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    Robots for the win during ecommerce holiday crunch

    Berkshire Grey

    Innovation

    Between labor shortages, COVID continuing to wreak havoc on the supply chain, and the upcoming holiday season (in which e-commerce is expected to grow up to 15%), retailers, e-commerce, and warehouses will face a challenging few months to meet increased consumer demands. These businesses are already sounding the alarm bells and actively looking for innovative new ways to keep pace while at the same time maintaining and attracting new employees — and robotic automation is a frontrunner solution.Brick-and-mortar stores are increasingly fulfilling e-commerce sales, and in 2021, more than 80% of all retail sales, inclusive of e-commerce, will come from brick-and-mortars. That’s driven traditional vendors to amplify their fulfillment operations well beyond in-store pickup.Enter Berkshire Grey, an AI-enabled robotic supply chain solution provider that supports businesses including Fortune 50 retailers and logistics service providers like Walmart, Target and FedEx. On the heels of a recently announced Robotic Pick and Pack (RPP) and Robotic Shuttle Put Wall (RSPW) solutions that increase order sortation throughput by up to 300%, I caught up with the company’s VP of Products, Kishore Boyalakuntla, to talk robots and e-commerce heading into the holidays.GN: How do you think the current state of e-commerce in 2021 will impact the adoption of robotic solutions? Please cite some specific factors.Kishore Boyalakuntla: E-commerce is growing at a lightning-fast rate. E-commerce share of retail sales grew to 19% in 2020, the incredible growth of 32% YOY and projected to be 25% of all retail sales in 2025. This skyrocketing growth results from purchases for every facet of our lives — ordering holiday gifts, getting groceries, ordering furniture for a new apartment — you name it.This record growth is nearly impossible to keep pace with without automation. Peak season used to mean upping hiring slightly — now, large companies are seeking one hundred thousand seasonal employees in the midst of a crippling labor shortage. More companies are turning to robotic solutions not to get ahead of the e-commerce boom but just to keep up with their existing orders and have hope for the holiday season. Automation is a given — it’s just when, what and how that some are still figuring out. GN: What are the lingering hurdles to the adoption of robotic sorting and throughput for firms of various sizes? Why might a company still be on the fence?

    Kishore Boyalakuntla: Some companies might be wary of implementing or expanding their robotics solutions for a few reasons – cost, potential downtime, or lack of facility space among them – though these concerns can be easily mitigated. Robotic automation is the only way to plan for future growth while optimizing the workforce with less than 3 years of ROI. Robots can also be brought on-site in phases while reducing potential downtime. They’re also modular and configurable, so managing existing facility space need not be a concern. GN: What kind of setup time are we seeing for the adoption of robotic solutions for e-commerce? How has that changed in the last few years, and what accounts for that?Kishore Boyalakuntla: The time to implement robotics solutions is shortening thanks to artificial intelligence quickly. As AI gets smarter, we’ve trimmed implementation time down to 2.5 weeks in some cases. As recent as last year, this would have taken a month and a half to accomplish. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this — like how large the facility is, the scale of the deployment, how pliable the upstream and downstream are, etc. Still, we can expect this process to continue to get shorter as AI systems advance. GN: What’s the ROI timeline for logistics providers adopting various kinds of automation into their processes?Kishore Boyalakuntla: ROI for providers can be a year or up to 3 years – given ROI comes in many forms. Some companies can’t fulfill 30% of the orders they receive unless they hire a new workforce, meaning they can’t deliver hundreds of thousands of packages. Others have 40% turnover among staff every month. So depending on how many of these issues are compounding on one business, the potential for ROI could be immediate and massive if it means just meeting your existing orders.  GN: What do the next 5 to 10 years hold for e-commerce and logistics where automation is concerned?Kishore Boyalakuntla: In the next five to ten years, e-commerce will continue growing rapidly with expansion into new segments, forcing automation into the limelight. We’ll see some level of robotic automation applied across almost all warehouse and logistics facilities — it won’t just be considered a “nice to have,” it’ll be “need to have” for companies of the future to survive. It is quite possible that the current labor shortage will become even more acute, forcing companies to consider how they can best upskill their workforce to fill more complex and creative jobs. With robots taking on more of the work humans don’t want to do, the door will be wide open for careers in fulfillment that allow those same employees to advance long-term. This shift will improve efficiency and create a pathway for people to transition to more fulfilling jobs like managing the robotics and AI solutions in the facilities.  More

