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Succeeding with the automated driving journey through AI
Feb 14 2021

For years, automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have been working towards realizing the dream of self-driving cars that travel without interruption on public roads, carrying their passengers in comfort and safety to their destinations.

There have been major strides towards this new reality. Many automotive companies are already embedding software with varying levels of autonomous capability into their vehicles, although only a handful currently have made such features controllable by the driver.

What’s holding things up? Availability of the technology needed for autonomous cars is not usually a problem – indeed, the technology is already installed in many cars currently on the road. A more significant barrier to progress in this area is posed by issues around the regulation and interoperability of the technologies.

It’s also well known that some companies have run into serious trouble after making autonomous driving functionality accessible: There have been injuries and even fatalities among drivers and pedestrians. Terrible outcomes such as these further complicate the legal issues surrounding the development and deployment of the technology, potentially setting back the rate of development by years. So how can we safely accelerate towards an autonomous driving future?

Five levels of autonomous driving It's generally agreed that there are five levels of autonomous driving technology, with level 1 representing the inclusion of some automatic features, such as collision detection or lane departure warnings, and level 5 representing full automation, where no driver is needed.

For mainstream OEMs at least, the current focus is on the lower levels, with the term advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) often being heard more than “autonomous vehicles.”

Currently, even the market leaders are just at level 3, and only features from levels 1 or 2 are legal for use on public roads. At those relatively modest levels, there are already important technology challenges. For example, “autopilot” mode requires the driver to be awake and alert, ready to manually intervene by steering and braking when required. This in itself requires hugely sophisticated technology, with the vehicle not just sensing conditions and events on the road, but also monitoring what the driver is doing.

Level 3 is where things get really tricky, and not just because the technology is exponentially more complex. In addition, every technology component at every step needs to be developed so that it can behave correctly in every situation. Then it needs to be independently validated and assured for its effective and safe use. Many of these difficulties can best be understood in terms of data.

The data challenge, and how AI helps Higher levels of automation depend on a vehicle perceiving external obstacles via its sensors and making AI-enabled judgments based on distance and time, in a similar way to a human driver. For the vehicle to achieve this level of intelligence, a large amount of data needs to be collected and processed into a format that can drive those decisions. Some of this data will come from high-quality sensors and cameras attached to the vehicle itself, but clearly no vehicle could “experience” every possible situation. Crowdsourced data – for example, from other vehicles – is also required.

This will soon add up to a huge volume of data. Big data techniques can help with the management of that data, but for it to be useful to the autonomous vehicle it has to be processed. Sensor and camera data must be converted into 2D and 3D exterior views, labeled to help AI models understand it (for example tagging cars, lorries, buildings, pedestrians, and so on in an image). This enriched data must then be turned into scenarios that can form the basis for automatic decisions and judgments.

Until now, this labeling and other enrichment of data has required significant effort by humans. Today, however, data volumes are becoming too great for human engineers to process efficiently. Fortunately, AI can help to streamline these processes too, creating what are essentially automated, crowdsourced truths.

Increasingly, this type of automation will be critical to ensure that vehicles are equipped with scenario intelligence that is accurate and free of the redundancies that can make it harder to use.

What competences are needed to succeed with AI? Research suggests that large automotive OEMs can boost their operating profits by up to 16% by deploying AI at scale, provided they focus their AI investments in the right place. To realize this advantage in the autonomous driving arena, companies need to build or acquire competencies in a number of specific areas, for example:

Intelligence: OEMs must build a detailed understanding of the role played by intelligence at all levels of autonomy and make sure that they can obtain, validate, verify, and standardize that intelligence.

Data: As we have seen, higher levels of autonomous driving functionality require computation and decision-making around large numbers of situations and decisions, and these depend on access to intelligence derived from large volumes of crowdsourced data. It is important to be able to manage and process that data effectively. AI and data competencies together are required to enable all the data to be stored, annotated, visualized, analyzed, and shared effectively.

Connectivity: Autonomous driving can be facilitated by better connectivity, which enables many aspects of the vehicle to be updated over the air (OTA). Coupled with the provision of functionality in software rather than hardware wherever possible, this helps to ensure that all vehicles are benefiting from the latest intelligence and technology.

Communication: 5G will be pivotal to enabling autonomous driving on public roads. For autonomous driving to work, enormous volumes of data have to be transferred, whether we are looking at automatic vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications or the vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication required for the anticipated smart infrastructure for roads. By accelerating connection speed and reducing latency, 5G enables vehicles to communicate almost instantly with each other and a huge number of connected on-road assets and infrastructure.

Overcoming implementation challenges Even with the requisite competencies available, challenges remain. For some newer automotive companies, technology testing and deployment has been in their DNA from the outset, with the vision of autonomous driving a clearly identified strategic goal. But for longer-established OEMs, the journey towards autonomous car technology is arguably more challenging. For one thing, as ADAS technology becomes more mainstream, consumers will expect new cars to come fitted with level 1 and 2 ADAS features as standard. This means, among other things, that manufacturers will need to retrofit these new technologies into existing vehicle ranges, and therefore new elements will need to be added to existing design, testing, and manufacturing processes.

There are more fundamental issues, too. Traditional OEMs cannot easily redesign their development processes from scratch to accommodate ADAS. In addition, few of these companies have the resources or time to conduct their own experiments and develop new ADAS implementation processes.

One way to overcome the obstacles is to spin off smaller companies or units that can innovate fast because they are unhindered by legacy processes. Another is to collaborate with an ecosystem of partners such as suppliers, research institutes, and other industry players. OEMs will benefit from working with partners who can develop working proofs of concept on their behalf – something that can slash development time and budget, and free the OEMs from some regulatory burdens. Partners can also help with acquisition of the necessary data sets and supplement in-house competencies in the key areas we have identified.

Importantly, working with a partner ecosystem can help with the move to Intelligent Industry by supplying the product engineering and data science capabilities that are needed to master data and deploy technology at scale. They can also co-develop, or validate and verify, autonomous systems and technologies. It will accelerate the process of getting automated vehicles onto the road safely and successfully.

Source: europe.autonews

Smart Homes of the Future What Should you Expect
Feb 12 2021

If you plan to build a smart home, learn more about the technologies that will define the smart home of the future, their practicality, benefits and more.

Smart homes are now a dominant trend in the real estate market. A recent market report estimated the global smart home market to grow at a CAGR of 21% from 2019-2025. By 2023, the number of smart homes is forecast to grow and surpass the 300 million mark. Another report says that by 2022,63 million American homes will qualify as smart. Smart home technology is all about leveraging automated technology from devices, appliances to systems. From the lighting, air conditioning, entertainment system, security systems to appliances, a smart home features technology that works together in harmony.

Smart Home Offers Benefits Galore Through automation technology, you can tap into high-tech functionality hitherto impossible. These homes offer more flexibility, convenience, comfort, enhanced security, energy efficiency, home monitoring and more functionality. You get more control of your home when you integrate automation in your home.

Trends in the Smart Homes of the Future But the smart home technology is dynamic and smart homes keep on evolving. It’s possible to prepare your home for some of the expected trends. This makes it easier and less costly to add new features. Here are some of the trends you can expect in the smart homes of the future.

Automated Robots Don’t be surprised to see robots on the smart home market soon. Already there are robotic devices that can clean your floors. There are also prototypes of robots which can serve drinks and pick up items.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most influential technologies of the last few decades. In real estate, AI can have a big impact on smart homes. AI technology using sensors around the house is already in use. These systems can identify where you’re in the house and anticipate your needs. AI sensors also help boost comfort in the room by varying the temperatures and lighting in your room. This technology will play a critical role in the smart homes of the future.

Health Monitoring Smart homes will become more sophisticated with more refined technology. For instance, it will become possible for your home to monitor your health and activity. Imagine going to the bathroom and getting a reminder about your exercise regime? When preparing meals, your voice-activated speaker might also remind you about your dietary needs.

Smart Delivery Boxes Letterboxes are still a part of most properties in the U.S but this will change in the future. Smart delivery boxes which can receive and store registered deliveries and valuable parcels. These delivery boxes will leverage cutting-edge automation technology for access and other functions.

Power Tracking Energy efficiency is one of the main reasons for home automation. With advanced power tracking technology, your home will tell you when something is not working right. For instance, if you have a clogged air filter in the HVAC unit, you’ll get an alert. The idea is to boost energy efficiency by reducing wastage.

Smart Toilets What about a toilet that communicates with you in private? As you do your business, a smart toilet carries out a urinalysis and tells you whether you have diabetes or other illnesses. Other features of these toilets include heated seats, automated deodorizers and flushing systems.

Final Thoughts There’s no limit to the innovation in smart homes of the future. All these developments promise to make your home better through added convenience, enhanced comfort and security, improved wellbeing, affordable maintenance, increased energy efficiency and other benefits.

Source: realtybiznews

From Dosas to Biryanis, Mukunda Foods is Automating Indian Cuisine
Jan 04 2021

One of the things I miss most during this pandemic is work travel. There is so much great innovation happening in food tech around the world right now, and I can only read about or watch video of it.

Case in point, I’d love to hop over to Bangalore, India, where Mukunda Foods has been developing an array of devices to automate restaurant cooking since its founding in 2012. Among Mukunda’s food robots is the Dosamatic dosa maker, the Doughbot roti maker, and an automatic Biryani maker. The company has also developed a smart fryer, a steam microwave and an induction cooker to make bowl foods.

Dibyananda brahma, Vice President of Growth at Mukunda Foods told me during a call last week that his company already has machines installed in more than 2,000 locations.

Here in the U.S., one of the reasons restaurants are adopting automation is because of labor issues. Back before the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for a QSR to have more than 100 percent churn in its workforce. I asked brahma what is driving automation in India, and he said that access to labor isn’t as much a problem as finding workers with the right skills.

Because Mukunda Foods’ machines automate so much of the work in making food, there isn’t a need for as much skill in making dosas or biryanis. According to a case study provided by Mukunda Foods, traditionally, biryanis require 2 skilled cooks and and 90 minutes to make. Mukunda says its automation can reduce that to 1 operator (per shift) and just 60 minutes to prepare biryani.

Like everywhere else, brahma said that the COVID pandemic has spurred inbound interest from restaurants. As noted, Mukunda touts its ability to create more food with fewer people, which reduces the amount of human-to-human contact in the restaurant and provides more space in the kitchen for social distancing.

Robots also have general benefits outside of pandemic-related issues. Machines can operate all day without taking a break, they can reduce supply costs through precise ingredient application, and they can create consistent meals with little variation (i.e. not burnt).

The cost for Mukunda machines varies. The fryers start at $400, a flatbread maker costs $1,000 and the Dosamatic costs $2,000. These prices aren’t bad, considering that Zimplistic’s Rotimatic home roti making machine costs $1,000. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mukunda Foods’ machines pop up here in the U.S. joining other food automation players such as Picnic, Middleby and Miso Robotics. Mukunda is also working on applying its technology to other types of cuisines like Italian and other Asian fare.

Hopefully, though, the day won’t be too far off when I can travel to India and see (and taste!) the results for myself.

Source: thespoon

Self-driving pioneer Waymo dumps the term 'self-driving’
Jan 06 2021

Washington, DC (CNN Business) - Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google's parent company Alphabet, and which pioneered the self-driving car business, says it's done with the term "self-driving."

Waymo says that some automakers are using the phrase "self-driving" inaccurately, giving the public a false impression of what driver-assist systems are capable of. Waymo will instead refer to its vehicles as "fully autonomous," and hopes the shift will differentiate it from technologies meant to merely assist human drivers.

"This is more than just a branding or linguistic exercise," Waymo said in a blog post published Wednesday. "Precision in language matters and could save lives."

Waymo didn't call out a specific automaker in its blog post. But for months it has clashed with Tesla, which sells a $10,000 option on its vehicles, "full self-driving capability," that experts have long said oversells the technology's abilities and potentially creates safety issues. The vast majority of Tesla drivers cannot use the "full self-driving" feature, but Tesla says it includes all the necessary hardware for the technology. The company says that the software necessary for the feature will come at a later date for most Tesla drivers.

Most autonomous vehicle experts say that "full self-driving" means a car that a person could safely fall asleep in behind the wheel, no different from what Waymo calls a fully autonomous vehicle.

Tesla released an early, prototype version of what it calls "full self-driving" features in October 2020 to a small group of Tesla owners. Videos posted by the testers suggest that there's much work to be done before attentive human drivers aren't needed behind the wheel. Tesla has warned the drivers to pay extra attention to the road, and keep their hands on the wheel.

