Almost Half of Industrial Robots Are In China

According to a new report from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), China now has almost half of all the world’s robot installations and that it is increasing its lead rapidly. Engineering.com reports: The IFR, which exists to “promote research, development, use and international co-operation in the entire field of robotics,” has been reporting that China has been the world leader in implementing industrial robots for the last 8 years. We have not been paying attention. In 3 years, China has almost doubled the number of industrial robot installations. With its 243,000 robot installations in 2020, China has almost half of all the industrial robots in the world, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A majority of new industrial robots are used in electronics manufacture (for circuit boards, consumer electronics, etc.) and in automobile assembly, particularly in the surging production of electric vehicles (EVs).One must wonder why China, a country with so much cheap manual labor available, would opt for expensive robots with their special demands for tech support. China may have a giant population (1.4 billion people), but its workforce is actually decreasing, says the IFR, due to an increasing segment of its population aging and a growing competition for service jobs. China also expects a leveling off of its rural-to-urban migration. China’s government is determined not to let a declining workforce cause a drop in manufacturing, and as only a centralized, authoritarian government can, it has made robotizing a national priority and has mobilized its forces.

China’s latest five-year plan for the robotics industry, released in December 2021 by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), aims for nothing less than making China a world leader in robot technology and industrial automation. And it appears to be working. China went from 10 robots per ten thousand employees 10 years ago to 246 robots per ten thousand employees in 2020, the ninth best ranking in the world. To keep the robots state of the art and operational, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security introduced 18 new occupational titles in June, including “robotics engineering technician.”

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San Francisco Restaurant Claims To Be First To Run Entirely By Robots

Mezli isn’t the first automated restaurant to roll out in San Francisco, but, at least according to its three co-founders, it’s the first to remove humans entirely from the on-site operation equation. Eater SF reports: About two years and a few million dollars later, Mezli co-founders Alex Kolchinski, Alex Gruebele, and Max Perham are days away from firing up the touch screens at what they believe to be the world’s first fully robotic restaurant. To be clear, Mezli isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense. As in, you won’t be able to pull up a seat and have a friendly server — human, robot, or otherwise — take your order and deliver your food. Instead, Mezli works more like if a vending machine and a restaurant had a robot baby, Kolchinski describes. It’s a way to get fresh food to a lot of people, really fast (the box can pump out about 75 meals an hour), and, importantly, at a lower price; the cheapest Mezli bowl starts at $6.99.

On its face, the concept actually sounds pretty simple. The co-founders built what’s essentially a big, refrigerated shipping container and stuffed it with machines capable of portioning out ingredients, putting those ingredients into bowls, heating the food up, and then moving it to a place where diners can get to it. But in a technical sense, the co-founders say it was quite difficult to work out. Most automated restaurants still require humans in some capacity; maybe people take orders while robots make the food or, vice versa, with automated ordering and humans prepping food behind the scenes. But Mezli can run on its own, serving hundreds of meals without any human staff.

The food does get prepped and pre-cooked off-site by good old-fashioned carbon-based beings. Mezli founding chef Eric Minnich, who previously worked at Traci Des Jardins’s the Commissary and at Michelin-starred Madera at Rosewood Sand Hill hotel, says he and a lean team of just two other people can handle all the chopping, mixing, cooking, and portioning at a commissary kitchen. Then, once a day, they load all the menu components into the big blue-and-white Mezli box. Inside the box, there’s an oven that either brings the ingredients up to temp or finishes up the last of the cooking. Cutting down on labor marks a key cost-saving measure in the Mezli business model; with just a fraction of the staff, as in less than a half dozen workers, Mezli can serve hundreds of meals. “The fully robot-run restaurant begins taking orders and sliding out Mediterranean grain bowls by the end of this week with plans to celebrate a grand opening on August 28 at Spark Social,” notes Eater.

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Scientists Use Dead Spider As Gripper For Robot Arm, Label It a ‘Necrobot’

New submitter know-nothing cunt shares a report from The Register: Scientists from Rice University in Texas have used a dead spider as an actuator at the end of a robot arm — a feat they claim has initiated the field of “necrobotics.” “Humans have relied on biotic materials — non-living materials derived from living organisms — since their early ancestors wore animal hides as clothing and used bones for tools,” the authors state in an article titled Necrobotics: Biotic Materials as Ready-to-Use Actuators. The article, published by Advanced Science, also notes that evolution has perfected many designs that could be useful in robots, and that spiders have proven especially interesting. Spiders’ legs “do not have antagonistic muscle pairs; instead, they have only flexor muscles that contract their legs inwards, and hemolymph (i.e., blood) pressure generated in the prosoma (the part of the body connected to the legs) extends their legs outwards.”