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    Self-driving robots key to future of our food

    Fieldin

    Innovation

    Acquisitions are shaking up the smart farming landscape. The latest example comes via Fieldin, the world’s largest smart farm operations management company for high-value crops, which has acquired agricultural autonomous driving company Midnight Robotics.The acquisition is a sign of rapid maturation in smart farming, which uses IoT sensors and AI to manage farm operations with unprecedented precision and is helping reshape food manufacturing in wealthy markets. The acquisition creates a sensor-based operational farming platform with autonomous driving technologies to empower growers in the day-to-day management of their farms. It’s the ag equivalent of the lights out farm, and the concept has already been deployed in large California farms.”Many people think that autonomous tractors are some magic solution, but at the end of the day, they’re just machinery — your autonomous farm can only be as good as your farm management data, and that’s why this acquisition is driving the autonomous farming revolution forward,” says Boaz Bachar, CEO and Co-Founder of Fieldin. “Over the past eight years, we’ve digitized hundreds of farms and over 10,000 tractors and pieces of farming equipment — more than anyone else in the high-value crop world — and amassed a trove of invaluable data that can offer insights into best practices in farm management. By acquiring Midnight Robotics, we’re helping farmers close the loop from insight to autonomous action, so they know exactly what they need to do and execute it autonomously, all through the same platform.”Agriculture has been rapidly adopting IoT and automation technology in response to growing pressures that include labor scarcity, climate change, and drought. Precision agriculture, the catch-all for digital technology-powered farming, is being adopted in various use cases to introduce manufacturing-level efficiencies into food production. Fieldin’s platform collects farming data via distributed sensor networks and offers guided decision-making insights about things like pesticide use and water management. Thanks to the addition of autonomous tractors, the decisions can now be executed autonomously. Fieldin is retrofitting tractors and other farming machinery with LiDAR-based autonomy kits that feed data back to its platform in real-time.”It’s not enough to have great agricultural data or great autonomous technology — you need to have both to make autonomous farming a reality. What’s so powerful about this merger is the potent combination of Fieldin’s unparalleled farming data collection, which includes over 49 million hours’ worth of tractor driving, with our driverless technology expertise,” Midnight Robotics co-founder Yonatan Horovitz. “We’re excited to join forces with Fieldin because only together will we be able to help farmers reap the benefits of smart and autonomous farming — not a decade from now, but today.”The company’s retrofit kit is capable of turning any tractor into a robot using advanced LiDAR perception algorithms. More

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    What's really happening in the medical robotics market

    iStock by Getty Images

    Innovation

    According to Mordor Intelligence, the U.S. medical robotics market is expected to reach $28.34 billion by 2026. These next-generation systems promise lower costs, less hardware, smaller incisions, more precise treatment, increased levels of guidance and automation.But big market predictions are often vague on the specifics. Where specifically is the market opportunity for robotically assisted symptoms? What are the challenges manufacturers face in the highly regulated medical tools market? What are the market drivers and technological advancements behind the trends?I caught up with Darren Porras, Market Development Manager of Medical at Real-Time Innovations (RTI), for a look at what’s really happening (and what’s coming down the pike) for the medical robotics market.GN: In what procedures have medical robots become standard? Why those procedures, and what does that say about the earliest iterations of the technology?Darren Porras: Robotically-assisted systems are increasingly being used today for a broad array of procedures: General Surgeries (e.g. GI, Colorectal), Urological, Gynecological, Neurovascular, Orthopedic (hip/knee implants), and Spinal procedures. These systems provide greater control of surgical instruments and improved visualization to enable more precise and reproducible treatment.  For patients, this means less trauma and faster recovery times. Laparoscopic robotic systems that consist of surgeon-controlled instruments inserted through abdominal ports are the most commercially available systems today to surgically treat a number of cancers, including prostate, bladder, and rectal cancers. While the initial laparoscopic robotic systems expanded upon the already established minimally-invasive approach for laparoscopic procedures, these systems continue to evolve, and other form factors and device architectures are now in use and emerging. For orthopaedic and spinal procedures, robotic arms and intelligent hand-held devices are assisting surgeons in guiding tools for precise placement and treatments. Flexible robotic systems incorporate steerable catheters, bronchoscopes, and other devices to perform lung biopsies and percutaneous cardiovascular interventions. These systems provide deeper access into internal anatomy and through natural orifices. 

