StartUs Insights is out with a list of over 1300 robotics companies with AI/ML offerings. News briefs for the week take a look at the sudden expansion by robot/cobot developers in “joining forces” with AI/ML, especially among startups, to acquire a wide range of intelligent capabilities.
Joining forces: robots/cobots with AI/ML
New-age force multipliers
It’s like the perfect teenage romance: Robotics meets AI, they fall in love, are soulmates forever, and their many offspring are rock stars. And it all happened so suddenly, even though both of the star-struck lovers are past sixty.
Ever since DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI beat the world’s best Go master in 2016, automation has been hard at work trying to converge AI/ML capabilities into robotics to perform jobs heretofore impossible by legacy robots/cobots; machines that are now looked upon as “dumb” and inflexible.
For example, Mercedes-Benz, unable to customize individual S-class sedans demanded by customers, turned to AI/ML. In 2018, Mercedes replaced some of its robots with AI-enabled cobots and redesigned its processes around human machine collaborations. According to the Harvard Business Review: “The cobots can be reprogrammed easily with a tablet, allowing them to handle different tasks depending on changes in the workflow. Such agility has enabled the manufacturer to achieve unprecedented levels of customization.”
A brief four years on, in 2022, AI/ML has now moved from mega-size corporations like Mercedes to thousands of smaller and mid-size manufacturers regularly using “smart” highly flexible robots/cobots on their production lines.
With their sophisticated sensors, motors, and actuators, AI-enabled robots/cobots are evolving into smart, context-aware machines that have now proven themselves to be unprecedented force multipliers in manufacturing.
So much so, in fact, manufacturers—with wide-open checkbooks—await more “smart” robots/cobots to enhance their operations. All of which has prompted the rise of a burgeoning, global ecosystem of AI-infused robot/cobot developers.
According to Wind River Research: “Artificial intelligence is critical to new robotics approaches. And rather than augmenting existing machine operations by bolting on AI-driven components, AI-first puts the intelligence at the forefront of the design process to perform at the core of a task. The focus is on building solutions that meld hardware and software to effectively use machine learning and AI-guided functions, performing operations with greater speed, reliability, security, and safety.”
StartUs Insights, with a directory of over two-million startups, is out showing a list of 1300-plus worldwide startups that are developing AI-infused robots/cobots. That bears repeating: 1300-plus! Most arising since 2016.
Unique to this newest tech advance for robotics is their variety—the shear scope and breadth of AI/ML’s tech affinities for nearly every industry and every automation challenge. The reach of robots/cobots together with AI/ML seems limitless, e.g. industrial robotics, service robotics, drones, construction, maritime, pharma labs, healthcare, on and on.
Like this three-pack of AI-infused robotics performers that ably show off the diversity of the new-tech combo:
Ambi Robotics (formerly Ambidextrous) founded in 2018, Emeryville, CA, with expertise in robot grasping and manipulation that produced a breakthrough system called the Dexterity Network or Dex-Net. Ambi’s products are AmbiSort and AmbiKit that “deliver a multi-robot system that builds unique kits from item sets and an operating system that “teaches” robots to pick and pack millions of items.”
Using gripper-like suction cups, “Ambi machines can pick, scan, insert, place, and pack items they haven’t seen before — and continue to improve in their abilities from data collected on the job. AmbiOS, which is built on Dex-Net, can also analyze data on productivity, utilization, item dimensions and weights, and more, identifying “pick points” on items in cluttered environments like bins, conveyor belts, and floors.”
Although the pick and place robotics space is very crowded with robotics vendors, Ambi has secured a positive place with customers, including Pitney Bowes; and with investors, as it garnered $26 million in VC funding in 2021.
Edmonton, Canada-based Correct-AI (founded 2020) develops industrial robotics safety solutions for the construction industry. The company’s “PROX-EYE vision guidance system provides information that minimizes risk of collisions, rollovers, and struck-bys—the most common worksite accidents.”
The numbers of construction-site fatalities are staggering. “The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that at least 60 000 fatal accidents occur each year on construction sites around the world, representing one fatal accident every 10 minutes. Construction accounts for one in every six fatal accidents recorded at work annually.”
PROX-EYE Blind-spot Detection System uses light detection and ranging (LiDAR), camera, and artificial intelligence for precise, real-time notifications for obstacle proximity and slope angles to help workers navigate challenging terrain.
Real-time information is shared between operators and workers at worksites via 4G LTE (and soon 5G), and also remotely for management. OEMs in Canada and the U.S. have adopted PROX-EYE tech, including Caterpillar, the world’s largest construction-equipment manufacturer.
Helsinki-based ZenRobotics (founded 2007) applies AI for “intelligent” waste sorting, using what the company refers to as ZenBrain, and claims to be “the first company to apply AI-based sorting robots to a complex waste-sorting environment. Our robots, powered by our very own AI software, make recycling more efficient, accurate and profitable.”
ZenRobotics reports that it has had a long association with AI. “In 2007, researchers at Aalto University were developing artificial intelligence and discussing the possibilities for commercializing it. They were surprised to find out how little automation was used in waste sorting.”
The company announced sales to a high-profile robotic sorting installations in European C&D facilities late in 2020. These installations, at plants operated by Finland-based Remeo and Switzerland-based Eberhard Group, respectively, became operational in 2021.
“The advanced robotic system by ZenRobotics features 12 robotic arms and is based on positive sorting. Smart robots can be trained to pick an unlimited number of fraction models, which allows the recovery of double-digit numbers of high-value fractions such as different grades of wood, metal, concrete and plastic from the belt on the same go.”
What seems inevitable
Joining forces: robots/cobots with AI/ML is a masterstroke of human ingenuity that is now quickly becoming the standard by which all robots/cobots will be measured. Pity the poor robot or cobot that doesn’t get smart in a hurry.