 2011 and 2012 budgets of the ICT Programme. Robotics is covered by Challenge 2: Cognitive Systems and Robotics, Challenge 5: ICT for Health, Aging Well, Inclusion and Governance, Challenge 7: ICT for manufacturing & factories of the future and Future and Emerging Technologies (FET). More here.

1,2 Billion Euro to Top 10 European Research Institutions

The Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) is the biggest ever investment made by the EU in assuring its future as a knowledge-based society. It builds on the successes and experience of previous FPs that have grown in ambition over the years. FP7 has a budget of some €50 billion over the seven years from 2007-2013, constituting an annual average investment that is substantially higher than in previous Framework Programmes and that will, by the end of the period rise, to around 10% of the public spending on research by Member States.
A recent FP7 Evaluation Report claims that the principle of excellence in project selection is largely achieved. In much of the  Cooperation  Programme to which nearly two-thirds of FP7 funding is allocated, leading researchers are being funded.
The Top 10 research organizations account so far for 1,2 billion Euro and the Top 50 for 3,1 billion Euro of EU contributions.
The 10 Top organisations are:

Organization Country Participations EU Contribution €M
1 CNRS FR 501 231
2 Fraunhofer Ges. DE 331 153,1
3 CEA FR 234 118,7
4 Max Planck Ges. DE 238 115,4
5 Univ. of Cambridge UK 215 97,8
6 EPFL CH 165 97,4
7 Univ. of Oxford UK 176 96,7
8 ESF EU 9 93,5
9 ETHZ CH 170 91,7
10 Imperial College UK 175 86,9
Source: FP7 interim evaluation report Nov 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Swiss Center of Robotics

A new National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics was opened December 1, 2010 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The new nation-wide centre is consisting of leading research groups across Switzerland with the common objective of developing new, human-oriented robotic technology.
NCCR Robotics gathers top ranked scientists in Switzerland from cutting-edge research institutions: EPFL as the leading house, ETH Zurich, University of Zurich and Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The Center will run for up to twelve years, with a funding of about USD 5 million per year. The key research areas, around which the NCCR will be structured, are locomotion and mobility, interaction and manipulation, prosthetic robotics, distributed robotics, and robots for daily life.
A number of professor, PhD and postdoctoral positions are available.  More here

IKEA´s nightmare Swiss Roombots

Forget IKEA flat-pack furniture think Roombots, modular robots to be used as building blocks for furniture that assembles itself,  that can change shape over time - a stool becoming a chair, a set of chairs becoming a sofa. Furniture that moves using actuated joints to different locations depending on the users needs. When not needed, the group of modules create a static structure such as a wall or a box.

Roombots are the robotics vision of researchers at the Biorobotics Lab, EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. The  project is funded by the Locomorph project and the Swiss National Center of Competence of Research in Robotics (NCCR). Preliminary studied were also funded by Microsoft Research Cambridge and EPFL.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Robotic furniture adopts to people

Denmark continues to stay in top of playful robotics and edutainment. In the city of Odense robotic furniture displaced vertically and adapts to users while they are acting as playground for children and young at heart. The furniture is in the center and newly renovated pedestrian Railway Street, where they help to connect the railway station and city center. Robotic furniture was developed in collaboration with the Municipality of Odense, Denmark's largest manufacturer of street furniture Veksø and actuator company MOVETEC.
Movable furniture allows city residents to create their own seats while playing with height adjustment and lighting.

10 Million Euro for Harvesting Robots

Artist impression of the concept
Clever Robots for Crops CROPS is a large-scale integrating FP7 EU project in the theme Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies within the call: Automation and robotics for sustainable crop and forestry management. 
CROPS is coordinated by Wageningen University & Research Centre (WUR) and will develop scientific know-how for a highly configurable, modular and clever carrier platform that includes modular parallel manipulators and intelligent tools (sensors, algorithms, sprayers, grippers) that can be easily installed onto the carrier and are capable of adapting to new tasks and conditions. Several technological demonstrators will be developed for high value crops like greenhouse vegetables, fruits in orchards, and grapes for premium wines. The CROPS robotic platform will be capable of site-specific spraying (targets spray only towards foliage and selective targets) and selective harvesting of fruit (detects the fruit, determines its ripeness, moves towards the fruit, grasps it and softly detaches it). Another objective of CROPS is to develop techniques for reliable detection and classification of obstacles and other objects to enable successful autonomous navigation and operation in plantations and forests. The agricultural and forestry applications share many research areas, primarily regarding sensing and learning capabilities.
See also Robotics in Agriculture Research Program