    GN: Given the market for medical interventions and the evolving technologies, where are the big market opportunities for medical robots, and why is that the case?Darren Porras: Market opportunity in healthcare is really about how to most effectively and efficiently improve patient care and outcomes. The role of robotics in augmenting surgical tasks during the procedure is only a part of this. The digital transformation in healthcare is redefining how patients are diagnosed, treated, and monitored. This transformation incorporates devices, intelligence, and interoperability of systems and data prior to surgery, during surgery, and for follow-up after surgery. Device manufacturers that develop robotic platforms that integrate holistically and seamlessly with the clinical workflow and leverage data-driven technologies across the device ecosystem will transform minimally invasive surgery. It’s important to note that the majority of surgeries being performed today are not robotic or even minimally invasive. There is a significant opportunity for robotics across all procedure types to improve surgical treatments and patient care. As surgical procedures increasingly utilize data and interoperable intelligent systems to realize clinical efficiencies, assist in decision-making, and automate procedural tasks, robotics will play a key role in meeting the needs of healthcare systems and patients.GN: Can you speak to some of the challenges manufacturers still face, particularly in areas like system development and issues like safety/reliability, interoperability, and cyber security?Darren Porras: These systems pose many technical challenges and new computing paradigms. Evolving technologies and increasing complexity presents a steep learning curve to development teams and a lot of risk. With many competitors entering the market and the need to accelerate feature development, companies must focus their teams on what differentiates their products and leverage state of the art technologies, tools, and reusable reference architectures.Surgical robotics are complex, distributed systems of computing nodes, cameras, sensors, instruments, and other devices that all must work as one integrated system. It’s a data connectivity challenge with a number of simultaneous and demanding requirements for reliability, performance, cybersecurity, and interoperability. Cybersecurity is a big concern. While regulatory bodies, device manufacturers, and hospitals are increasingly collaborating to improve the security of devices and hospital systems, cybersecurity breaches are now a common occurrence. The threat landscape has changed- a couple of teenagers with tools readily available on the internet can launch ransomware attacks and bring down medical devices and vulnerable hospital networks. The consequences of a breach can lead to patient harm, product recalls, and exponential costs to companies that may also include disclosure of trade secrets/IP.  Regulatory bodies are raising the bar for approval with updated cybersecurity guidance and increased scrutiny.  Device manufacturers must design secure communications into the product at the “white-board” stage across the device ecosystem to secure data components across multi-domain networks while satisfying demanding performance requirements and diverse use cases for system and data access. These challenges require new software architectures and state-of-the-art, distributed connectivity solutions that enable intelligent, secure, and real-time connectivity across devices, systems, and network domains from the edge to the cloud. Beyond APIs, connectivity frameworks are needed that enable interoperable, reliable, and flexible architectures that are scalable. Device manufacturers can’t afford to redesign their systems or update hardware whenever they release new features. Leveraging connectivity frameworks enables development teams to focus on their core competencies and application development- thereby accelerating time to market.GN: What’s on the horizon in terms of capabilities? How will AI and automation play a bigger role going forward?Darren Porras: Robotic systems will increasingly become ‘digital platforms’ that leverage data integration and intelligent connectivity across devices to enhance the surgical procedure itself while also being an integral part of a digital surgery ecosystem. By leveraging this interoperability of systems of systems, the power of the convergence of these technologies will truly transform patient care. This requires increasing integration of imaging, visualization, and intelligence through dedicated but increasingly distributed systems and networks. Device and edge-distributed processing are increasingly important for safety-critical robotics applications where key requirements are latency, reliability, and security. This distributed architecture allows systems to process data locally to execute intelligent device functionality efficiently. Remote-teleoperation is another exciting area where we are already seeing systems capable of performing remote surgeries across 5G networks. These capabilities allow surgeons worldwide to collaborate, enable greater access to expert treatments, and reach remote and underserved populations. AI algorithms will enhance the sensing capabilities of surgical instrumentation based on physiological parameters and sensor fusion (e.g. blood perfusion, temperature, pressure sensors). AI will also be leveraged to realize increasing levels of surgical precision,  autonomous functionality, and consistency of surgical procedures. Leveraging data, visualization, and intelligence across distributed devices and networks, these systems will provide real-time guidance during the procedure while also assisting in pre-operative surgical planning and post-operative device and procedure optimization. For example, data and metrics collected from the procedure may be used to provide feedback to improve the next surgery and train other surgeons. Clinical teams across the world may leverage this data to collaborate, advance, and standardize surgical treatments. This offers an incredible opportunity to provide universal access to high-quality care and patient outcomes.GN: What’s your sense of the market appetite for medical robots within both the medical and patient communities? Any pushback from healthcare workers? Any reticence among patient populations?Darren Porras: The high cost of these systems is one key barrier. With new competitors entering the market and as the designs of these systems continue to evolve, it’s anticipated that these factors will drive down costs. Another barrier is the learning curve required by the clinical teams to operate and the difficulty in incorporating these systems into the clinical workflow and hospital ecosystem. Robotically-assisted systems have made great strides in the technical arena- but that’s not sufficient to transform surgery. A system may incorporate the most innovative technology. Still, if the technology is inaccessible, whether due to cost factors, insufficiently trained staff, regulatory constraints, or unavailable due to reliability or security issues- this presents a significant hurdle. Device companies need to incorporate best practices in system design and security and evolve functionality quickly to meet the needs of the clinical teams, the hospitals, and the patients.As the utilization of robotic systems grows and these systems demonstrate value and improved patient care across the care cycle, this will continue to fuel further adoption. While there is a perception that surgeons will be “replaced”, this is not actually the way increasing automation usually plays out in a highly skilled industry. Industry professionals need to collaborate with clinical stakeholders to embrace how procedures can optimally incorporate robotics to elevate what is possible to be done in surgery today and standardize more precise surgical treatments to a greater patient population.At the end of the day, nobody resists what is best for the patient. Patients are calling for technologies that enable the most effective treatments, faster recoveries, and reduced complications. As technology continues to transform patient care, medical device manufacturers must adapt to the needs of the patient, the procedures, and the clinical teams. Surgeons are already taking advantage of the benefits of improved ergonomics, greater visibility, and the ability to treat patients earlier and with higher precision. These systems will continue to improve the automation of surgical tasks and the clinical workflow. By leveraging intelligent and distributed connectivity, it will be difficult to imagine surgeries without robots in the not-too-distant future.  More

