Posts Tagged robots

Robotics: Culture, Cost, and Capability

Over the last six months, robots have been everywhere.

Security robots and janitorial workers sharing the corridor on the night shift.

Security robots and janitorial workers sharing the corridor on the night shift.

Well, not literal robots, but the news, the web, the economic journals all have been talking about robots:

Robots have caught our attention.  But why, and why now?

I think we find ourselves at the corner (forgive the alliteration) of Cost, Capability, and Culture and all three of these combine to make robotics the enabler for the foreseeable future. In academic terms, they are both necessary and sufficient.

Cost

Cost is a big factor. When industrial automation was first available the cost of an arm ran as high as the equivalent of 10 years salary for an unskilled laborer. This made the payback/ROI a hard sell. Only when the cost dropped into the 2-3 year equivalent did industrial automation take off. To be fair for some specialized applications, the precision and safety were drivers, but for mainstream applications the cost was the driver.

Today, we are seeing robots being adopted outside the factory floor, and they don’t cost $250K, or even $100K – service robots are in the $20K to $75K range, due to the availability of low cost components and, interestingly, the cost savings from robotic manufacturing. So the ROI drops to 1 to 2 years for many jobs that can be automated.

Capability

That brings us to the second ‘C” Capability. Over the last 10 years there have be major strides forward in the ability of the software to control an autonomous robot alongside people. As you probably know, in industrial automation the robots are kept behind cages and wire walls – because it is not safe for people to be around them. It was in 1979 that the first human worker was killed by an industrial robot. Since then OSHA and other regulatory agencies have tightened the restriction on allowing people near industrial robots.

Today, the software and control theories have made it possible to safely interact with these robots, and the robots have enough brain power to reason about the world and complete complex tasks, such as security, bar-tending, and so on. Without the capability to do these tasks well, we, as a culture, will simply not accept them. As I have said in an earlier post “Robots must earn their pay

Culture

So here is the final ‘C’: Culture. Over the last 20 years or so we have seen a growing acceptance of robots in the culture. More and more movies (what better indicator of cultural memes?) feature friendly robots (Wall-E, Johnny-5, R2D2, the good Transformers) instead of evil robots bent on world domination. People are starting to look at robots as helpers, assistants, and useful tools.  At Gamma 2 Robotics we ask people Where is your robot?® and they are not frightened, they are excited by the prospects.

Tomorrow’s Robots Today

So all three C’s are coming together: The robots now have the capabilities to do the tasks we want them to do; the robots are becoming available at a cost point that makes it economically feasible to put them to work; and as a culture we are now looking for them to do the jobs.

We are on the cusp of major changes in how we work and how we work with robots. Google, Amazon, and Apple are all leading the way, but it is the small companies that are producing the robots that are going to change our world.  Will there be hiccups along the way, yes there will. But the world of tomorrow is going to be built by robots doing the dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs.


Where is your robot?® Ours are hard at work making the world a better place.

For more information check out Gamma 2 Robotics or call +1-303-778-7400


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You Lying Weasel

What do you trust more, what you are told or what you actually see?

The 4ft tall security robot points its top-mounted camera at the surface of a workstation.

The Vigilant security robot responds to a secure remote request to relay an image of the desktop.

For most people the answer is simple: you trust your senses. If you look out the window and it is raining, you believe that it is raining regardless of what your spouse, your best friend, or some guy at the weather station tells you.  This is a capability we develop as we mature. As kids we believed what we were told, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, “This won’t hurt.”  We trusted what we were told until we gained more experience, until we learned better.

This ability to trust our senses is critical in the complex, ever-changing, and uncertain environments that we think of as normal.  We have to guess what is around the corner, then react quickly when we see that our guess was wrong. We make plans based our our predictions about the future and have to re-plan when we see what the situation is really like.  This is how we get through the day, get through our lives.

At Gamma 2 Robotics, we build robots. Unlike an industrial robot working away tirelessly in a controlled space in a factory, our robots work alongside people in human environments. To do so they need to trust their senses.  Most robots simply do what they are told to do, they don’t think, they don’t reason, they just follow orders.  And they trust.

Auto assembly line with robots

Auto assembly line with robots

This leads to potential problems. The case of robot welder that ‘trusted’ that the space around it was clear, so it swung it’s heavy arm in an arc, killing Robert Williams in 1979; the first recorded death by robot.

At Gamma 2 value safety, and that means that our robots trust, but in the words of the late president Reagan, our robots “trust, but verify”  So, if you tell one of our robots that the path in front of it is clear, and it can move forward, it will trust, but verify that there are no obstacles in the way, and verify the path dozens of times a second as it moves.