Monday, December 06, 2010

NEC Robot Promotion Videos

Japan is famous not only for its robots but also for its special media and ads culture. The latest example is a promotion video from NEC with cute PaPeRo robots supported by a male cheer squad.

Communication robot PaPeRo developed by Japanese NEC since 1997 is a personal robot that can recognize and speak over 3000 words, notify its owner of incoming messages, give updated information, recognize faces, send video messages, dance, play games, and remotely control other electronic devices.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Robot Arm wins First Prize in Taiwanese Robot Competition

A research team led by Prof. Tzuu-Hseng S. Li of Department of Electrical Engineering at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) was awarded the first prize and NT$400,000 in the 2010 National Robot Competition, hosted by HIWIN Technologies Corporation and Industrial Development Bureau, Ministry of Economic Affairs, with the invention of sophisticated intelligent robot arms.
The 2010 National Robot Competition includes categories of dancing, lifting, brushing and categorizing, emphasizing the flexibility, stability and lifting ability of the robot arms.
The 2010 National Robot Competition was organized by Robotics Association Taiwan and co-organized by Precision Machinery Research Development Center, integrates the three major themes of intelligent robots, intelligent machinery arms and security robots, aiming to stimulate creativities, promote industry-academia cooperation, cultivate outstanding talents and encourage the development of Taiwan’s robot industry.

Friday, December 03, 2010

50 Billion Connected Things 2020

Ericsson the world's leading provider of technology and services to telecom operators envisions over 50 billion connected devices in 2020. "In the future everything that will be benefit from being connected will be connected", said President and CEO Hans Vestberg in April 2010, when he met the shareholders in his new position for the first time at the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders in Stockholm. For every seven people on the face of the earth, there are now five mobile connections. In June 2010 the world passed the 5 billion subscription mark

Infonaut: ASIMO@AEC 2010
Connected Things 

  • 30 billion connected consumer devices (3 billion x 10 connected devices)
  • 1 billion vehicles
  • 3 billion utility meters
  • 100 billion embedded processors shipped (cumulative) 

Example from Sweden

Based on this vision Swedish telecom operator Telia expects 300 million connected devices in 2020, reports NyTeknik. Head of Telia Reseach Lars Klasson lists cameras, security alarms, washing machines and surveillance cameras as examples. Of Sweden's 12,2 million mobile subscriptions about 2 million (14%) devices, mostly utility meters, are already connected via the mobile network, but also alarms, cameras and vehicles are mobile connected.
What about Connected Robots?

Connected robots are not mentioned but will amount for some 100 millions in 2020-2035.  Here some predictions from Japan and South Korea. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) expects the Japanese market for service robots based on domestic production will grow to US$ 12 billion by 2020 and US$ 60 billion by 2035. This means 24 to 120 million US$ 500 service robots.
"One Robot in Every Home"

In 2007 Bill Gates envisioned "one robot in every home". The Korean government has already a stated goal of one robot in every Korean Kindergarten by 2013 and one robot in every home by 2020. 
If service robotics takes a similar path as the mobile phone did in the 20th century we may have 5 billion mobile robots around year 2030. 
The Unknown Unknown
  • What will this mean for society and our daily life? 
  • What are the great opportunities, what are the great risks? 
  • Are we prepared to live with billions of connected machines? 
  • What questions haven´t been asked yet? 
  • Any blindspots or tabus? 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Soft Robotics wins German Innovation Prize 2010

At an official award ceremony held on the evening of 1 December 2010, Germany’s President, Christian Wulff, presented Dr. Peter Post and Markus Fischer of Festo and Andrzej Grzesiak of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) with the 250,000-euro “Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2010”.