But while it continues to call the feature "full self-driving," and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made grandiose claims about its abilities and potential. Musk said that Tesla would have self-driving robotaxis operating in 2020, which did not happen. Musk has called Waymo a "highly specialized solution," and said that Tesla offers a general solution. He did not offer specifics on the distinction.

Waymo was asked on Twitter in November 2020, "Would you say that your technology is orders of magnitude more advanced than the more vocal competitor with a misleading branding?"

"Yes," responded Waymo, which operates a fully autonomous ridehail service in a limited part of Phoenix, Arizona. Human drivers aren't needed behind the wheel of its minivans.

Musk's technology isn't of the same caliber, but he said recently that Tesla's "full self-driving" will "work at a safety level well above that of the average driver this year."

Musk and Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding how they planned to prove that "full self-driving" was safer than a human. Experts have long struggled with how to evaluate the safety of autonomous vehicles.

The disagreement over how to define "self-driving" is complicated by the fact that government bodies have not standardized a definition for "self-driving" vehicles. The US Department of Transportation and the Society of Automotive Engineers refer to a five-point scale of automation. The self-driving industry generally refers to "level 4" as the point on the scale where self-driving begins. At level 4, a car can drive itself in a defined area, like a specific city, without human intervention.

Waymo launched a public education campaign in 2017 about self-driving vehicles, called "Let's Talk Self Driving." The program will now be called "Let's Talk Autonomous Driving."

Source: CNN

Camco to supply quay crane OCR and gate automation at Chinese Greenfield terminal
Jan 07 2021

ZPMC has awarded Camco Technologies two contracts for its greenfield project at Beibu Gulf Port Qinzhou, which will be China’s first fully automated terminal for sea-rail transportation.

The contracts cover the ship-to-shore (STS) crane optical character recognition (OCR) and the gate automation at the facility.

The construction of two automated container berths in Qinzhou terminal has been a major project in the establishment of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor in the western region and the Beibu Gulf International Gateway Port.

After the operation of the two berths, Qinzhou terminal will be the fifth fully automated container terminal in China and the first automated terminal applying sea-rail transportation in the country.

Camco’s BoxCatcher crane OCR technology will be integrated with five STS units, which will be installed at the automatic container berths in Beibu Gulf Port Qinzhou, located in the China (Gyangxi) Pilot Free Trade Zone.

The sliding technology will be used for container registration and identification of every box during vessel loading and discharging at berths seven and eight in the terminal.

In order to allow the BoxCatcher camera to follow the flight path of the spreader, the camera slides along vertical rails mounted on the crane portal legs.

With a travelling speed of up to 6 m/s and data processing time of eight seconds per move, the camera is able to easily support up to 36 moves per hour per crane according to Camco.

The system can capture every box, whether it concerns a single, twin, tandem or quad lift, feeding the terminal operating system (TOS) with accurate data, noted the technology provider.

While the reading of the PLC ensures that images are made at the exact height, the integrated laser scanner adjusts positioning and triggering for any skew and sway during crane operations.

Given the two cameras for the short sides and two cameras for the long sides, the BoxCatcher is able to capture 360° images of the container, while all image processing is done onboard the camera system.

The Camco OCR engine runs on the company’s proprietary image analysis software and Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) algorithms. The engines keep the images for storage enabling Qinzhou terminal to perform efficient claims management.

The second contract consists of the automation of terminal gate and yard access processes, handling up to 600 trucks per hour and feeding the TOS with accurate data for process optimisation.

Camco provides 2×2 OCR truck portals in and out as well as all kiosks for the terminal’s in and out gates and lanes for yard access.

The gate automation solution integrates the company’s gate operating system (GOS) software for managing kiosks, OCR portals and access control systems as well as the operator exception handling application.

Beibu Gulf Port Qinzhou terminal will feature a U-shaped yard design, vertical to the apron and separating intelligent guided vehicles (IGVs) from external trucks.

The terminal’s automated STS cranes will integrate a 3D ship profile scanning system along with Camco’s intelligent sliding OCR.

The project also implements the latest transponder navigation technology, supporting two-way driving, 90° turning and other flexible and fast running modes.

In the yard, the double-cantilever automated rail-mounted gantry (ARMG) cranes aim to apply high-precision laser-scanning positioning and detection technology optimising spreader trajectory and hence IGV and external truck efficiency.

Source: container-mag

The E-Grocery Automation Outlook for 2021: Strategic Refinements and Emerging Technologies
Dec 07 2020

2020 will prove to be a pivotal year in e-grocery automation. Coming into the year, e-grocery sales were showing signs of accelerated growth after several modest years, and many grocers were developing plans to automate manual fulfillment processes.

Then the pandemic hit, and e-grocery demand spiked to levels no one expected. Suddenly grocers who had a two-year horizon for automation were compressing their timelines to bring in automation as quickly as possible. At Swisslog we saw demand for e-grocery automation surge to levels we hadn’t expected to see until 2023.

n short, the industry packed several years of experience into nine months and the lessons learned during 2020 will prove invaluable as e-grocery fulfillment continues to scale and mature in 2021 and beyond.

Building the Foundation

E-grocery fulfillment has benefitted enormously from technologies originally proven and refined in other e-commerce applications. However, e-grocery is also different than other e-commerce businesses in terms of the distribution model; variety of product shapes, sizes and storage/temperature requirements; and order complexity.

Much has already been written about the impact of automation on e-grocery distribution strategies. We won’t spend time on that here other than to say that we have seen the hub-and-spoke, micro-fulfillment center and hybrid architectures all be effective when supported by flexible automation technology and automation control software tailored to the unique requirements of e-grocery fulfillment. Each of these strategies will likely continue to be used based on a grocer’s retail footprint and store configuration.

Another challenge that hasn’t gotten the same level of attention is the process for making decisions around what products will be fulfilled through the automation system and what products will be fulfilled manually.

There is a natural tendency for some grocers to apply a traditional warehouse mindset to this decision — products that are segregated in the warehouse, such as milk, alcoholic beverages and cleaning products, should remain segmented and picked manually. However, we know that this approach unnecessarily limits the number of products that can be fulfilled through automation, diminishing its value.

The approach that has proven more effective is to evaluate each SKU based on automation-based inclusion criteria. These criteria include the size of the product, its temperature requirements and its cubic volume velocity.

Some products simply won’t fit in the automation storage bins and these can be excluded quickly. Others, such as frozen foods, may require additional investment to automate and the business case for that investment can be evaluated based on the percent of basket of these products. The decision on the remaining products then becomes about their cubic volume velocity — based on their size and sales velocity, is it more efficient to automate fulfillment of these products or pick them manually?

Here’s an example of how that can work. Rather than deciding that all fluid milk should be picked manually, a grocer and their automation partner should evaluate each SKU within the category based on cubic volume velocity. What they’ll likely find is that a large number of specialty milks can be most efficiently fulfilled through automation while the top sellers, such as gallons of whole and 2% milk, will be most efficiently picked manually.

This process change can have a big impact on the success of a project, regardless of the distribution architecture or automation technology being employed. Using broad product categorizations to determine what products are “appropriate” for automation, a grocer may find that half of all SKUs will be automated and half picked manually. When SKUs are individually analyzed based on the automation-specific criteria described previously, the ratio of products being picked through automation versus manually can shift from 50:50 to 80:20.

Considering that automation systems typically have pick rates 5-7 times higher than manual processes, the addition of more SKUs to the system can dramatically impact productivity and order fulfillment times — and create a better foundation for future growth.

Is Robotic Item Picking Next?

With many grocers still in the process of implementing their first automation projects, it may seem a little premature to be thinking about emerging technologies such as robotic item picking. But this technology is already being piloted in other industries and as it gains traction in 2021, grocers may rightly wonder whether it should be considered as a second phase of their automation plans.

The good news on this front is that robotic vision and gripping technologies have advanced considerably in recent years and today’s systems are capable of picking a high percentage of the products in a typical e-grocery order.

There is also the opportunity to use robotic item pickers to supplement human pickers. They could, for example, be deployed to work overnight to pull all of the packaged goods for the day’s orders. Human pickers could then focus on topping off orders with produce and other harder to pick items.

While it’s something to keep an eye on, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything more than limited adoption of robotic item picking in the grocery sector in 2021. What we will see is more grocers adopting automation and those that have already automated continuing to refine their processes to get more out of their investments.

Source: Forbid

Cruise Begins First Driverless Automated Tests In San Francisco
Dec 09 2020

Cruise LLC, the automated driving company owned by General Motors GM -3.5% and partners including Honda, Softbank and other investors is moving on to the next stage of its development program. In October 2020, Cruise received a permit from the California department of motor vehicles that allowed it to begin testing some of its vehicles without safety operators. At the time, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said that testing would begin before the end of the year. With about three weeks left, Cruise has hit that next milestone.

Beginning driverless tests on the open road is a big deal for Cruise even if it won’t likely mean anything for people trying to get around San Francisco for some time yet. Cruise had originally planned to launch a commercial robotaxi service a year ago. That launch was delayed because the technology was simply not mature enough yet. However, that original launch timing was believed to be tied to milestones set in funding agreements with investors such as the Softbank Vision Fund.

According to several sources, Cruise had to renegotiate some of those funding agreements to revise development milestones including the first driverless tests on open roads. At this time, Cruise isn’t saying exactly how much of San Francisco its vehicles are covering without safety operators beyond “a few neighborhoods.”

To date, the Cruise test fleet has accumulated two millions miles of automated driving in the city of San Francisco in addition to an undisclosed number of miles in Arizona and Michigan. Before getting the go-ahead to start driving in San Francisco without someone behind the steering wheel, the Cruise vehicles had to pass a test suite at the GM Milford Proving Ground in Michigan. The vehicles had to complete 1,000 runs with zero errors over five months.

The first driverless runs in the city were livestreamed recently to Cruise employees and an excerpt has been posted on Youtube. Even without someone at the wheel, Cruise still has someone monitoring the situation from the front passenger seat, ready to hit the big red button if something goes wrong.

While Cruise likes to highlight the fact that they do the bulk of their testing in the complex environment of San Francisco rather than the suburbs of Phoenix, the video released only shows the car operating at night on streets with no other moving traffic or pedestrians. For now at least, this is not a particularly challenging scenario for a driverless vehicle.

As Ammann said, “these first driverless tests are a small and humble step towards a much bigger goal.”

Cruise is not the first company to send vehicles out without a safety operator. Waymo has been testing in the Phoenix area for more than two years and earlier this fall it began carrying paying passengers on its Waymo One service on limited routes around Chandler, Arizona. Yandex YNDX +2.4% has also been conducting full driverless tests in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I got a ride this past summer. In China, both Baidu BIDU +4.4% and AutoX have also recently launched tests without safety operators. However, Waymo remains the only company conducting commercial operations without safety operators.

Cruise has also been testing its ride hailing service in San Francisco with employees for more than three years. That is expected to be opened to the public at least on a limited basis before the end of 2021, perhaps after the purpose-built Origin robotaxi goes into production next fall. Larger scale operations are unlikely to begin until sometime in 2022 at the earliest.

Source: Forbid

Students from Montreal design an automated car utilising wind energy
Nov 10 2020

A new group of students from Montreal in their project of creating cars will be operated and driven entirely by utilizing wind energy. The car model was recently tested out in Montreal’s streets with achievements received as the car smoothly drove across without any friction despite being solely driven by the wind.

Named after a harsh wind by native tribes that swept across Canada, these cars are called Chinooks, like that of the sweeping wind, whose speed stands out as an analogous power to run these powerful energy-driven automated cars.

Made up of tube-like chassis, the car has a windmill that helps convert the wind energy to mechanical energy and locomote it. The series of Lenovo computers provide further additional support. Speaking on its innovative mechanisms, one of the Chinook engineers, also a student from Montreal, has commented, “It’s really like a bicycle, the windmill is like the pedals.”

In fact, this Chinook’s earlier creations have been a part of a competition held annually in the Netherlands called Racing Aeolus, whose goal has been to ‘achieve the greatest possible efficiency in terms of average speed ratio concerning wind speed.’ In 2019, it became the first ranker among other competing categories.

This is not all to it, for it also holds a world record of 114.87-percent efficiency, outreaching an earlier record of 102.

But the young imaginers have not given up yet. They are putting further effort into incorporating further innovative, beautiful, and sustainable technological input. They are also trying to induce improved technology to erase as much carbon -footprint as possible.