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    Robots to scale alternative to plastic packaging

    Zume
    Robots are getting in on the effort to curb our addiction to single-use plastics. A new partnership between one of the largest industrial robotics manufacturers and a compostable packaging company points the way to an efficient and cost-effective green packaging revolution.

    Innovation

    ABB Robotics has signed an agreement to collaborate with California-based Zume, which makes the compostable packaging that’s becoming more commonplace as an alternative to plastics. ABB’s robotic cells will help Zume speed up and scale production of 100% compostable packaging made from plant-based agricultural material.The stats on single-use plastic are grim. Currently, less than 10% of the 380 million tons of plastic produced globally every year is recycled. But the winds are slowly changing as global brands recognize the need for sustainability in the face of consumption and governmental pressure. Zume’s packaging material uses the leftovers from agricultural production, including bamboo, wheat, and straw. Plant material uses significantly less water and energy and reduces CO₂ emissions when compared to the production and disposal of plastic packaging. The plant-based material is also 100% biodegradable and simply breaks down after use. “By 2050, we estimate that the world’s oceans will have more plastic than fish, so it is critical that we move everyone away from single-use plastics,” said Alex Garden, Chairman and CEO of Zume.Zume’s process revolves around molded fiber manufacturing cells that convert the raw material into molded packages. As demand increases, Zume has identified a growing need for the scale, and efficiency automation affords. Enter the robotsABB will integrate and install more than 1,000 molded fiber manufacturing cells, including up to 2,000 robots at Zume customer’s sites worldwide over the next five years. Each cell processes up to two tons of agriculture material every day, creating 80,000 pieces of sustainable packaging. At scale, each global site would be able to process 71,000 agricultural materials each year, accounting for up to two billion pieces of packaging.”Using ABB’s global automation experts to develop and integrate automation solutions for our customers will revolutionize packaging and demonstrate what sustainable manufacturing can look like,” says Garden. “The flexibility and scalability of ABB’s robots enable an efficient automated manufacturing process. This means we can offer a viable, cost-effective, compostable alternative to plastic and help manufacturers to become more environmentally friendly.”

