News briefs for the week take a look at Amazon’s amazing ten-year run at becoming a global robot-building dynamo, Mitsubishi’s Maisart system to “smarten up” its robots, a design student’s mini-robot that re-seeds deserts, Chipotle’s new tortilla-flipping robot arm, and the handwriting robots at the heart of a multi-million-dollar business.
10th anniversary for Amazon’s logistics robots
March 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of Amazon taking on the role as robot developer and builder. What began in March of 2012 with the acquisition of Kiva Systems (for $775 million in cash) now sees Amazon as the largest builder of logistics robots in the world.
With over 350,000 logistics robots built and deployed, Amazon has come a long way in a brief ten years. There’s not another pure robot builder that can match the delivery giant for its variety of robot types, which number nine, or the pure numbers of logistics robots working in its worldwide distribution and fulfillment facilities.
The introduction of Amazon’s nine goods-to-person robots into what is now called the “Amazon Bot System” has, at minimum, tripled packing rates from 100 per hour to 300 to 400 per hour. The robots also help with the maintenance of the conveyor system and the processing orders.
Robot helpers are critical when shipping, as Amazon does, some 18.5 orders per second, 4,000 orders every minute, and 66,000 every hour…for an astounding 3.5 billion annually.
Happy Anniversary! Meet the Amazon family @10:
Mitsubishi Electric “smartens up” its robots
“Mitsubishi Electric Corp. has unveiled a system that enables robots to perform industrial tasks in environments they have had difficulty working in before, such as food-processing plants.”
Back in 2017, Mitsubishi Electric rounded up all its sensor, AI/ML and edge computing gear, including high-precision speech recognition, and put it all together in a package it named Maisart, short for the rather longish “Mitsubishi Electric’s AI creates the State-of-the-ART in technology”. “This capability means that individual devices can benefit from AI and local ‘deep learning’ processes, while AI located in cloud environments can be used to co-ordinate between those devices.”
In real-world situations, such as food processing, says the company, where tasks change quickly and humans are much more adept at quickly sorting and arrangement than robots, Maisart-powered robots will equal or better human workers. A key component is “voice-command technology, which allows operators to issue voice instructions to initiate work tasks and then fine-tune robot movements as required.”
Another key feature of Maisart is “inverse reinforcement learning” or IRL “to learn and imitate the actions of skilled workers. IRL technology enables machines to imitate human-like actions based on relatively small amounts of data. Commercialization is slated for early in 2023.
Combining design with robotics
Anyone, with desire and a bit of effort, can be a robot builder! Mazyar Etehadi, for example, a student at the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), combined his two fields of concentration—fashion and product design—to create a robot that beautifies a desert.
He calls his invention A’seedbot, and its sole function is to plant seeds in order to cultivate deserts. “I’m currently focusing to minimize and simplify human problem issues and to ensure beneficial possibilities out of complex issues, basically wanting to make human lives easier,” says Etehadi.
A’seedbot is a small autonomous robot equipped with solar panels to charge itself during the day. The mobile robot navigates its way through desert terrain, moving around on seal-like propeller legs, to identify and to report fertile areas as well as to plant seeds based on the data retrieved from its sensors and navigation system. The robot can detect areas in arid desert sands with enough moisture to plant seeds.
The small, 8-inch (20 cm) robot features an articulated head that helps A’seedbot to look in multiple directions; fitted, collision-avoidance and distance sensors to send reports to the user for statistical data; and there are two ultrasonic sensors on the front for assessing the terrain in front.
Chippy, Chipotle’s new tortilla-flipping robot arm
Hey Flippy, meet Chippy. Pasadena, CA-based Miso Robotics, the developers who gave us Flippy I and Flipply II for White Castle burger flipping (and, of course, Sippy, the beverage dispenser) have now delivered up Chippy, a tortilla-flipping robot arm for Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle.
Last month (February), White Castle said it would install Flippy in 100 of its restaurants, following an earlier rollout in 11 stores. Chippy hopes to emulate its big brother’s success.
Chippy went to school on Chipotle at Chipotle’s Cultivate Center innovation lab in Irvine, CA.
Chipotle reports that it worked closely with Miso Robotics to train Chippy with artificial intelligence and machine learning to produce Chipotle’s exact corn masa flour, water, and sunflower oil recipe for the company’s famous chips, and to season with a dusting of salt and a hint of fresh lime juice.
“To ensure we didn’t lose the humanity behind our culinary experience, we trained Chippy extensively to ensure the output mirrored our current product, delivering some subtle variations in flavor that our guests expect,” wrote Chipotle VP of Culinary Nevielle Panthaky.
Solving for human intervention “took some real programming around sequencing,” said Miso Robotic’s CEO Mike Bell. Miso designed a precise system to allow Flippy 2’s single arm to shuffle fry baskets without accidentally allowing food to fry for too long. Flippy 2 uses the company’s “CookRight computer vision technology to recognize what it’s frying, and the AutoBin system provides discreet hot holding areas for different menu items.”
Pen-wielding robots for the handwriting averse
Phoenix, AZ-based Handwrytten [sic] “uses custom-designed handwriting robots that hold real pens to write out notes in the handwriting style of your choice.”
So, you weren’t the teacher’s pet when it came to your handwriting skills, but you got by in a marginal way until college notetaking finally did you in. You’re not alone. The handwriting averse are legion.
In what is quite possibly one of the tiniest of niche industries, robot-written cards, notes and letters is alive and well and dashing off classy-looking handwritten gems for those who forgot how to hold a pen but love the end product. It’s pitched as a cut above what computers and digital fonts deliver up daily by the gazillions.
“When you receive 200 emails a day, plus tweets and text messages, none of it stands out anymore unless it’s handwritten,” said Handwrytten’s founder David Wach. “It’s become that much harder to get someone’s attention.”
At Wach’s fast-growing service in Phoenix, his robots are running non-stop clamped together with Pilot G2 pens to fill waiting orders. He’s testing out the business model that says you’d readily pay $3.50 for a beautifully inscribed card of loops and flourishes that you’d be proud to send off under your robot-written signature.
Something must be going right in this seemingly niche business, because Handwrytten’s “annual revenue, in the millions, is on track to triple this year.”