These vehicles, born out of the Lenovo Think Pads, are the conductor of any data-heavy project, featuring durable battery, ample storage, and easy docking facilities. Additionally, they are also useful for’ running 3D CAD design, SOLIDWORKS, and Alchemy programming languages.’

Coming to the question of commercial uses, Picard says that this car won’t be available for the usual and basic performative act as the wind entirely drives them.

Yet these cars stand out as a memoir of harnessing the future of a better world with a safer environment by solely utilising the wing’s power and marking it as the ‘high hopes of technology’ That will be the trendsetter of a better tomorrow.

Source: TechGenyz

Fast-Tracking Warehouse Automation
Nov 09 2020

COVID-19 is demonstrating the vital role that logistics plays in modern societies. Increasing customer demands and expectations are calling for flexible, 24-hour distribution solutions from all supply chains.

However, labor market challenges and slow adoption of digital technologies are preventing companies from achieving the speed and agility they need to be competitive in this market. As a direct touchpoint in the customer experience, logistics operations need to accelerate innovation and build agility to emerge from the present crisis more resilient and future-ready—and they’re turning to automation as part of the solution.

With the number of direct-to-consumer orders increasing, scaling automation has become even more essential to speed, accuracy and business continuity. Already, many companies have pivoted quickly to adopt new technologies, ways of working, and collaboration models much faster than could have been expected.

We’re seeing an uptick in automated warehouse operations—such as goods-to-person and machine-to-machine order management—that are not only helping companies achieve speed and accuracy in fulfilling consumer orders, but also enabling customization at a micro level.

Additionally, companies are adopting mobility solutions using augmented reality/virtual reality, radio-frequency identification, and increasing their use of robotics. By leveraging these technologies, companies can fulfill customized orders and handle diverse inventories quickly and with minimal human intervention.

There have always been clear benefits of automating the storage and movement of goods throughout the supply chain including lower cost to serve, increased efficiency, improved service levels and 24/7 service. Additionally, with the challenges of COVID, automation can also allow for lower headcounts, better social distancing and better contact tracing.

While many companies recognize these benefits and want to move forward to adopt new technologies, they’re struggling to do so at scale. However, scaling automation is not without challenges. Companies need to create new operating and service models, reskill employees, hire roboticists/system integrators to set up and install a robotics infrastructure, and monitor and service the assets that require specialist knowledge and skills.

In an already capital-intensive industry, buying and servicing robots—depreciable assets—also means acquiring additional expenses. While these expenses are easy to identify, we see companies challenged with making the business case for scaling automation.

We’ve identified several key actions companies can take now to scale warehouse automation capabilities:

Build a comprehensive roadmap. Companies need to start by looking at key business challenges and needs to understand where robotics and automation will have the biggest impact on operations. Automating existing networks can have impacts on all areas of the business, many of them unexpected. With a clear roadmap that starts with laying the foundational groundwork needed to support a range of solutions, companies will be able to quickly focus on areas that have the highest impact and then scale solutions from there.

Choose solutions that generate the most value. While it sounds like a no-brainer, sometimes the best solutions are not the shiny new solutions. Each company’s journey to scaling automation will be different depending on the assets they already own. Once they identify which areas to focus on in the roadmap, companies need to evaluate different solutions and choose the ones that will drive their most important key performance indicators to increase speed, quality, consistency—and boost resilience.

Consider reskilling needs. Enhancing warehouse automation and using robotics can be positive for employment and productivity. Oftentimes, a key benefit of automation is improved employee experience as a result of the reduction of manual tasks. Companies need to consider where they may need to reskill and upskill employees to work side-by-side with robot colleagues and contribute to higher value work. Though some jobs will change, new, value-enhancing roles will emerge as a result of the combined power of humans and machines working together.

Monitor progress. The comprehensive roadmap needs to include a focus on monitoring and updating to ensure that the solutions implemented are delivering the most value. By closely monitoring progress, companies can quickly make adjustments as needed to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved.

Collective automation and robotics will increase warehouse and fulfilment resiliency while increasing productivity, addressing demand challenges, optimizing storage and lowering fixed overhead costs while reducing dependency on people amid labor shortages. Scaling these solutions is no longer an option—it’s a competitive necessity. And those who move quickly will have first-mover advantage and reap significant rewards.

Source: Logisticsmgmt

Oct 08 2020

How is Robotics building bridges between Employees and Technology?

Traditionally, human beings design and construct robotics, and the use of machines to perform tasks. Robots are broadly used in industries such as automobile manufacturing to perform simple repetitive tasks. In such industries, work must be performed in ecosystems hazardous to humans.

Almost every aspect of robotics involve artificial intelligence (AI), robots may be equipped with the equivalent of human senses like vision, touch, and ability to sense temperature. Some of them are even capable of decision making. Today’s research on robotics is geared toward devising robots with a degree of self-efficiency that will enable mobility and decision-making in an unstructured ecosystem. Current industrial robots do not resemble human beings.

Industries are using robots for stimulating manufacturing electric signals and designing biomedical equipments etc. Robotics requires a set of applications, including computer integrated manufacturing, mechanical engineering, biological mechanics, electrical engineering, and software engineering.

Nowadays, Automation and Robotics Engineering have been used to control systems and in information technology to reduce human work while producing goods and services.

Vice President, Product, Program, and UX Design for Brain Corp, Phil Duffy joined host Daniel Litwin to cover a broad critical topic in today’s automated world. They are tackling how robotics is creating new bridges between employees and technology. Brain Corp develops software for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), designed for retailers and grocery stores around the world and counts several Fortune 500 customers among its client bases, such as Walmart, Kroger, Schnucks, Giant Eagle, and Simon Property Group.

Phil Duffy provided some essential insights from the front lines on how those customers and others are leveraging AMRs during the pandemic. He was trying to explore how the rapid growth of adoption of robotic solutions could continue into the new normal and beyond. He further emphasized the effect of robotics on daily operations during the coronavirus pandemic and into global reopening.

Duffy said, “We’ve known about robots in a warehouse and industrial setting for 20-odd years, but the robots that scale in open-to-public spaces are relatively a new thing.”

He elaborated, “Up until recently, customers have been nervous about the prospect of robots in open spaces. What’s happened during COVID-19 pandemic is that a lot of the customers we deal with in the robotics industry have recognized that there’s an opportunity here to gain value.”

That translates to robots potentially taking over dull and monotonous jobs, enabling human employees to take on cleaning of data and other important tasks during this unprecedented time of COVID-19.

The alliance between humans and machines will survive the global pandemic and set a new definition of work. Collaborating robots with employees can do physical work and provide real intelligence. Perception and ability of making decisions allow creation to grow in ecosystems that would be unsafe or unpleasant for human employees. Instead of being insecure, robotics is helping to build new bridges between employees and machines to get through the pandemic.

Source: Analytics Insight

Restaurant using new technology to clear the air of viruses & germs
Oct 08 2020

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Colder weather is going to put another strain on the restaurant industry as it tries to keep customers safe for indoor dining during the pandemic. But there is a new device that could be the solution to removing harmful viruses and germs in the air.

The Hearth and Press Pizzeria on Main Street in the heart of downtown Buffalo's Theater District has lost a lot of business because of the pandemic. “It’s been a struggle — losing Shea's was a huge part of our business, also not having people in their offices for lunch was another major blow to restaurant here,” described Peter Eid, owner. But Eid found a product called the iWave. It is designed to remove germs and viruses. It’s a small device that produces the same kind of ions that are created by nature.

“It sends out negatively and positively charged ions that attack viruses — it takes dust particles — clings them together,” explained Tom Wrate, general manager of HVAC, NOCO. NOCO installed the device in the restaurant's HVAC system. It’s designed to improve indoor air quality.

A promotional video explains in detail how those ions kill viruses. “When the ions come in contact with viruses — bacteria or mold — they remove the hydrogen atom from the pathogens without the hydrogen — the pathogens have no source of energy and will die,” stated the video. Eid says Hearth and Press is following all state guidelines for indoor dinning — mask wearing, social distancing, no parties larger than ten and disinfecting. But now the air will be cleaner. “It gives me peace of mind, not only for my customers, my staff, as well for myself. We all want to be healthy at the end of the day,” Eid declared.

NOCO has installed more than 200 of the devices at local businesses at a cost of about $850 each. 7 Eyewitness News asked NOCO’s Wrate how do you know it's really working? “When sun shines through your window — you're not going to see dust particles — the little particles you see flying through the air — once this is in and running for a while that disappears,” Wrate responded. The device is designed to work in businesses or homes with forced air or ductless systems.

The pizzeria happens to serve up one menu item called the “COVID Killer Pizza”, but for now, every time the fan kicks in — the device is set to "kill off" the virus. “I think this is a huge thing for us — maybe even a game changer,” Eid replied.

Source: WKBW Buffalo

The Benefits of Automated Irrigation in Greenhouses
Sep 08 2020

Irrigation is a necessary process for plant growth and, although it can be done manually, automating the process could bring several benefits to controlled-environment growers. As with all types of automation, there are options to choose from.

A fully computerized control system incorporates all features of the simpler systems and adds support for a much wider range of input sensors, crop water use models, and most importantly, efficient irrigation system capacity management. Another approach, before considering a fully computerized controls system, consists of relying on sensors alone. This may not be the best method as they can fail on occasion. However, if they are combined with a modeling system, the result is optimal.

Another reason to use an automated system is the ability to include fertigation automation, which a simple solution normally cannot offer. One of the benefits of using an automated system is that it saves on labor costs by eliminating the need for employees to constantly monitor and water plants.

In addition to labor costs, hand watering also could affect the quality of the product. Using an automated system improves how production is controlled.

Using an automated system improves how production is controlled. On the other hand, there are certain applications where automated irrigation is not beneficial, such as in conservatories where there is a variety of plants, each with their own needs.

Automating irrigation in a greenhouse is not an easy task. There are a number of factors to consider when planning and designing your irrigation or fertigation solution. To learn more about a system from Argus Controls.

Source: greenhousegrower

Automation Offers Path to Efficiency and Data Integrity
Sep 08 2020

Samsung Biologics, a CDMO, last month announced plans for a factory, describing it as its “P4 super plant” and citing growing demand for biopharmaceutical production capacity as the driver for the investment.

When complete in 2022 the facility will house 256,000 liters of bioreactor capacity, according to Samsung Biologics, which said it will provide “real-time production schedule simulation through automation.” and employ the latest biomanufacturing technologies.

“Automation and digitalization will be utilized to drive significant aspects of plant operations, including but not limited to manufacturing control systems, facilities automation, MES, etc., company spokeswoman Clare Kim told GEN. “Other services such as quality management, will leverage existing centralized digital platforms.” The CDMO already has three facilities at the site, all of which were designed to employ automation and other bioprocess 4.0-based technologies.

“Automation and digitalization are optimal when taken into consideration at the initial plant design stage,” continues Kim. “They ensure that required interfaces and hardware, software, firmware integrations are planned for, and the use of automation, especially software user interfaces are reflected in the standard operating procedures from the start.”

Without planning integration can be a challenge, notes Kim, because the range of technologies available is limited.

“There’s always room for improvement across the board. We would like to see more out-of-the-box integration with biometric and VR/AR hardware from the traditional MES platform providers,” she continues.

Samsung Biologics expects the P4 plant to have the edge over more traditional CDMO bioprocessing facilities that employ older fashioned control and monitoring technologies.

“Based on our experience with our other plants, we expect significant benefits in terms of operational efficiency and higher quality due to the reduction of manual and paper based processes,” says Kim.

Regulatory acceptance

Samsung Biologics also expects biopharmaceutical manufactured using increased automation and AI-based control technologies to be well received by drug regulatory agencies.

“We believe that while the application and regulatory acceptance of AI in the manufacturing space is not yet fully mature, there is a lot of potential for AI being at the core of the next wave of innovation and transformation for not only our internal processes but also ultimately our customer experience and value,” says Kim.

She cited data integrity as an example, explaining “here are many areas where digitalization is the only way to fully comply with the DI guidance in a more robust and sustainable way.”

Source: Samsung

The ‘solar canals’ making smart use of India’s space
Aug 04 2020

Solar energy is clean, but it usually takes up huge tracts of land. In India, an alternative is turning the country’s canals into glittering trails of solar panels.