The authors had a hunch that if they could generate and control a force equivalent to blood pressure, they could make a dead spider’s legs move in and out, allowing them to grip objects and release them again. So they killed a wolf spider “through exposure to freezing temperature (approximately -4C) for a period of 5-7 days” and then used a syringe to inject the spider’s prosoma with glue. By leaving the syringe in place and pumping in or withdrawing glue, the researchers were able to make the spider’s legs contract and grip. The article claims that’s a vastly easier way to make a gripper than with conventional robotic techniques that require all sorts of tedious fabrication and design efforts. “The necrobotic gripper is capable of grasping objects with irregular geometries and up to 130 percent of its own mass,” the article notes.

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Boston Dynamics’ Stretch Can Move 800 Heavy Boxes Per Hour

Stretch is a new robot from Boston Dynamics that can move approximately 800 heavy boxes per hour. As IEEE Spectrum reports, it’s part of “a new generation of robots with the intelligence and flexibility to handle the kind of variation that people take in stride.” From the report: Stretch’s design is somewhat of a departure from the humanoid and quadrupedal robots that Boston Dynamics is best known for, such as Atlas and Spot. With its single massive arm, a gripper packed with sensors and an array of suction cups, and an omnidirectional mobile base, Stretch can transfer boxes that weigh as much as 50 pounds (23 kilograms) from the back of a truck to a conveyor belt at a rate of 800 boxes per hour. An experienced human worker can move boxes at a similar rate, but not all day long, whereas Stretch can go for 16 hours before recharging. And this kind of work is punishing on the human body, especially when heavy boxes have to be moved from near a trailer’s ceiling or floor.

“Truck unloading is one of the hardest jobs in a warehouse, and that’s one of the reasons we’re starting there with Stretch,” says Kevin Blankespoor, senior vice president of warehouse robotics at Boston Dynamics. Blankespoor explains that Stretch isn’t meant to replace people entirely; the idea is that multiple Stretch robots could make a human worker an order of magnitude more efficient. “Typically, you’ll have two people unloading each truck. Where we want to get with Stretch is to have one person unloading four or five trucks at the same time, using Stretches as tools.” All Stretch needs is to be shown the back of a trailer packed with boxes, and it’ll autonomously go to work, placing each box on a conveyor belt one by one until the trailer is empty. People are still there to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and they can step in if Stretch runs into something that it can’t handle, but their full-time job becomes robot supervision instead of lifting heavy boxes all day.

Stretch is optimized for moving boxes, a task that’s required throughout a warehouse. Boston Dynamics hopes that over the longer term the robot will be flexible enough to put its box-moving expertise to use wherever it’s needed. In addition to unloading trucks, Stretch has the potential to unload boxes from pallets, put boxes on shelves, build orders out of multiple boxes from different places in a warehouse, and ultimately load boxes onto trucks, a much more difficult problem than unloading due to the planning and precision required. […] Boston Dynamics spent much of 2021 turning Stretch from a prototype, built largely from pieces designed for Atlas and Spot, into a production-ready system that will begin shipping to a select group of customers in 2022, with broader sales expected in 2023. For Blankespoor, that milestone will represent just the beginning. He feels that such robots are poised to have an enormous impact on the logistics industry.

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Alphabet Puts Prototype Robots To Work Cleaning Up Google’s Offices

The company announced today that its Everyday Robots Project — a team within its experimental X labs dedicated to creating “a general-purpose learning robot” — has moved some of its prototype machines out of the lab and into Google’s Bay Area campuses to carry out some light custodial tasks. The Verge reports: “We are now operating a fleet of more than 100 robot prototypes that are autonomously performing a range of useful tasks around our offices,” said Everyday Robot’s chief robot officer Hans Peter Brondmo in a blog post. “The same robot that sorts trash can now be equipped with a squeegee to wipe tables and use the same gripper that grasps cups can learn to open doors.”

These robots in question are essentially arms on wheels, with a multipurpose gripper on the end of a flexible arm attached to a central tower. There’s a “head” on top of the tower with cameras and sensors for machine vision and what looks like a spinning lidar unit on the side, presumably for navigation. As Brondmo indicates, these bots were first seen sorting out recycling when Alphabet debuted the Everyday Robot team in 2019. The big promise that’s being made by the company (as well as by many other startups and rivals) is that machine learning will finally enable robots to operate in “unstructured” environments like homes and offices.

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