Bionic Handling Assistant

The Bionic Handling Assistant is a light, free-moving “third hand” system. Thanks to its structural compliance, direct contact between humans and machines humans and machine is now no longer a danger.

The research team developed the Bionic Handling Assistant within the framework of Festo’s Bionic Learning Network. Its structure and function were inspired by the elephant’s trunk. The flexible assistance system allows humans and machines to work together safely and efficiently as a team for the first time. Possible areas of use therefore include industry, agriculture, the home and even care facilities.

Freedom of movement and adaptive gripping
Eleven degrees of freedom open up a host of task-specific transport directions which, in contrast to conventional handling systems, are not restricted to linear axes. Sensors detect the paths and precisely adjust the system. The adaptive fingers grasp objects positively and non-positively and make the system a genuine assistant when it comes to sorting and moving sensitive objects or supporting assembly processes.
About Festo
Festo is a leading international supplier of automation technology. With its innovations and problem-solving expertise in the field of pneumatics and electronics, the company has established itself as the performance leader in its sector. Festo’s innovative strength is demonstrated by over 100 new products which it launches every year and the 2,900 patents it holds worldwide. Its new approach to product development using bionics and biomechatronics within the framework of the Bionic Learning Network, represents a true first in the field of automation technology.
About Fraunhofer IPA
The research and development focus of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA is on organizational and technological tasks related to production. Since 2005, the institute has been aiding partners and clients both in the planning and design of new products as well as the redesigning and optimization of existing product lines using generative manufacturing processes.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

$20 Million for Heartland Robotics Secret Robot

Heartland Robotics, Cambidge, MA, founded by robotics MIT professor Rodney Brooks, raised $20 M in Series B financing led by new investor Highland Capital Partner and joined by Sigma Partner, Carles River Ventures and Bezos Expeditions.

Buy a Robot and Save America

The company has high robotics and patriotic ambitions with their "touchable" robots that "will reinvigorate industry and inject new life into the economy. Making businesses more competitive. Keeping jobs from moving overseas. Demonstrating the power of American ingenuity."
There is still secrecy about the new industrial robot technology. At RIA Homepage it is reported that they develop a light-weight robot with a torso, one or two arms with grippers, camera as head, and on a rolling base. This robot with a price point at $ 5000 will make U.S. manufacturing more productive and efficient.

Secret Robotleaks?

Well, it isn´t hard to find out that this robot concept was born at MIT CSAIL Robotics Center, where Brooks has worked in many years with smart guys like Aaron Edsinger and Eduardo Torres-Jara devoping robots like upper-torso humanoid robot DOMO and Obrero humanoid robot especialized in sensitive manipulation. Edsinger co-founded robotics startups HeeHeeHee Labs and Meka Robotics. Meka is developing lightweight compliant robot arms, hands, grippers, humanoid heads and torsos, mobile robotic platform capable of omnidirectional motion.
MIT CSAIL Eduardo Torres-Jara Obrero 
With Obreo and Meka in mind, it would be a surprise if the 27+ Heartland guys would invent something  radical different. The scientific work and prototyping has been done, the team is formed and investors have been convinced to finance product development, business and manufacturing planning.

2.4 Million U.S. Jobs Lost

What is left is to prove  that it is possible to bring back manufacturing to the U.S. by starting manufacturing smart robots in the U.S. but not overseas. If Heartland can do that, they must have found a disruptive innovation that can outperform high-tech manufacturing Chinese workers. If it can bring back the 2.4 million U.S. jobs that have been lost or displaced between 2001 and 2009 to China is unlikely.

According to the Alliance of American Manufacturing losses in the Computer and the Peripheral Equipment sub-sector make up more than half of the job losses in the Computer and Electronic Parts sector and 13.7% of the total jobs lost to China in the 2001-2008 period.

Well, Brooks founded iRobot in 1990, incorporated in 2000 and made the company a world leader in defense and home robotics. Will he repeat that success with Heartland Robotics to "demonstrate the power of American ingenuity"?