As the harsh midday sun beats down on a small, dusty village in Gujarat, western India, lines of blue solar panels on steel support structures snake their way to the horizon. The panels cover the top of irrigation canals, gleaming like iridescent mirrors. This small village of 40 homes with thatched walls and tin roofs, and lumbering stray cows, was one of rural India’s many communities who, until recently, did not have electricity. But now a lamp lights each home so children can study at night, and farmers can milk their cows long after sunset.

India has relied traditionally on coal-fired power plants, which generated 72% of the country’s electricity in 2018-19. India’s combination of abundant sunshine – about 300 sunny days in a year – and a large energy-hungry population makes it an ideal location for solar. The country’s solar capacity reached 36.6GW at the end of the first quarter of 2020, with the aim of growing to 100GW by 2022.

But one of the main challenges in building solar farms is finding the right place to do it. Land is relatively expensive in India and often has multiple owners, so the purchase of land involves many formalities. India’s high population density also puts pressure on the land, with an average of 464 people per square kilometre. Rooftop solar panels are one solution, but sunny space atop buildings is limited too.

In Gujarat, the answer has been to cover its canals with solar panels, as a solution that saves land, water and carbon emissions in one.

A pilot 750m stretch in Gujarat in 2014 led to the first large-scale canal-top solar power plant in the Vadodara district of Gujarat in 2015, at a cost of $18.3 million. The long stretch of the canals leading off the Narmada River enables electricity to be extracted at multiple points, says Manik Jolly, chief executive of Grassroots and Rural Innovative Development, who was involved in the first Narmada River canal project.

The energy generated from the solar canal can provide electricity for farmers during the energy-intensive irrigation season, and out of season the electricity can be fed into the state grid, sold to distribution companies or used by the canal authority, says Jolly. Since this power is generated in a rural area, the transmission losses are reduced and the local grid is strengthened.

Since the first solar canal project, a number of others have been commissioned in India, including a 100MW canal-top solar power project atop the branch canals off the Narmada River, stretching for a distance of 40km, at an estimated cost of 1bn Indian rupees ($13.9m/£9.3m).

Overall, Gujarat has more than 80,000km of canals meandering through the state. According to Gujarat State Electricity Corporation, if 30% of this were converted to solar, 18,000MW of power could be produced, saving 90,000 acres of land.

Mutual benefit

The advantages of solar plants atop canals are not just about local energy production and land saved. For one thing, solar power plants can be built much faster than large coal or gas power stations. For another, the covering over the canal helps to prevent evaporation of water, leaving more available for crops and people.

In states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, where canals are mainly used for irrigation, evaporation is a big problem, notes Pulkit Dhingra, founding director of Ahmedabad-based AHA Solar Photovoltaics.

Another plus of the panels’ shade is curbing algal blooms in the canals. Algae growth can clog water pumps and cause toxicity. “With the installation of the solar panels, and absence of direct sunlight, algae growth is drastically minimised,” says Nilesh Kumar, senior project officer at the Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute.

And while the water can benefit from the solar panels above, so do the panels from the water below. The running water helps the panels to remain cool, which increases their efficiency by at least 2.5-5%. There are some drawbacks, however. Canal-top plants are more expensive to construct than normal solar plants. The supports have to be galvanised with a protective zinc layer because the water below increases the risk of corrosion. Finding the right location is difficult too, as the width of the canal has to be just right, says Dhingra. Too wide, and the construction becomes difficult and expensive. Too narrow, and the number of panels that can be constructed are too few to absorb enough sunshine. And of course there has to be sufficient stretch of canal to accommodate the planned solar structure.

And, like solar panels placed on land or rooftops, the panels must be cleaned regularly as electricity production declines if dust collects on top of them. The operation and maintenance of canal-top projects is a big challenge, as ramps have to be built to enable cleaning, says Jolly. Some companies use sprayers and robots to clean the panels in remote areas. “Because canal-top plants are spread over large areas and cannot be protected by boundary walls or fencing, security concerns are major – cameras may have to be installed to monitor pilferage,” adds Gensol Engineering’s Payal Saxena.

The meandering nature of the canals also imposes restrictions. To maximise the absorption of energy, the solar panels should face south, but the canal’s direction cannot be dictated. Solar panels also act as an obstruction to repair the canals or remove silt, and very often trees along the canal have to be cut down as the areas have to be shadow-free.

So far, eight Indian states have commissioned canal solar projects. “These innovative projects can provide cheap and consistent electricity to millions of farmers and improve their profits,” says Jolly. And there is more potential to maximise renewable power from India’s canals, if solar farms above were combined with hydro-power from below, as researchers such as Sabah Usmani, an analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund, have suggested.

With their water-cooled efficiency, and mutual benefits for the canals that run beneath, it looks likely that these snaking, glittering solar canals will become a much more common sight in India.

Source: bbc

Automation proves to be a necessity for restaurants during
Aug 04 2020

Months into the coronavirus pandemic, the return to normalcy for the restaurant industry is extremely unlikely. With revenue down, millions of workers laid off and countless eateries closed – many of them permanently – experts anticipate the operational strategy going forward to be driven by innovation and methods for doing more with less.

Technology such as kiosks and mobile apps increasingly had become cornerstones of the new business model prior to the outbreak. Expect digital solutions to play an even larger role in the post-outbreak environment.

Augmenting the Workforce

Restaurants intended for kiosks and apps to supplement the workforce, never to supplant it. Nowadays, though, owners and managers unable financially to bring back their full complement of staff are relying on the technology to facilitate almost everything with a food order, except make it.

Kiosks are seen as short- and long-term solutions to labor fluctuations – more so the former these days. Not just in tight economic times, but also in times of widespread illness and crisis.

Critics in the past have described the technology as a facade, disguised as mechanical replacements for labor, which represents part of a restaurant’s largest expense alongside food and supplies. But with millions of service employees having been let go during lengthy spring shutdowns and a number of eateries not stable enough for a return to staffing normalcy, they can use kiosks to stand in as stable members of the staff that come at a fixed cost – a cost they’ve largely already paid.

Maintaining Social Distancing

The space restaurants have been forced to put between customers while they’re inside potentially extends lines out the door, forcing some to wait while exposed to the elements. Lines, regardless of what creates them, are never good things in the service industry.

Long lines generally lead to long wait times, which result in a negative purchase experience for customers who expect efficiency, regardless of the times. A survey by marketing firm Impact found that 54% of customers who had a negative purchase experience share it with at least five other people.

While health experts suggesting people stay at least 6 feet from others to avoid possible virus exposure, many people desire an even greater distance. They don’t want to stand in line with others, be within a somewhat close proximity to food preparers and certainly not come face-to-face with a cashier.

Kiosks and apps enabled restaurants to completely reopen while still facilitating social-distancing mandates designed to slow the spread of the virus.

Customers can access outdoor kiosks or log on to an app from anywhere outside an eatery to place their orders, pay electronically and then show up to retrieve their food without any sort of physical or close contact – via curbside pickup or by retrieving their orders set in a designated area inside.

Those who desire to use a kiosk can do much of the same, finding them spread apart in restaurants. As they complete their transactions, staff sets orders on the counter for retrieval.

Enabling No-Contact Payments

Paying for meals at a kiosk without interacting with a cashier used to be something of a novelty. Now, it’s the preferred payment approach.

Many kiosk manufacturers don’t offer kiosks with cash options. Still, the chosen method of payment for many consumers is cash; they just don’t want to pass and receive bills directly from another person. Besides that, 20 percent of Americans don’t even have bank accounts or have accounts but choose to use financial services outside the banking system, making cash their only option, according to the FDIC.

To ensure they’re able to continue making purchases, a bi-partisan bill winding through Congress would prohibit retailers from declining cash payments from customers during the pandemic. Sponsors have warned that should any retailer ban cash entirely, it would be discriminatory at a time when many Americans face financial hardship.

Free-standing and countertop solutions such as those offered by self-service solutions firm Pye give diners multiple payment options. In addition to electronic payment, they accept cash and can even dispense change as needed. Users never have to interact directly with a cashier. That provides the protection they desire from, as well as employees who otherwise would have to handle the cash and germs they potentially carry.

Facilitating Customer Tracking

In an age where people demand privacy, contact tracing seems an overt invasion. Actually, such tracing gives health officials the vital ability to quickly identify individuals who have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus and isolate or quarantine them.

Contact tracing, in the news recently, isn’t a new concept. The approach was used during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, as well as in the SARS outbreak in 2003. As COVID-19 has spread globally, countries such as South Korea and New Zealand have used contract tracing in an attempt to control outbreaks.

A number of states where incidences of the virus have spiked have sought effective and efficient platforms to learn the movements of infected people, and there is demand for restaurants to be key in that effort. Kiosks represent a tool to use where people frequent most – restaurants. Technology can support such initiatives by being configured to require diners to input their names and limited identifiable information to enable usage.

In Washington, for instance, restaurants will be required to keep a daily log of customers for 30 days, including telephone, email information and when they came into the restaurant. The intent is to assist tracers in notifying others when they may have come in contact with someone who was infected.

Source: modernrestaurantmanagement

Chinese construction firms using AI to monitor workers’ safety … but also to spot ‘loiterers’
July 03 2020

Artificial intelligence is being used to monitor workers’ behaviour on construction sites across China, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The technology, developed by the Institute of Automation in Beijing, has “made construction sites transparent” with significant improvements in safety and productivity, according to a report published on the academy’s website last month.

The report said the AI was hooked up to CCTV cameras and was able to tell whether an employee was doing their job or “loitering”.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

It can also distinguish between different types of activity such as smoking or using a smartphone.

The technology also sends alerts when accidents or safety risks, such as a worker forgetting to wear a helmet or entering an restricted area, are identified, and also tracks people involved in forbidden activities such as fighting.

Coronavirus: Chinese supercomputer uses artificial intelligence to diagnose patients from chest scans

The system can track every employee on a site using “biological identification” methods such as facial recognition technology.

It was linked to a database with detailed staff information to achieve 24-hours-a-day, “disturbance-free” surveillance, said the report.

China’s legislature is drafting a new AI law, which National People’s Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui said last year would address the “legal, moral and ethical” challenges posed by the technology.

Wu Yi, an NPC delegate from Yunnan province in the country’s southwest, submitted a proposal in May calling for the process of drafting the law, initially scheduled to be introduced in 2024, to be speeded up due to the emergence of new technology such as 5G which will expand the range and depth of AI.

Similar AI surveillance systems have been used in some countries, including the United States, for at least three years, according to media reports.

Smartvid.io, a Boston-based company, has used the technology to help clients enforcing social distancing among workers in building sites during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company said on its website that there would be no infringement of privacy because no workers were identified through facial recognition.

The construction industry has been slow to adopt AI due to the complexity of the work environment and slow business growth worldwide, according to a report by industrial software giant Trimble last year.

A McKinsey report in 2018 estimated the spread of AI in the US$10 trillion-a-year global construction business would be modest in the immediate future.

Artificial intelligence applications surge as China battles to contain coronavirus epidemic

China has the world’s largest construction workforce, and the Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil has estimated that it has used more cement in three years than the US did in a century.

Most Chinese construction projects operate under tight deadlines and accidents are commonplace.

In some cities such as Beijing, construction site accidents killed more people than any other industry.

A Guangzhou-based real estate development contractor said that the technology would relieve the burdens on human safety supervisors.

“There are many workers idling on the site. Some playing with their mobile phones when driving an excavator,” said the contractor, who asked to not be named.

“Humans can make unbelievably stupid mistakes. Machine supervision can save lives,” he added.

China National Petroleum Corporation is a major user of the AI surveillance system, deploying the technology in dozens of project construction sites across the nation, according to the academy.

CNPC, which is the world’s third-largest oil company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As the Chinese government launches a new round of construction projects to stimulate the economy following the pandemic, the AI system will be “implemented in many provinces and cities,” according to the academy report.

Source: news.yahoo

TuSimple’s Robot Big Rigs Will Automate Freight Coast to Coast
July 05 2020

In 2016, an 18-wheeler jam-packed with cans of Budweiser made a beer run from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs—with no driver at the wheel.

It was one small 120-mile jaunt for a robot big rig (and its maker, Otto), one giant leap for beer delivery. Four years on, TuSimple, another self-driving truck maker, is planning to extend autonomous beer shipment—or more accurately, whatever cargo their customers so choose—to the whole country with a coast-to-coast network of robot trucks.

This week, the company and several big name partners, including UPS and Penske, announced plans for an autonomous freight network of self-driving trucks, digitally mapped routes, terminals, and a central operations system to monitor the lot.