    According to the companies, a pilot project has been installed at one of India’s largest wood and agro-based paper manufacturers, creating a facility of 50 manufacturing cells that will process 100 tons of wheat straw daily, creating 100% compostable packaging for a range of industries. “Automating production of Zume’s sustainable packaging with ABB robots makes this a viable and economical alternative to single-use plastics. With Zume, we have the potential to remove trillions of pieces of plastic from the global marketplace, preserving scarce resources and supporting a low carbon world,” says Sami Atiya, President of ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation. “Today, robotic automation is expanding possibilities, making the world more sustainable through more efficient production that reduces energy use, emissions and production waste. Our collaboration showcases what is possible when organizations that are committed to pursuing a low-carbon society work together.” More

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    Rebar robots and autonomous project tracking

    Shutterstock

    Innovation

    Automation and digitization are revolutionizing nearly every industry, but in old school fields like construction, automation technologies have the potential to be truly transformative. The sector is a canary in the coal mine for broader automation adoption trends, and it’s a good bellwether for big changes on the way.The construction robot market is expected to reach $166.4M by 2023, up from $76.6M in 2018. Contractors and developers are leaning into robotic technology as it becomes more commonplace, and they see an increased need for enhanced productivity, quality, and safety due to continued urbanization. Adoption will speed amid massive new infrastructure spending, including in areas like design and final inspection and repetitive tasks on the job site.I connected with Raffi Holzer, co-founder and CEO of Avvir, a software platform operating in this space, to discuss how automation is reshaping how project owners and contractors manage construction progress and introduce new efficiencies into old processes.GN: We’ve followed various progress tracking solutions for the job site (drones, hard hat cams, etc.). Can you tell us how effectively they’re being integrated on the job site? Raffi Holzer: There is a range of effectiveness in how progress tracking is being implemented on the job site. There are some jobs in which progress tracking is used simply for documentation, and the data that is captured is used largely for retrospective purposes. So, for instance, if the facility manager needs to see behind a wall or in a litigation scenario, the GC can hold the trade to a particular issue.Technology-mature companies use progress tracking as a proactive decision-making tool. This can affect things like staffing, resourcing and can help GC’s get a real-time handle on the state of the job site. When talking about where we’re headed, I think the industry will be proactive and predictive. GC’s will be able to identify the likely implications of certain delays and how that will affect the project’s critical path and overall delivery. GN: What kinds of efficiencies do they unlock, and how are they helping change the paradigm with regards to project overages? 

    Raffi Holzer: One of the most powerful things about progress tracking is that it eliminates the need of human beings to do the work. That’s where the true efficiency comes in. The number of labor hours required is incredible and much more accurate. Relying on humans is an unreliable way to measure the state of the project. Automated methodologies can be fast and accurate. Accuracy can predict with an unparalleled confidence level whether the project will be completed on time and allows you to course-correct in real-time. GN: Task repetition is largely what automation is all about, but construction sites tend to be fairly unstructured spaces. What sorts of tasks on the site are suitable for robots? Any use cases to point to? Raffi Holzer: There are quite a few repetitive tasks on job sites where robots can be utilized; this includes things like hanging drywall or curtain walls, tying rebar, etc. Construction sites can be unstructured in a way that makes deploying robots more complicated than a warehouse, for example, but there are still highly repetitive tasks on sites where robots can be utilized effectively.GN: For the foreseeable future, it seems like humans and robots will share the job site. How can this be done safely? How are robots taking over some of the most dangerous work on the job site? Raffi Holzer: Rebar tying and hanging drywall are some of the most dangerous jobs on the site. These are prime examples of what some startups in the field are already doing well and effectively with the use of robots.Getting humans and robots on the site will be a small culture change. The robots we see on site are just anthropomorphic, smarter tools, so I don’t think it will be much different than the shift to working with pneumatic guns or electric drills. More

