The robot is risen

One of the most important concepts I ever learned came through playing tennis as a kid.

“You need to hit the ball while it’s still in front of you,” said my tennis coach, when I was having trouble returning another player’s fast serves.

The reason being, he explained, is “when the ball is coming towards you, it looks as though it’s moving much more slowly than when it gets alongside you.”

This one simple concept improved my tennis game no end. But it also made me realise you can apply this concept to many areas of life.

Big changes tend to feel as though they came out of nowhere. But most of the time they don’t. It’s just we weren’t watching them as they were approaching.

We only become aware of them after they have reached a tipping point. Or to stretch my tennis analogy, we don’t notice them until they are already alongside us.

Take robots, for example.

We have been aware of robots for decades. But in terms of our everyday lives, developments in this area have had little obvious impact.

However, that is all about to change. We are now almost at a tipping point where robots will become indispensable.

Most people won’t have seen this change coming, and won’t understand how it all happened so fast. But the truth is, it didn’t. It’s been happening all around us for a long time. It’s just now, it’s finally alongside us.

So let’s take a look at some of this year’s major developments.

Robots are taking over the farming industry

From The Independent in May:

Robots are taking over farms faster than anyone saw coming, as the first fully autonomous farm equipment is becoming commercially available, meaning machines will be able to completely take over a multitude of tasks.

Tractors will drive with no farmer in the cab and specialised equipment will be able to spray, plant, plow and weed cropland. And it is all happening well before many analysts had predicted thanks to small start-ups in Canada and Australia.

These robots are allowing farmers to massively cut down on coasts and make their operations more efficient.

The article quotes one Australian farmer now saving over 80% on his weed-killing costs due to the robots increased efficiency and accuracy.

Amazon drone delivery is almost live

Drone delivery is something that’s been talked about for a number of years now, but the technology is finally here to make it a reality.

And last week Amazon unveiled its latest delivery drone, which it says will start making deliveries in the coming months.

Amazon says the drone’s focus is on safety.

From Tech Crunch:

The drone is chock-full of sensors and a suite of compute modules that run a variety of machine learning models to keep the drone safe. Today’s announcement marks the first time Amazon is publicly talking about those visual, thermal and ultrasonic sensors, which it designed in-house, and how the drone’s autonomous flight systems maneuver it to its landing spot. The focus here was on building a drone that is as safe as possible and able to be independently safe. Even when it’s not connected to a network and it encounters a new situation, it’ll be able to react appropriately and safely.

The drone itself, is fairly large, as you can see from Amazon’s presentation still:

Source: Amazon

The Tech Crunch article also states that the UK could be one of the first places this drone will be used, as Amazon has already been trailing drone delivery here.

Boston Dynamics is selling its terrifying “spot” robot commercially

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll likely have seen my coverage of Boston Dynamics’ robots.

Here’s what it looks like:

Source: Boston Dynamics

As I said last August:

The video of its “SpotMini” robot dogs opening doors is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who watches it.

The movements are so precise it looks like a computer animation. But it’s not, it’s real.

In another video, a Boston Dynamics worker hits SpotMini with a stick while it goes about its terrifying duties. The robot, unfazed, simply stands back up and carries on as if nothing happened.

Even though you know it’s no more alive than a roll of sellotape, you can’t help feeling like it is.

Logically you understand it doesn’t have emotions and can’t sense pain. But it is incredibly difficult to convince yourself of this.

Well, now the full-size version of spot will soon be on sale. And it seems Boston Dynamics will be first targeting construction companies.

From The Verge:

Rather than selling the robot as a single-use tool, it’s positioning it as a “mobility platform” that can be customized by users to complete a range of tasks.

A Spot robot mounted with 3D cameras can map environments like construction sites, identifying hazards and work progress. When equipped with a robot arm, it has even greater flexibility, able to open doors and manipulate objects.

At Re:MARS, a Spot with a robot arm used it to pick up items, including a cuddly toy that was then offered to a flesh-and-blood police dog. The dog was unimpressed with the robot, but happy, at least, to receive the toy.

Raibert says it’s this “athletic intelligence” that Boston Dynamics will be selling through its robots. Think of it like Amazon’s AWS business, but instead of offering computing power on tap, its robotic mobility.

The vast majority of bots in use in warehouses and factories today are only able to perform rote tasks, planned in advance down to the millimeter. But if robots are going to work alongside humans in more dynamic environments, they need to be able to react to hazards and changing conditions. These are eminently humans skills: tasks we complete without thinking — like catching a ball — but that stump all but the most advanced bots.

The spot robots may seem pretty unusual. But they could prove invaluable in jobs and situations too dangerous for humans, such as disaster zones or in certain types of constructions.

Nick O’Connor wrote about this idea extensively in his book, :

In fact, he dedicated a whole chapter to robots, and how they are going to change our lives. Here’s an excerpt:

Nuclear disasters, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, wars – they’re all events that can be lethal to human beings. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to traverse the affected areas to rescue the wounded. This is where robots can play a massive role.

For instance, robots were used in a search capacity in the aftermath of 9/11. And since then, they’ve been deployed on the site of countless natural disasters. More often than not, they’re used to provide on the ground pictures of places humans can’t safely access. They’re also used to perform vital tasks humans could never do: in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, robots were used to swim through the underwater tunnels of cooling pools, removing leftover radioactive material.

Like it or not, robots are going to become a big part of our lives, in almost every sphere. This is definitely an area you’ll want to get clued up on before it reaches its tipping point. And one of the best ways to do that is to .

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Robotics

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