According to TuSimple, they’ll build the network in phases. The company already operates seven routes between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, and Dallas. Later this year and into next they’ll add routes to Houston and San Antonio. New routes from Los Angeles to Jacksonville will link West Coast and East Coast in 2022 and 2023. And in the following year, the company will roll out commercial availability and further expand to major shipping routes throughout the contiguous US.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a nationwide transportation network consisting of mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals to enable efficient, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations,” TuSimple president, Cheng Lu, said in a press release.

If this strategy works, TuSimple will copy-paste it in Europe and Asia, and just like that, their robot trucks will be cruising the world’s highways loaded with goodies. Maybe.

Given the state of self-driving car timelines, which have long overpromised and underdelivered, TuSimple’s coast-to-coast network might sound overambitious. Indeed, the company behind that inaugural Colorado beer run, Otto, is no more—it was acquired and subsequently shuttered by Uber two years later. Starsky, another well-known self-driving truck startup, saw a Series B investment fall apart last November and, after looking for a buyer in the ensuing months, was forced to shut down when none could be found.

Still, there are reasons to believe self-driving trucks are closer to practical and mainstream commercial use than general purpose self-driving cars.

For one, there are plenty of big companies and startups working the problem, from Daimler and Aurora to Waymo and Embark. TuSimple, in particular, has long partnered with veteran shipping companies, has already raised $298 million at a valuation of $1 billion, and according to TechCrunch, is currently going after another $250 million.

Also, TuSimple isn’t building their network of robot trucks from scratch. Founded way back in 2015, the company is now one of the more established players. In 2018, they started testing a route on public roads between Tucson and Phoenix and another in Shanghai. Today, they operate a fleet of 40 autonomous trucks running some 20 trips a week.

Finally, they’ve adopted a sensible model based on trucks that handle themselves on highways with a human in the cab (for now). Long haul trucks spend the vast majority of their time on highways, and highways are simpler to navigate than city streets. TuSimple’s trucks will hand the wheel over to a human for off-the-highway driving.

The trucks use cameras, lidar, and radar to construct a real-time view of their surroundings. But TuSimple is also making digital maps of a highway’s every twist and turn on each route. Combining these maps with sensor data, TuSimple says their trucks can safely drive routes in any conditions.

They’re not alone in this strategy. Volvo, which is also developing self-driving trucks, recently announced it’ll offer passenger cars that can drive themselves on mapped sections of highway. The software behind Waymo’s self-driving cars and trucks similarly relies on intricate digital maps.

Even as TuSimple maps routes across the country, its competitors will be doing the same thing. Waymo also announced this week the expansion of self-driving truck routes across the Southwest and Texas. Whereas TuSimple is building its own trucks, Waymo is focused on developing a software platform, Waymo Driver, that’s compatible with anyone’s trucks.

In the coming years, companies will install a massive new layer of infrastructure. Under asphalt and painted lines, an invisible road in binary to keep these machines on track.

It’s hoped self-driving trucks, which can be on the go 24/7—no sleep, no coffee—will prove safer and more cost-efficient, even with a backup human driver in the cab. When they’ve proven themselves over tens of millions of miles, and the legal and regulatory frameworks have been worked out, they may even go it entirely alone.

While this may mark the end of many long haul driver jobs, TuSimple and others argue there’s already a shortage of drivers that will only grow in the future. And there will be other opportunities for work, whether it’s backup safety drivers to supervise trucks in the near term or drivers that can take trucks the last mile from highway to final destination.

It’ll likely be years yet before trucking is fully automated. Still, you may one day pass a big rig and, with a startled glance into the cab, notice no one’s at the wheel. There might not even be a cab—just a 20-ton box on 18 wheels doing 75 down the interstate.

Source: singularity hub

Present times require clever solutions, digitalisation, and process automation: How Y Soft has implemented robots in its offices
June 08 2020

Since the world was turned on its head as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, organisations in all sectors have been forced to transform the way they work, speed up their digital transformation projects and rapidly innovate their processes in a way they’ve never had to previously.

So far, we’ve seen organisations completely repurposing their offering to help in the fight against coronavirus, such as manufacturers producing PPE; we’ve seen staff rapidly reskilled, or even being offered from one industry to another; and we’ve seen organisations using technologies to create innovations in both software and hardware.

At Y Soft, we’ve been using our fleet of 3D Printers to contribute face shields to hospitals around the world, but we’ve also been implementing various innovations internally, to ensure our operations continue seamlessly while we’re not physically in the office.

This has included leveraging our in-house developed robots which are controlled by our team from their homes. The robots, which were initially designed to test software developments at night, are now operating around the clock, enabling 98 percent of the staff to be able to work remotely.

The lockdown challenge we faced

The Research and Development (R&D) centre of Y Soft in Brno, Czech Republic usually accommodates around sixty people on a daily basis. But today, you would find only one or two engineers in the office and a variety of purpose-built robots fulfilling some of the roles usually carried out by the team.

The Y Soft development department focuses on developing a smart print solution called SafeQ that reduces document-related costs and provides key functionalities, including security and print management, print queues, scanning workflows, and so on.

Our print solution requires a wide printer compatibility. In our case, printers are the third-party devices made by printer manufacturers such as Konica Minolta, Xerox, HP, Ricoh, Sharp, and so on, so typically, software engineers make regular changes to the source code that are then pushed to the main source code repository and automatic tests, security checks, and other tests are performed.

To ensure the correct functionality, an end-to-end user scenario needs to be performed using the correct hardware appliance. Since we are working with a number of different devices from different vendors, it is necessary to test at least one representative printer model of each vendor.

And here’s the catch: developers can hardly test their code changes on real multifunctional printers while working from home, because they rarely have one available at home.

Our solution: robot testers

We developed our own in-house smart robotic system called Robotic Quality Assurance (RQA) to solve our remote multifunctional printer testing problem.

The RQA system enables its users (our developers) to control the physical device remotely by tapping the display and the buttons, while at the same time monitoring the device by a camera, as a result showing the user what is happening on the device in real-time.

The robot is placed in front of a tested device (in our case a printer) and is calibrated with the device in such a way that it is able to reach all the operable elements of the device – mainly the display and the buttons.

A camera is placed above the robot and the device, so that it can capture the tested object. A software engineer then uses an application available from a web browser to control the robot.

Using simple actions, the engineer instructs the robot to click on a certain place on the display. At the same time, the engineer is provided with a real-time, live image from the camera.

As a result, they can see everything that is happening on the printer, except perhaps for when the printed paper comes out of the printer.

But we have a solution even for that kind of an issue: our RQA system includes paper sensors that are placed on an appropriate location of the printer output tray and monitor the papers coming out of the printer.

However, we do not use the RQA system only to remotely control the multifunction printers. The robot hardware is complemented by a sophisticated system of intelligent actions of the robot and image processing of the camera-acquired images to provide us with a feedback from the tested device.

As a result, the RQA system can work completely independently, based on the test scenario composed of given high-level actions.

Instead of instructing the robot to “Click on the button A”, the scenario says, “Go to screen Main menu”.

First, the RQA system analyses the current screen and finds a way to the destination screen, and then the robot continuously clicks on the buttons that lead to the destination screen while analysing the image for any unexpected behaviour.

As you can see, thinking innovatively and working on automation prepared Y Soft to be able to overcome such an unexpected situation as we happen to be in right now. Even though they’re working from home, our developers can still easily make sure the product has the required quality. And I have to say – they seem to like working with the robots a lot.

Source: roboticsandautomationnews

Smart parking software could ease congestion, save time
June 08 2020

New smart parking software developed by Cornell researchers, which matches drivers with parking garage spots based on travel time and other factors, could reduce congestion and emissions while saving drivers the time of circling to look for available spots.

The system, which accounts for cruising time, proposes an efficient price for customers and considers the walking distance from the parking spot, decreased the amount of time spent looking for parking an estimated 64%per vehicle compared with other parking strategies, using San Francisco parking data.

“One of the key issues that causes congestion and extra emissions is due to cars cruising to look for parking,” said H. Oliver Gao, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of systems engineering, and senior author of “A Scalable Non-Myopic Atomic Game for a Smart Parking Mechanism,” which published June 6 in the journal Transportation Research Part E.

“Imagine if the parking garage was equipped with a smart software – they know where their empty spots are,” said Gao, also a fellow with the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. “Drivers would come to an area and know which parking garage still has spots, and if you have software telling you the quickest path it will save you a lot of time, and it will also bring business to the parking garage.”

Previous research shows that searching for parking creates 30% of the congestion in crowded areas, where drivers spend an average of 7.8 minutes looking for a spot. For example, a 2006 study found that vehicles in a 15-block range in Los Angeles’ Westwood Village cruise more than 950,000 miles a year, wasting 47,000 gallons of gas and generating 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

Existing apps, based on a global navigation satellite system, update the information between parking manager and server using sensors on parking facilities and automobiles. These parking apps are inefficient because parking spaces can suddenly become unavailable, changing an uncongested route to highly congested.

The proposed parking app includes several functions such as walking distance, cruising time and parking facility occupancy. In addition to factoring in travel times, the new software includes a dynamic pricing policy that accounts for drivers’ waiting times and offers priority to drivers willing to pay more.

In the researchers’ model, participating drivers are essentially competing against each other to select parking spaces. The system incorporates an individual driver’s preferences in order to make the most efficient collective decisions.

The algorithm can be designed to minimize drivers’ out-of-pocket costs – the price of parking – or to reduce a total cost that considers both money and time.

Gao hopes the software could eventually be used as an app connecting parking garages and drivers, as well as showing drivers the optimal paths to their destinations.

Research on traffic congestion generally focuses on improving traffic flow, Gao said, but improving parking systems not only eases the burden on individual drivers, it also gets cars off the streets faster and reduces congestion for everyone.

“Smart parking can actually help mitigate congestion and reduce emissions,” he said. “When the car goes in the parking lot, it improves the on-road traffic.”

Source: news.cornell

Personal Mobility Machine Needs No Help at Tokyo Airport
June 08 2020

TOKYO (AP) — An autonomous mobility system that works like a wheelchair without anyone pushing it is scuttling around a Tokyo airport to help with social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The personal mobility machine seats one person and runs on its own without crashing, even when people jump out unexpectedly, for about 600 meters (660 yards) on a pre-programmed route at Haneda International Airport, WHILL, the company behind the technology, said Monday.

WHILL Chief Executive Satoshi Sugie said robotics and autonomous driving technology that reduce the need for human labor are a good match for these times of “living with" the coronavirus.

“We are rapidly developing our business in order to help restore a world where people can enjoy moving around with peace of mind,” he told The Associated Press.

The ride lasts just several minutes, traveling from security clearance to the boarding gate at a maximum speed of 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) per hour. But hopes are high that the technology, which uses sensors and cameras, can help in other places, such as hospitals, parks and shopping centers. Labor shortages are a problem in Japan, as well as other nations.

Tests have been carried out at various airports since last year, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and the company hopes to introduce it at airports around the world.

The person on the machine can start or stop it through a tablet controller. It runs on lithium-ion batteries and returns automatically to where it started.

Anyone needing help walking long distances can use it at Terminal One at Haneda, for what’s referred to as that “last-mile mobility,” according to WHILL, based in Yokohama, Japan.

Although vacuum cleaners, machines carrying things and talking robots are already moving about at airports and other places, personal mobility that runs autonomously is still relatively rare in public places.

Source: usnews

"Germ-Zapping Robots": How Hollywood Might Kill Coronavirus Fears on Set
May 21 2020

Sources say CBS' 'Blue Bloods' has shown serious interest in the $125,000 machines, which are already used in hospitals around the globe.

With plans for safely revving up production underway in Hollywood, the industry is looking at creative ways to make sure sets are sanitary in the age of COVID-19. One newly emerging strategy might have people wondering whether the pandemic is turning Hollywood into one of the sci-fi films it churns out: "germ-zapping robots."

Yes, really. Hollywood has begun to take interest in a lab-certified disinfecting robot that uses pulses of ultraviolet (UV) light to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to testing performed at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, one of the world's leading independent research institutes that works exclusively with infectious diseases, the robot was able to deactivate 99.99 percent of the novel coronavirus in two minutes with its LightStrike technology.

The device is made by San Antonio-based Xenex Disinfection Services, which has trademarked the name "Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot." It's just one tool the company's co-founder and chief scientific officer, Dr. Mark Stibich, is offering the entertainment industry as part of his and former filmmaker Justin Golding's newly formed venture, Production Safe Zone (PSZ), which is aimed at helping Hollywood productions get back up and running again safely. With studies suggesting that the virus can live on some surfaces for days, high-touch areas on set can pose a grave threat to the safety of cast and crew, so having effective ways to rid surfaces of the virus is critical to reopening.