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    Unsupervised AI arrives for quality inspection

    Getty Images/iStockphoto
    Quality in manufacturing is mission critical. AI-powered quality inspection is nothing new, but a joint venture from two big players in manufacturing could markedly improve outcomes and reduce barriers to entry.The new venture is called Lean AI. The technological secret sauce is what’s known as unsupervised AI, which is a cutting edge deep learning technology that doesn’t require massive datasets, months of setup time, or known inspection paradigms to function. The new company is a collaboration between Johnson Electric, which has knowledge and experience in manufacturing, and Cortica Group, which has pioneered unique autonomous AI technology for visual inspection.”With the power of Cortica’s Autonomous AI technology, and JE’s vast knowledge of the market, Lean AI will deliver a product that reduces the cost of human error when it comes to quality inspection in manufacturing and address the vulnerabilities in the current market,” says Karina Odinaev, CEO of Lean AI.The problem is that conventional Deep Learning-Based Quality Assurance Systems can take weeks or months, to deploy and rely on a data scientist or AI experts feeding large manually tagged training sets with thousands of defect image examples. These systems require constant maintenance and re-training for product variations or new cameras.Lean AI is leveraging a newer generation of unsupervised deep learning-based quality assurance technology to get past existing challenges. Its unsupervised system uses unlabeled data, applies predictive quality assurance, and compiles data that increases the speed of deployment and scaling. It’s an open platform, meaning it’s agnostic to camera, defect type, and product. That flexibility marks a big evolution in AI-driven inspection, which is a massive and growing market, particularly with renewed emphasis on efficiency as supply chains are stretched thin.By some estimates, the global machine vision market is currently valued at US$11 billion and is forecast to increase to US$15.5 billion by 2026.”Cortica has developed self-learning AI that is fundamentally different from traditional deep learning systems. Autonomous AI Technology operates like a human brain — it’s not a fixed system; instead, it continuously adapts itself to various scenarios and learns online in real-time. Its technology requires far less computing power, can be deployed at a fraction of the cost, and provides far superior performance outcomes,” says Igal Raichelgauz, Founder and Chairman of Cortica. “Our technology is robust and generic and applicable within a multitude of signal domains such as visual, audio, time series and other domains; visual inspection is only the beginning. Autonomous AI technology is quickly becoming the benchmark for the industry.” More

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    Workers obsolete as robots do the dirty work

    Brain Corp
    The robot takeover won’t happen like we imagined. In fact it’s already well underway, albeit in sectors that are likely peripheral for most ZDNet readers. (Don’t worry … our time will come.)Case in point, over the last year robots have replaced workers at notable scale in the commercial cleaning industry. A company called Brain Corp, which creates core technology in robotics, recently announced that from October 1, 2020, to October 1, 2021, usage of automated robotics increased dramatically across a number of industry sectors, particularly in hospitals (+2,500%) and education (+426%).The news comes in the middle of the ‘Great Resignation’ within the U.S. and across the world, which has impacted the ability for those across industries to employ and retain workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021 and a study detailed in the Harvard Business Review found that, in general, resignation rates were higher among employees who worked in fields that had experienced extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic. Shifting office cultures and changing demand during the pandemic has had an especially large impact on janitorial services.Enter the robots. The table was set for a technology-driven overhaul. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), which can map and navigate semi-structured environments with ease, are now prolific in industries like logistics, where they ferry packages around warehouses, and in grocery stores, where they scan shelves to give retailers data driven insights on merchandise. Cleaning robots have been around for some time, and companies like Brain Corp have been refining the technology via AI software that allow autonomous robots to operate in new, varying environments, as well as advanced sensors, which have fallen in price as AMRs proliferate in the market. It’s a classic automation adoption scenario, one that combines drastically shifting labor economics, the pressures of a global pandemic, and the opportunity afforded by technological development. In the case of Brain Corp, the company’s BrainOS-powered fleet of autonomous mobile robots just reached 100 billion square feet of coverage a significant milestone that the company estimates is equivalent to 6.8 million hours of human work.”We are thrilled to celebrate reaching 100 billion square feet of coverage with our fleet which represents the square footage of the entire commercial space in the United States,” says Eugene Izhikevich, CEO and Founder of Brain Corp. “The milestone represents a clear success of deploying autonomous robots at scale and across multiple industries. As a company committed to continuous improvement, it’s been incredibly gratifying to see such major advances in our fleet’s performance, even as it has been scaled and expanded to operate in multiple new dynamic public environments across the world.” The same mechanisms driving automation in commercial cleaning are pushing development in spaces like fast food, where burger robot Flippy is becoming a viable cooking option for fast food chains, and window washing, where autonomous robotic arms can perform one of New York City’s most iconic jobs.