This month we added a significant capability to our robot’s skill set.  It used to be that, if we were in a hurry, we could lie to our robots.  We might be at a location like a conference or a trade show.  And to speed things up, to make it easier for us to demonstrate a capability, we would tell the robot that it was really back in the lab. The robot would trust, and follow our instructions perfectly, even though we were not in the lab at all.  That all changed this month, as we upgraded the artificial intelligence of the robots.

Robot patrolling the receiving dock, and monitoring changing temperatures.

Robot patrolling the receiving dock, and monitoring changing temperatures.

Now the robots look around, they compare their sensory information with the expectations of what they should see, if they were really back at the lab.  And, if it is clear that we did not tell the robot the truth – the robot will not believe us, it will do its best to figure out where it really is, to prevent any unsafe behavior.

The robot will trust, but if it cannot verify – it might say “You told me we were in the lab, but we are not! You lying weasel!”


Where is your robot? Ours are keeping people and property safe!

Learn more at Gamma 2 Robotics or call +1 303 778 7400 for information.


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Robot attends Entrepreneur Conference as Guest

14Mar The Silicon Flatirons group from the University of Colorado, Boulder will host

Vigilus MCP security robot on Duty in Lobby

Vigilus MCP security robot on night patrol duty in Lobby

“SciFi and Entrepreneurship – Is Resistance Futile?” One of the attendees will be a robot from Gamma 2 Robotics. The focus of the event is the close relationship between science fiction ‘predicting’ the future, and the entrepreneurs that ‘create’ the future.

As an avid reader of Science Fiction, a technologist, and an entrepreneur – I am looking forward to the discussion about how these all play together. I am especially happy that one of our advance mobile robots will be attending the conference.  But not as a display or a demonstration, the robot will be an attendee.

Part of the discussion will include the role of artificial intelligence and robotics. Learn more about the Conference and the robot

It is not clear if the robot will be allowed to ask questions of the panelists!


Where is your robot?®  Ours are expanding boundaries and protecting property and lives.

To learn more visit Gamma 2 Robotics


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The robotics revolution is already started

WLMA robot in a home setting

WLMA robot in a home setting serving tea

Check out this great article from Bax & Williams:

It reads, in part, “we argued that whilst Bill Gates’ famous prediction hadn’t quite been realized thus far, we were fast approaching a tipping point for an age of robotics.”

One critical aspect of the Robotics Revolution is making sure that robots can work alongside people.  Industrial robots completely changed manufacturing, lowering Cost of goods Sold (COGS) and increasing quality.  But these robots are not safe around people; hundreds of workers are injured every year in industrial robot accidents.  Our security robots are designed ‘from the ground up’ to be safe around people – we even use them to serve food at parties!

Just this week, Dyson added itself to the list of global companies investing in robotics!  Check this article.

We are currently doing additional tests in a office building in Denver, CO. With robots running up and down the hallways along side the people working in the offices. To find out more about our testing give us a call +1 303-778-7400, or check out our website.

More to follow,


Where is your robot? Find out more info at Gamma 2 Robotics


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The Loop in the Robot

We undertook a tricky task – create a security robot that can do its job, on its own, for a full eight hour shift. Of course, the vast majority of those security shifts are boring and routine – in fact deadly dull. That is what makes them hard for a person to do well, and ideal for a machine. But security is really needed when things aren’t routine, when things stop being boring, when things go wrong. That is when you have to have intelligent, correct responses to the incident, and you have to have them now. Unfortunately, that kind of intelligent, situationally-aware response is exactly what machines are not good at.

Unless they have been designed from the ground up to provide that kind of response. To respond appropriately to an incident there are four key capabilities(1):

The OODA loop pioneered by John Boyd

The OODA loop pioneered by John Boyd

  • The ability to detect a potential problem – Observe,
  • The ability to recognize what is going on – Orient,
  • The ability to determine the ‘appropriate’ response, and – Decide
  • The ability to execute the response -Act.

These four capabilities must be resident in the robot, it can’t rely on having a human doing all the work, otherwise it doesn’t provide the force multiplier effect that is needed.  After all, if you have to keep a person around the ‘drive’ the robot, you haven’t gained, you’ve actually lost.  Instead of having a security officer doing his or her rounds, you now need a highly trained (and highly paid) robot technician on staff 24/7 just in case the robot has to deal with a security incident.

Let’s set the scene. A shopping mall in the middle of the night.  Things have been quiet, as they usually are. About four hours ago, the security officer told the robot to run the normal night patrols for its entire eight hour shift.  After that the officer was free to attend to other duties.

Now, if we were running an assembly robot in an industrial setting, that would be it. In that kind of tightly controlled environment all that is needed is a simple, fixed program because nothing is allowed to ‘disrupt’ the robots.  But in a human environment, you can’t have that level of control.  Unlike a robot, people never do the same thing twice in the same way.