The pair have approached major studios and streamers, including Netflix, Amazon and Sony, in recent weeks about the robots. "The way we like to think of it is that our pathogens, like coronavirus, have evolved — but our tools that clean the environment haven't," says Stibich, who holds a master of health science degree and a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is a fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "We're still basically using buckets and mops and wipes, and what we need is a new tool in order to reduce the risks that the environment may cause an infection.”

Sources say at least one production, CBS’ long-running procedural Blue Bloods, starring Tom Selleck, has already shown serious interest, and has put one of the robots on hold to potentially use in the future, should it be approved by the industry task forces overseeing the new production protocols. CBS declined to comment, and Stibich and Golding say they aren't at liberty to speak about prospective clients.

Xenex's robots, which can be rented on a per-month basis or purchased for roughly $125,000, are already used in more than 500 health care facilities and hospitals around the world, including the Mayo Clinic, HonorHealth, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Stanford and USC. But the medical device's Hollywood arrival reflects the lengths to which the industry may be willing to go to protect workers on sets amid the pandemic. "We're talking about having to do something along the lines of what hospitals have been doing forever," says Goldberg, "procedures that never existed in the film production industry before."

Since the robots don't require any warm-up or cool-down periods, they work quickly and are able to disinfect dozens of rooms each day. They're rather simple to use, too. The procedure goes something like this: A trained individual places it in a designated area, turns it on and then exits the room for the next five minutes while the device generates bursts of high-intensity, full germicidal spectrum UVC light (more intense than sunlight.) Though a few seconds of human exposure to the light is within all of the safety thresholds, according to Stibich, there can be damage to the eyes after prolonged exposure, which is why it’s important to not be in the same room when the device is running.

"Our safety protocol is really developed, and we've seen results with reductions in the amount of infections in hospitals," says Stibich, noting that it's been used approximately 22.5 million times in health care settings. "That's why we want to bring it over to the entertainment industry as the studios open up."

The robots are able to move on their own by following a path in the room they’re in, but since that feature may pose an issue with certain labor unions, such as IATSE, Goldberg says they're prepared to work with crewmembers to be in charge of them. "We work hand in hand with the union, as we did in the hospitals, and train their people up so that we're not bringing in some automated service that reduces the workforce," he explains. IATSE says they are unable to comment on any specific proposal or procedure for return to work at this time.

In addition to the robots, the pair say are offering a host of other services to clients, everything from COVID-19 testing before and during production to temperature and pulse oximeter entry screenings to social distancing infrastructure planning. They can also provide high-temperature laundry services and security and medical personnel. The cost for their all-inclusive service is $75 per person per day, with a minimum of 30 days of production required and at least 50 production members.

There's no doubt the task of meeting the strictest safety standards the industry has ever seen is daunting for many industry leaders, which is why Stibich says he wants to offer up his expertise. "What's crazy about this situation is that everyone is trying to figure it out on their own, and that's really tricky. It's like if I went and sat in on a class about film lighting, I would have no idea what's going on," he says. "So for someone in entertainment to jump in on, say, a CDC webinar and try to figure out what's important there, I just don't think we can expect them to be able to do that.”

Source: hollywoodreporter

Meet spot - Singapore’s robot dog for social distancing
May 19 2020

Across the world, as we begin to move out of nation-wide lockdowns, one of the biggest problems we face could be ensuring that core messages – ‘wash your hands’, ‘keep your distance’ – remain front-and-center of people’s attention.

If those standards begin to slip, we could see the outbreak take hold once again, and that would move us swiftly back to square one.

But perhaps if a reminder of at least some of those instructions were given to you by a robotic dog, you wouldn’t quickly forget them. That seems to be the thinking behind Singapore’s newest addition ‘Spot’.

Spot is the work of infamous US robotics firm Boston Dynamics, the maker of downright terrifyingly-advanced canine-like robots which were originally developed for the military, but now seem to be playing a more ‘friendly’ role in society.

As part of a two-week trial, Spot will be trotting around a park in Singapore as the city-state phases out of its circuit-breaker, encouraging park-goers and joggers to “keep Singapore healthy” and to “please stand at least one meter apart,” according to a report by The Detroit News.

The trial is part of an experiment seeking to observe how machines and AI could help ensure human contact continues to be reduced in public, with citizens no longer largely confined to their homes.

Semi-autonomous, able to walk up to 3mph over uneven terrain, detect obstacles with 360-degree vision and right itself after it falls, Spot is rather overqualified.

In fact, this robotic dog’s deployment is really, well, a walk in the park compared to what it’s used to. Earlier applications of this technology have been in hazardous environments, such as inspecting construction sites and utility installations, and other environments which could prove dangerous for humans.

Police in Massachusetts, US have even tested these robots for bomb disposal or for entering buildings in siege scenarios. This all sounds like a novel and perhaps not entirely necessary application of some pretty nifty and expensive technology. But what it does highlight is how the emerging technology and innovation we have available today can all be considered as a possible contributor to our recovery from a health crisis, and resilience for the future.

In China’s Hangzhou park, for instance, security officers have been trialling AR smart glasses powered by AI capabilities designed to recognise those with potential symptoms of COVID-19 by measuring and recording body temperatures of visitors.

Weighing only about 100 grams with the attached camera and cable, the glasses are said to be able to screen the temperatures of hundreds of people within a 1-meter range at a time.

Spot, meanwhile, isn’t the only time we’ve enlisted robotics in the fight against COVID-19. In Thailand, robots are being used to connect doctors to patients for consultations to minimize infection risks. The robots – which look like mini ninjas – were originally programmed to monitor stroke patients.

UVD Robots – a manufacturer of autonomous machines that can kill microbes and other organisms using ultraviolet light – claimed sales of units had “rocketed” owed to the demands of the pandemic in various facilities.

Spot, then, really isn’t anything special in the grand scheme of things. It is just one example of now thousands of applications where robots can play a part in helping society, outside of their increasingly more established settings in manufacturing and other heavy industries. He’s special to us though. Good robot.

Source: techwireasia

Immutouch wristband buzzes to stop you touching your face
Mar 10 2020

In the age of coronavirus, we all have to resist the urge to touch our faces. It’s how the virus can travel from doorknobs or other objects to your mucus membranes and get you sick. Luckily, a startup called Slightly Robot had already developed a wristband to stop another type of harmful touching — trichotillomania, a disorder that compels people to pull out their hair.

So over the last week, Slightly Robot redesigned their wearable as the Immutouch, a wristband that vibrates if you touch your face. Its accelerometer senses your hand movement 10 times per second. Based on calibrations the Immutouch takes when you set it up, it then buzzes when you touch or come close to touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. A companion app helps you track your progress as you try to keep your dirty mitts down.

The goal is to develop a Pavlovian response whereby when you get the urge to touch your face, you don’t in order to avoid the buzzing sensation. Your brain internalizes the negative feedback of the vibration, training you with aversive conditioning to ignore the desire to scratch yourself.

“A problem the size of COVID-19 requires everyone to do their part, large or small,” says Slightly Robot co-founder Matthew Toles. “The three of us happened to be uniquely well equipped to tackle this one task and felt it was our duty to at least try.”

The Immutouch wristbands go on sale today for $50 each and they’re ready for immediate shipping. You can wear it on your dominant hand that you’re more likely to touch your face with, or get one for each arm to maximize the deterrent.

“We’re not looking to make money on this. We are selling each unit nearly at cost, accounting for cost of materials, fabrication, assembly, and handling” co-founder Justin Ith insists. Unlike a venture-backed startup beholden to generating returns for investors, Slightly Robot was funded through a small grant from the University of Washington in 2016 and bootstrapped since.

“We built Immutouch because we knew we could do it quickly, therefore we had the obligation to. We all live in Seattle and we see our communities reacting to this outbreak with deep concern and fear” Slightly Robot co-founder Justin Ith tells me. “My father has an autoimmune disease that requires him to take immunosuppressant medication. Being in his late 60’s with a compromised immune system, I’m trying my best to keep the communities around him and my family clean and safe.”

Based on a study using wearable warning devices to deter sufferers of trichotillomania from ripping out their hair, Immutouch could potentially be effective. University Of Michigan researchers found the vibrations reduced long and short-term hair pulling. Ith admits you have to actually heed the warnings and not itch to instill the right habit, and it doesn’t work while you’re lying down. The Immutouch stops short of electrically shocking you like the older gadget called Pavlok that’s designed to help people quit smoking or opening Facebook.

Perhaps smartwatch makers like Apple could develop cheap or free apps to let users train themselves using hardware they already own. But until then, Ith hopes that Immutouch can gain some initial traction so “we can order larger quantities, reduce the price, and make it more accessible.”

Modern technologies like Twitter for rapidly sharing information could encourage people to take the right cautionary measures like 20-second handwashing to slow the spread of coronavirus. But having phones we constantly touch — before, during, and after we use the restroom — and then press against our faces could create a vector for infection absent from pandemics of past centuries. That’s why everyone needs to do their part to smooth out the spike of sickness so our health systems aren’t overrun.

Ith concludes, “Outbreaks like this remind us how we each individually affect the broader community and have a responsibility to not be carriers.”

Source: CNN

InWith Puts Smart Tech In Bausch And Lomb Lenses
Mar 09 2020

InWith Corporation, which holds key enabling IP in augmented contact lenses, has been at work with Bausch and Lomb (NYSE: BHC) to develop smart contacts for the past year. InWith plans for an Institutional Review Board approval this year on first prototypes. InWith co-founder and CEO Michael Hayes says the unique marriage marriage of highly biocompatible materials with 3-D flexible microelectronics embedded into molded hydrogel devices, which InWith calls “smart biology,” may be on the market “in the near future.”

With InWith’s technology, the augmented lens is just like the soft contact lens 150 million people use every day. Except they’re connected to your phone. They harvest energy from the normal blinking of the eyes. Check your blood sugar. Send alerts and notifications. “This opens the door to hundreds of new devices: blood chemistry for cancer and virus detection, drug delivery, artificial organ parts with electronics for movement,” said Hayes in an interview. “This is the next big wave; the merger of the mobile device into the human body for full monitoring of your health. It will lead to less disease and longer lives.”

Hayes is the co-inventor, with Dr. David Markus PhD, of InWith’s medical device, microelectronics and ophthalmic patents. Some of the patents used are: (1) Energy Harvesting from the blinking human eye to power a contact lens; (2) Defining space inside hydrogel devices such as contacts, for computer circuitry to be embedded during manufacturing; and (3) Smart case for charging smart contact lenses in liquid medium, while not in use. There are more, and some pending.

InWith’s remarkably small team of five has been working alongside a much larger team of scientists on the smart contact lens’ development. “In Bausch and Lomb’s labs, our smart technology is embedded in the Bausch and Lomb ULTRA contacts, which are the best multifocal lenses on the market today.” Said Hayes.

“The era of fully monitored health and well-being is coming and it requires biocompatibility mixed with circuitry,” says Hayes. “Won't it be cool when early detection of virus, cancer, etc., will be in micro hydrogel implants that alert your smartphone, like your home has carbon monoxide and smoke detectors? Commonplace.” Hayes says at scale the augmented contacts won’t cost much more than the current contact lenses.

Bausch and Lomb is a leading manufacturer of contact lenses, which is an $18 Bn market. "Bausch + Lomb continuously seeks the latest advancements in eye care technology,” said Arthur Shannon, SVP of Bausch and Lomb.

Last month, Mojo Vision came out of stealth with its own augmented contact lenses. They are doing a pilot with Vista Vision Center of Palo Alto helping sight impaired people navigate low light situations. “The future is wet,” said Hayes. “This is just the DOS phase for this technology. We’re going to have bio implants. It won’t end here.”

Source: CNN

Coronavirus: China's tech fights back
Mar 03 2020

Disinfecting robots, smart helmets, thermal camera-equipped drones and advanced facial recognition software are all being deployed in the fight against Covid-19 at the heart of the outbreak in China.

President Xi Jinping has called on the country's tech sector to help battle the epidemic.

Healthcare tech is also being used to identify coronavirus symptoms, find new treatments and monitor the spread of the disease, which has so far infected more than 90,000 people worldwide.

But is it up to the job?