    It’s a sign that the robot revolution isn’t coming. It’s already here. More

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    Delivery robots are taking over college campuses

    Starship Technologies

    Innovation

    Another campus, another rollout of roving delivery robots. You may not know it, but delivery robot vendors are making a play for campuses across the country in a bid to grab a market toe-hold in relatively structured environments free of much of the regulatory complications of municipalities.Starship Technologies has delivered 30 autonomous robots for food service to South Dakota State University in the latest example. The robots will deliver from three campus vendors — Grille Works, Papa Johns, and Starbucks — with additional locations added soon.”The one thing we have learned in recent years is that students and faculty like flexibility in their dining options,” said Doug Wermedal, associate vice president for student affairs at SDSU. “The ability to have something delivered to various locations throughout campus and the community will be impactful to our students and employees as they continue to manage busy and demanding schedules. We are excited about this partnership, the robotics technology and the student employment opportunities Starship will bring to our campus.”But does a campus of 14,000 students and faculty need 30 delivery robots? With ongoing concerns about clustered dining during the pandemic, there’s some case to be made for the flexibility and public health benefits of contactless delivery. One thing is for certain, and that’s that Starship Technologies has identified college campuses as important strategic markets in a highly competitive delivery paradigm and shifting regulatory considerations.Starship already has robots on the campuses of Arizona State University, Purdue University, George Mason University, and Northern Arizona University. Since its launch, all campuses have increased the number of robots, dining options, and hours of operation to meet the high demand for the service.While the number of robots deployed on campuses isn’t a show stopper, the value to the company is exceptional. In many ways, colleges are the perfect test bed for delivery robots. Students tend to live well within a 30-minute delivery radius. Integration with meal plans, which is the model governing the SDSU rollout, helps ensure a ready customer base, and participating universities are easily wooed by the allure of being a forward-thinking institution with Silicon Valley connections (Starship is headquartered in the Bay Area). Campuses also offer an exceptional proof of concept for a variety of Starship’s constituents, from investors to prospective customers to regional regulatory bodies that are approaching robot delivery with appropriate caution. Halfway through 2021, Starship announced that it had repeatedly set delivery records in its campus deployments during the pandemic.

    “I hadn’t even heard of robot delivery before I started school, and now I don’t see a future without it,” said Claire Sunderman, a student at Bowling Green State University, where the company has a deployment. “I’d be perfectly happy to have a robot deliver a lot more things because it would save me so much time. Now that I am graduating, I will really miss the convenience and seeing the robots on campus everyday — I wish I could take one with me!”  That sort of attitude bodes well for companies like Starship, which aren’t just proofing technology but also training a new generation of adopters. Other autonomous delivery companies have adopted similar tacks. A company called Flytrex, for example, made headlines by offering food delivery via drone at a golf course in North Dakota recently. The access-limited space permits management to collect waivers from golfers, which allows Flytrex to avoid strict FAA regulations when operating over public areas.But ultimately, these testbeds, while good for short term adoption and product refinement, aren’t sufficient to sustain these companies. For widespread adoption to occur, automation firms still need to tackle the thorny issue of local regulatory hurdles. So far, companies like Starship (either out of prudence or because they don’t have deep enough pockets) have avoided the blitz mentality of Uber and Bird, which left local regulators scrambling to react and have opted instead for a more methodical rollout. More