So early in the evening the robot detected that a mop bucket had been left in a service corridor, and four things happened:  The robot detected an obstacle, determined that it was a typical item, figured out how to get around the obstacle, and then executed the appropriate behavior. All in a nights work. Later, things get more complicated – and that is why the robot needs to be intelligent.

Robot patrolling the receiving dock, and monitoring changing temperatures.

Robot patrolling the receiving dock, and monitoring changing temperatures.

While the robot was on patrol, the security officer got a door alarm from near the loading dock.  This could be nothing, or it could be trouble.  She dispatched a command to the robot – “Stop the patrol and get to the East Loading Dock.”  The robot now has to figure out the best way to get from where it is right now to the loading dock, and factor in the information learned during the shift. The most direct route would use the service corridor that is blocked by the mop bucket, so come up with the best clear path, and get moving!

At every moment the robot is in the loop: planning the best action, predicting the outcome, executing the action, comparing the results with the prediction, and then planning again.  This allows the system to respond appropriately to the situation at all times.  If it encounters another obstacle on the way to the loading dock, it has to know more than the fact that there is an obstacle. If this a box int the way, the robot just goes around it. But if this obstacle is an intruder the robot needs to behave completely differently, turning on strobes and sirens and sending an alert to the command center.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ response – the correct action must be determined from the circumstances – just like a well trained human would do.

If a robot is going to work with people, and if people with critical jobs are going to rely on that robot, the robot needs to be intelligent and autonomous to hold up its part of the bargain.


Where is your robot?® Ours are made in the USA and are distributed by Vigilant Robots.

For more information, check out our monthly newsletter, or contact us.


(1) Based on the OODA Loop. pioneered by fighter pilot John Boyd in the 1950’s

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Robot Should Love the Senate’s New Minimum Wage Bill

The new minimum wage bill in the senate is very pro-robot!  At the same time that it raises the minimum wage to $10.00/hr – it gives tax credits to businesses that add technology.  The result – fewer (expensive) human workers and more (free) robotic workers.  I touched on this in a previous post, but here is the link to the recent Atlantic article.

Today, it costs between $40,000 and $60,000 to cover an eight hour night security shift, 365 days a year.  This is the industry estimated, fully loaded (taxes, FICA, vacations, etc.) cost, depending on area. With a $10.00/hr minimum wage, that changes to $55,000 to $85,000 per year.

Today, you can buy a fully loaded mobile security robot for under $50,000, and put it to work ten to twelve hours a night, 365 nights a year.  Given the tax credits in the new bill, you would get the robot for free!

Robots should love the senate’s new minimum wage bill – if they were programmed for love.


Where’s your robot?® Ours are ready to go to work, made in the USA by Vigilant Robots.


Check out our monthly newsletter to stay on top of new developments in security robots.

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Machine gun toting robots? Skynet is getting closer!

Is it just me, or does this sound like a bad idea?  Given our ability to control complex systems, what happens when there is a bug in the software?

Machine gun toting robots? Skynet is getting closer!

 

A military test of the "protector" robot equipped with an M-240 machine gun undergoing tests at Ft. Benning, GA. Notice the chains!

A military test of the “protector” robot equipped with an M-240 machine gun undergoing tests at Ft. Benning, GA. Notice the chains!

Notice that the robot is in chains to hold it down when it goes wacko!   It kind of reminds me of old Frankenstein movies.

Of course the intention is to save the lives of our warfighters, and I totally agree with the goal.  But as a professional robot developer with decades of experience in programming robots, I have to point out we can’t even keep our robot vacuum cleaners from getting stuck under the couch.  Should we really rely on that software to control a 50 caliber machine gun?

Heck the DOD can’t even keep SLA hackers from taking down their websites – anyone want to guess what a hacker would do with one of these puppies?  Just sayin’

 

Where is your robot?  Our are made here in colorado by Vigilant Robots, and they don’t carry guns.

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Will robots really change everything?

A recent article on the new EU funded “Human Brain Project”
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130222083029.htm

Of course the US recently completed the “Decade of the Brain” with limited results,

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What is the future of robots?

In a speech several years ago, the ‘father of industrial robots,’ Joe Engleberger suggests that much of the current research is headed in the wrong direction. He suggested that the right direction is where we are now – security robots!

http://www.techmatchpro.com/article/2011/12/moving-robotics-forward

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Are robots the new vampires?

Is this the public perception of robots in everyday life?
http://www.autoevolution.com/news/2014-kia-forte-super-bowl-commercial-sexy-robot-girls-video-54672.html

Robots as attractive, dangerous, inhuman, immortal? Will they be guardians, and if so, of what? Is this Terminator in a black dress?

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