Robots to the rescue

Several Chinese firms have developed automated technologies for contactless delivery, spraying disinfectants and performing basic diagnostic functions, in order to minimise the risk of cross-infection.

Shenzhen-based Pudu Technology, which usually makes robots for the catering industry, has reportedly installed its machines in more than 40 hospitals around the country to help medical staff.

MicroMultiCopter, also in Shenzhen, is deploying drones to transport medical samples and conduct thermal imaging.

Meanwhile, advanced AI has been used to help diagnose the disease and accelerate the development of a vaccine.

Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, claims its new AI-powered diagnosis system can identify coronavirus infections with 96% accuracy.

Its founder Jack Ma has just announced that his charity, the Jack Ma Foundation, will donate $2.15m (£1.6m) towards the development of a vaccine.

"In the battle against Covid-19, emerging technologies have stood out by making immense contributions in an unexpected, creative and amazingly responsive way," said Lu Chuanying, a senior official at Shanghai-based Global Cyberspace Governance.

They have helped "arrest or contain the spread of the deadly virus, thus becoming one of the most reliable and trustworthy means of combating Covid-19," he wrote in an article for state-run China Daily newspaper.

But is all this just for show?

"The state media apparatus, even under normal circumstances, takes every opportunity to send a message about China's technological sophistication, even if a story has little substance to it," notes Elliott Zaagman, who covers China's technology industry and co-hosts the China Tech-Investor podcast. "I suspect that most of the stories we see about disinfecting robots, drones, etc, are mostly just performative gimmicks. However, tech's 'less-sexy' role in controlling this outbreak should not be dismissed," he told the BBC.

'Era of big data and internet'

Beyond robots and drones, China has also mobilised its sophisticated surveillance system to keep a tab on infected individuals and enforce quarantines.

Facial recognition cameras are commonplace across China, and now companies are upgrading their technology to scan crowds for fever and identify individuals not wearing masks.

SenseTime, a leading AI firm, says its contactless temperature detection software has been deployed at underground stations, schools and community centres in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The company also claims to have a tool that can recognise faces, even if they are wearing masks, with a "relatively high degree of accuracy".

Another Chinese AI firm, Megvii, boasts a similar temperature detection product, which has been deployed in Beijing.

"During this challenging time, we see this not as an opportunity, but our responsibility to do our part to tackle Covid-19 using our technology," a SenseTime spokesperson told the BBC.

Chinese newspaper Global Times reports that officials in Chengdu city, Sichuan province, have been issued with smart helmets that can measure the temperature of anyone within a 5m radius, sounding an alarm if they are found to have a fever.

As Chinese citizens slowly return to work despite the virus outbreak, mobile phones have also emerged as a key tool to track the spread of the coronavirus.

An app called Alipay Health Code assigns individuals the colour green, yellow or red, depending on whether they should be allowed into public spaces or quarantined at home.

It uses big data to identify potential virus carriers, according to its developer Ant Financial. It has already been adopted in more than 200 Chinese cities.

Tencent, the company behind popular messaging app WeChat, has launched a similar QR-code-based tracking feature.

The "close contact detector" app notifies the user if they have been in close contact with a virus carrier.

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"In the era of big data and internet, the movements of each person can be clearly seen. So we are different from the Sars time now," Li Lanjuan, an adviser to the National Health Commission, said in an interview with Chinese state TV.

"With such new technologies, we should make full use of them to find and contain the source of infection."

Privacy issues

While these new surveillance tools may be considered efficient - and perhaps necessary during a health crisis - they have prompted concerns about privacy. Many of these health apps require users to register with their name, national identification number and phone number. Authorities have also sourced data from phone carriers, health and transport agencies and state-owned firms.

There is little transparency on how the government plans to cross-check the data, and there have been reports about personal health data being leaked on the internet.

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A report by the New York Times, for example, said that Alipay Health Code also appears to share information with the police.

As the apps become more popular, there's the added fear that it could exacerbate paranoia and lead to discrimination against coronavirus patients.

Critics say China could use the health crisis as a justification to expand its already vast surveillance system, which human rights bodies have described as dystopian.

"If there's one lesson that Chinese authorities are learning here, it's where the 'weak spots' are in their surveillance apparatus," notes Mr Zaagman.

"Privacy was already becoming a thing of the past in China. An outbreak like this will only expedite that process".

Source: BBC

Can smart sensor systems anticipate and avoid danger?
Feb 07 2020

Road accidents kill around 1.3 million people and injure tens of millions more each year, according to the World Health Organization.

A start-up based in Dubai and Detroit is among those testing advanced technology solutions that could bring those numbers down.

Derq is developing systems to better understand where danger spots are. The company uses a combination of sensors on roads, artificial intelligence, and computers in cars to notify drivers of potential hazards.

For example, Derq's technology can use roadside cameras to detect if a driver is approaching a jaywalker. It will then send audible and visual alerts to the driver to warn them of the danger.

The system can also spot bad drivers. Roadside cameras or radars can track every car approaching an intersection, and Derq's AI can predict their trajectories -- so if a car is about to run a red light, Derq's software can warn other motorists.

The company says it's focused on deploying its technology on the most dangerous intersections initially. In many cities, these intersections already have cameras, so Derq aims to partner with the cities to make use of these cameras.

Making Derq work

CEO Georges Aoude is an MIT grad with a PhD and a master's degree in aerospace engineering.

While doing his PhD in autonomous vehicles (not just cars, but also satellites and drones) he worked on developing technology to make roads safer and smarter. "There was a clear gap in the market," said Aoude.

In 2016, five years after completing his PhD, Aoude's patent for Derq was ready and he says senior leadership in Dubai approached him, saying they wanted to support the technology.

Within a few months Derq was allowed to test its technology on certain roads there. Aoude noted that Dubai has a goal of having 25% all vehicles autonomous by 2030. "We knew what we were doing was aligned with many key priorities of Dubai," he said.

An office in Detroit followed in 2017, with permission to try its technology on select roads around the city. The start-up is also working on a pilot project in Ohio, and has an ongoing project in Vienna, Austria, Aoude said.

As well as warning of hazards, Derq's system can help detect and predict traffic congestion and it is also working with the developers of autonomous vehicle fleets to demonstrate how it can improve safety and give passengers a smoother ride, says Aoude.

Derq is not the only company working in this space. Humanising Autonomy has developed a "pedestrian intent prediction platform" intended to make autonomous vehicles safer;" Driveri is a platform that analyzes commercial vehicle drivers' to improve their performance, and Nexyadcreates software that can be built into cars to alert drivers of potential accidents.

A tough road ahead?

You might expect busy cities to be clamoring to get such safety measures implemented, but it's still early days.

Jack Stilgoe, associate professor of science and technology at University College London, is interested in programs that provide real human benefits in busy cities.

"I can imagine places where technology can really make a difference," says Stilgoe. "But the governments must be really empowered to want to make this partnership with technology companies, and make it safe and fair."

"Testing cars on public roads is a profound experiment, turning citizens into experimental subjects," he adds. "If governments grant permission to technology companies, they need to think hard about what it is getting in return and who will pay for infrastructure upgrades."

A matter of time?

Whatever the roadblocks, it may not be too long until this kind of technology is widely available.

To receive alerts from Derq's system a car will need a "V2X" (vehicle-to-everything) antenna. "In two-three years, cars will come out of the factory with this feature," Aoude said.

Volkswagen, for example, has recently announced that it will be installing this antenna in some of its Golf models starting in 2020, meaning the cars will be enabled to send and receive V2X alerts from systems similar to Derq.

Aoude says he and his company will keep moving ahead to improve safety wherever they can.

"You still need to use your eyes carefully, but we can help you," he says.

Source: CNN

Coronavirus: China deploys drones with cameras, loudhailers to chastise people for unsafe behavior
Feb 04 2020

Chinese authorities are employing drones in their fight to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, including using loudspeakers to warn unsuspecting members of the public who are taking insufficient precautions or breaking rules put in place to prevent the spread of the virus, China state television claims.

Videos released by Chinese state media outlets show a drone’s-eye-view of confrontations between citizens and the unmanned aircraft, which are equipped with loudspeakers allowing officials to communicate with the public.

One video published by Chinese state media shows an aircraft flying close to an elderly woman and addressing her, as she stares up at it, bemused. “Yes Auntie, this drone is speaking to you,” the drone says, according to a translation by China’s state-owned Global Times. “You shouldn’t walk about without wearing a mask. You’d better go home, and don’t forget to wash your hands,” it instructs the woman, who promptly proceeds indoors, observed by the drone.

Another clip, shared by the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, shows a drone confronting an elderly couple on the street. “Uncle, Auntie, due to the coronavirus outbreak, please have better self protection. Please return home immediately,” before urging them to wear protective face masks.

Another clip, spotted on the Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo by the Reuters news agency, showed a drone being used to disperse a group of people playing mahjong outdoors.

“Playing mahjong outside is banned during the epidemic. You have been spotted. Stop playing and leave the site as soon as possible,” an official orders the villagers through the drone’s loudspeaker.

“Don’t look at the drone, child; ask your father to leave immediately,” the drone’s pilot tells a boy seen looking at it in a confused manner.

The latest Chinese government figures, released Tuesday, report that there are 20,438 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in mainland China and there have been 420 deaths resulting from the virus since the outbreak began in Dec. 2019.

At least 190 cases have been reported in over two dozen other nations and territories, including 11 cases in the United States.

China imposed a lockdown in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, on Jan. 23, and has imposed travel restrictions to its semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

The U.S. declared a public health emergency over the outbreak on Jan. 31.

The U.S. also imposed restrictions on travelers from China. and U.S. citizens returning from Hubei province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to a 14-day quarantine. Foreign nationals, other than immediate family members of U.S. citizens who have traveled to China in the previous 14 days, will be denied entry into the country.

Source: ABC News

CES 2020: Samsung shows off Ballie bot that follows you
Jan 07 2020

Samsung has unveiled a tennis ball-like robot called Ballie that beeps and rolls around, following its owner.

The device has a built-in camera so that it can capture and store "special moments", the South Korean tech giant told an audience at the CES tech show in Las Vegas.

"I love this guy," said president and chief executive H S Kim as Ballie chased him about on stage.

One analyst said the bot was a fun idea - though it might struggle with stairs.

As well as shadowing its owner, Ballie acts as a fitness assistant and can also help with household chores. For example, it can activate smart home devices such as robotic vacuums, when it determines that cleaning is required.

On social media, the device has already been compared to robot companions from several movies - including BB-8 from the latest Star Wars trilogy films.

"It's fun - it reminded me of a cross between a Sphero toy and R2-D2 with the sounds it was making," said Simon Bryant at market research firm Futuresource.

"How practical it is when it can't go up stairs, I'm not sure."

Mr Bryant said he thought it was strange that Samsung had introduced Ballie, which has voice recognition capabilities, without any mention of the firm's voice-activated virtual assistant Bixby, which is built in to smartphones and TVs.

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"I can see a lot of people who will be hesitant with security and privacy concerns," commented Paul Gagnon, an analyst at IHS Markit.

Samsung said that Ballie would adhere to privacy and data protection standards.

The firm has not yet revealed when the device will be available to buy, or what it will cost.

When asked why now was the right time to launch a personal robot like this, Samsung spokesman Benjamin Braun told the BBC:"There are two technologies that are helping this come to life. One is artificial intelligence and the other one is 5G. Those are very much focus areas for Samsung in 2020."

During its keynote presentation, Samsung also discussed other technologies including a mini-exoskeleton worn around the waist and thighs that it said could be used during exercise or by people with mobility issues.

The device is called Gems, which stands for Gait Enhancing and Motivating System.

It was suggested that a user could don Gems along with a pair of augmented reality glasses in order to experience a workout with a virtual personal trainer, or explore underwater landscapes.

Samsung also said it would seek to develop new technologies for use in smart buildings and cities.

However, Mr Bryant said he was left unimpressed by many of these ideas.

"I thought it just smacked as a desperate attempt to move on from mobile," he told the BBC.

Source: BBC

CES 2020: Restaurant cat robot meows at dining customers
Jan 06 2020

A robot cat designed to ferry plates of food to restaurant customers has been unveiled at the CES tech expo in Las Vegas.

BellaBot, built by the Chinese firm PuduTech, is one of a number of wacky robotic inventions being shown off at the event this year.

There is also UBTech's Walker, which can pull yoga poses.

And Charmin's RollBot. It speeds a roll of toilet paper on demand to bathrooms that have run out of the stuff.

One expert said it was likely that robots exhibited at CES would only continue to get more bizarre in the future.

BellaBot, the table-waiting robot cat, is a service bot with personality.

It updates a previous model that had a more utilitarian design. BellaBot, in contrast, features a screen showing cat-face animations.

It mews when it arrives at tables to encourage customers to pick up their food.

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And if the diners stroke BellaBot's ears, it initially reacts with pleasure.

"The owner's hand is so warm," the bot is programmed to say in response.

But if customers continue petting it for too long, its expression changes.

"It gets mad to remind you not to interrupt its job," explains the firm.

The Chinese company is targeting the machine at restaurant owners in China, who often struggle to employ enough waiting staff, according to PuduTech.

The firm's existing robots are already in use at 2,000 restaurants worldwide.

It plans to show off the new device at a booth designed to look like a futuristic restaurant when the CES show floor opens on Tuesday.

But BellaBot may find it harder to operate in the real world, commented tech consultant Paolo Pescatore from PP Foresight, because of the challenge of navigating restaurants at busy times.

He added, however, that restaurants are expected to become increasingly dependent on automation in one form or another.

UBTech's newly-updated Walker bot is also being shown off at CES this year.

The model can perform a series of Tai Chi and yoga poses, demonstrating a "huge improvement in motion control", according to its maker.

"It's continuously tracking its overall centre of gravity throughout the yoga positions - the kind of dynamic [artificial intelligence] you would expect of a robot that 'lives' in your home alongside your family, going up and down stairs, carrying heavy objects for you," explains UBTech spokesman Jeff Gordon.

Walker's other abilities including being able to push a cart, draw pictures and pour liquid into a cup.

And Procter & Gamble's American loo roll business, Charmin, has attracted a flurry of attention with an unusual droid designed to complement toilets and bathrooms: RollBot.

"Imagine yourself there, you've run out of toilet tissue, nobody hears your call," P&G researcher Gregg Weaver told the BBC.

"The robot will find you in the home and deliver you a fresh roll."

Source: BBC

NAWA’s Radical Electric Motorcycle Highlights The Potential Of Supercapacitors In EVs
Dec 22 2019

Despite the fact that they have built an electric motorcycle, French tech company NAWA Technologies, or just NAWA for short, isn’t in the business of building electric motorcycles - they build batteries. But maybe they should reconsider the motorcycle market option, especially in light of the one-off bike they did just indeed build, because it’s a serious looker packed with possibly industry-changing technologies.

The NAWA Racer’s sleek, minimalist styling comes courtesy of a collaboration with Envisage Group, who have been involved with Jaguar and other brands that want some cool lines with their new tech. One highlight is a hubless rear wheel, although the bike is covered in cool touches including the wrap-around LED taillight and duck-tailed seat.

But beyond the slick lines and hubless rear hoop of the NAWA Racer, the cafe-racer inspired from-the-future motorbike carries an underlying technology that significantly boosts performance and could signal a significant step forward for electric motorcycle performance - or the performance potential of anything that needs batteries for motive power, including electric cars.

NAWA has added a supercapacitor to the Racer (NAWA calls it an ultracapacitor, and have branded it as NAWACap), and the short version of the technese is this: A supercapacitor is similar to a battery, except it can be charged in seconds, and can then dump that charge at an extremely high rate - far beyond what a battery can provide - for an instant boost in power. It can also repeat that feat millions of times without any substantial performance losses. NAWA isn’t the first company to put a supercapacitor into service; supercar maker Lamborghini is integrating a supercapacitor system into their new Sián hypercar (sorry, but all 63 are sold out at $3.6 million per copy).

Source: Forbes

Are Batteries The New Oil?
Dec 10 2019

The world of transport is awash in batteries today. Battery innovation is a fiercely competitive space. Investment dollars are pouring into battery tech and manufacturing every day. None of this is a surprise, given that globe is poised for widespread electrification over the next several decades. Many of the limitations that challenge electrical infrastructure and products, both technical and social, are predicated on the limitations of battery technology. Batteries are the beating heart of an electrical world, and what they can and can’t do determines where the bleeding edge is drawn.

The battery innovation arena is flush with startups and revolutionary ideas. A manufacturer of zero-emission heavy trucks is working with hydrogen-electric cells; another battery tech company produces solid-state batteries, doing away with liquid electrolyte; yet another firm is manufacturing batteries with graphene, reducing cost and creating an electric vehicle (EV) battery that can be fully charged within 5 to 15 minutes.

Improving battery chemistry is hard. There’s an old saying in production circles that reflects electrochemistry challenges: everyone wants a product that is good, fast and cheap…but you only get to pick two. When dealing with battery tech, there are six measures that create an unforgiving balancing act: Power, Safety, Temperature endurance, Lifespan, Cost and Energy. Ramping up one of these elements invariably comes at the expense of at least one of the other measures. Many of the brightest innovators in the space are looking for a magic bullet that breaks them out of the tension of these six factors, and continually hit roadblocks.

Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries have been around since the 1970s. The state of battery technology today took five decades to achieve. The vast majority of innovation in battery tech currently takes place within the big tent of Li-ion, where incremental evolution reigns. The challenges around Li-ion are very well understood, supported by a huge body of knowledge that researchers and industrialists have painstakingly built.

Source: Forbes

Autonomous Cars Can Predict How Selfish Your Driving Is
Nov 18 2019

Self-driving cars could soon be able to classify you as a selfish or altruistic driver. While this might bruise some egos, researchers from MIT CSAIL claim that this will make autonomous vehicles (AVs) much safer when driving alongside humans. Predicting how humans might behave, and adjusting an algorithm’s reasoning based on how selfish or selfless their behavior might be, could dramatically reduce accidents between AI-enabled vehicles and humans.

Properly integrating AI technology with the complicated and nuanced world of human behavior is a huge barrier to overcome, especially in applications that can make a difference between life or death. Apart from making self-driving cars safe enough for our streets, teaching AI how to comprehend the less quantifiable parts of life could give AI the ability to help humans in roles it previously could not handle, and could advance AI applications in general. Driving amongst us

The new study, headed up by researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), aims to teach AI how to classify personalities based on tools used in social psychology. The team used a metric called Social Value Orientation (SVO), which represents the degree to which someone is selfish (“egoistic”) versus altruistic or cooperative (“prosocial”), and then taught the AI system to estimate the SVOs of different drivers. Classifying a driver as egoistic or prosocial tells the system how likely they are to drive aggressively (for example, running a red light) or to be more passive on the road (such as slowing down to let someone turn into the road). This allows an autonomous driving system to comprehend signals that humans understand from experience—such as what it means when someone is speeding close behind you in the outside lane, or leaving space in a queue of traffic.

In tests that simulated merging lanes and making unprotected left turns across traffic, the system could predict the behavior of other cars 25% more effectively than current self-driving systems. In the left-turn simulations, for example, the system knew when to wait for a selfish driver and when to turn ahead of an altruistic one. This is a promising glimpse at what the AI could do in real driving conditions, but it is nowhere near ready to be rolled out. Instead, the team suggest that a partial version could be used in the near term to complement existing in-car AI, for example to highlight an aggressive driver entering someone’s blind spot. Training AI with this rudimentary social awareness helps to overcome a major obstacle for autonomous vehicles (AVs) and other human-facing AI applications. Removing uncertainty as to what humans might do will make these AI systems more ‘confident’, and opens up a range of possibilities for AI that can interpret and predict human behavior.

Binary behavior

The ability to understand (or at least quantify) human behavior is still a major sticking point for AI, and the team hopes to extend their training set to include pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users to expand the system’s understanding. “Creating more human-like behavior in AVs is fundamental for the safety of passengers and surrounding vehicles,” says graduate student Wilko Schwarting, who was lead author on the new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), “behaving in a predictable manner also enables humans to understand and appropriately respond to the AV’s actions.”

This aspect of the system, that AI behaving more like us will make it easier for humans to interpret its actions, implies a much wider application for this technology than just AVs. An algorithm that can not only understand human behavior, but can also react and display an appropriate ‘human’ response would make AI much more versatile and far better suited to time-intensive care work. When caring for dementia patients, for example, an AI system similar to this could potentially detect when a person was behaving normally or when their mood was erratic, to ascertain when to call a human medical professional. Outside of service-based roles, industrial co-bots that could predict human behavior, could work more safely and effectively amongst humans, and even replace the most dangerous roles if social cues and signals were understood - the volume and urgency in a foreman’s command for example.

Human understanding

While the MIT CSAIL team may not have captured human behavior exactly—a feat which would be one step removed from artificial general intelligence (AGI)—their work toward quantifying whether someone is likely to act selfishly or altruistically will certainly help to advance AVs, and could allow AI to be used in far more sensitive applications than it can currently handle. Creating AI that can operate safely and autonomously amongst humans without misunderstanding social signals or acting too cautiously in an uncertain situation will make AI and particularly robots far safer and more versatile. This particular system may be in its infancy, but I look forward to seeing how far this level of understanding can be developed, and what applications it may serve in the near future.

Source: Forbes

Singapore’s new waste app provides free door collection service to bypass contaminated recycling bins
Nov 10 2019

The mobile app from Sembcorp, called Ezi, aims to make recycling more convenient for residents in Singapore, where only 4 per cent of plastic waste is recycled. Users are paid for the materials they collect—but get nothing for plastic.

Singapore waste management and industrial firm Sembcorp has launched an app that aims to make recycling more convenient for the city-state’s residents, and bypass the government’s troubled recyclables collection system.

The ‘ezi’ mobile app enables residents to have their recyclables collected—at no cost—from their doorstep rather than deposit them beneath their housing blocks in recycling bins, which are blighted by contamination problems.

Some 40 per cent of recyclables placed in Singapore’s blue recycling bins cannot be recycled, because they are placed unseparated with other waste, and become contaminated with food and liquids.

Sembcorp’s materials recovery facility in the industrial west of the island receives up to 60 tonnes of waste a day, but is able to recycle just 50 to 60 per cent of the waste. The rest is incinerated.

The ezi app, which was launched in collaboration with DBS Bank and Republic Polytechnic, also offer rewards to users, and a website features education material on the principles and impact of recycling.

Users will get paid for the recyclables collected, with the price depending on the material. Paper, plastic, metal and clothing will be collected. But not glass.

A Sembcorp spokesperson told Eco-Business that recyclers will be rewarded based on the prevailing price of recyclables, which will be updated based on market conditions. Residents will know how much they will be paid after they key in what they will be recycling during the booking phase.

Commenting on Facebook group Journey to Zero Waste in Singapore, Robin Rheaume, an IT consultant for social enterprises and non-governmental organisations in Singapore, said the reason why glass will not be collected is that Sembcorb has to recycle glass under its contract with National Environment Agency. “However there is no market for glass, so they have to pay to have it taken away. This is a cost they don’t want to incure,” she said.

In response to Eco-Business’ question about glass collection, Semborp said: “While we are unable to collect all recyclable items at this stage, we hope to progressively expand more items over time to improve our collection services and serve residents better.”

To use the app, residents need to create an account with their mobile phone number, take a photo of their washed recyclables, then schedule a collection time. Users can also track or make changes to their collections.

The app is available for download on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, and will be available initially to residents living in the Woodlands area, and is slated to roll out in other parts of the country by the end of 2020.

One challenge for the ezi app will be how to make the economics of the system work, as a door to door collection service will be expensive, and recyclables in Singapore are of low value.

Doug Woodring, founder and managing director of Ocean Recovery Alliance, a civic society group that has been creating solutions to plastic pollution for the last decade, commented: “It’s hard for the recovery of recyclable materials to compete against a waste system which is driven by incineration.”

“It is hard to imagine how the value of the material collected can offset the costs of small-scale door-to-door collection, not to mention the carbon footprint of doing so. But time will tell,” said Woodring, whose organisation erected an 11-metres tall whale made of plastic collected from the Pacific Ocean outside Singapore’s iconic ArtScience Museum last week.

On the economics and carbon footprint of the project, Sembcorp told Eco-Business: “This is an investment on our part to improve the overall recycling rate in Singapore.”

“We see this project as a community effort and hope that residents will accumulate at least 5kg worth of recyclables before booking a collection service with us. This will allow us to effect a more efficient collection process and help us reduce our carbon footprint as we journey towards achieving a better recycling outcome for Singapore.”

In a statement sent to media on Sunday evening, Neo Hong Keat, senior vice president, waste management, Sembcorp, said the company wanted to raise public awareness “on how to recycle right and to bring these conversations to the forefront to drive a change in public behavior.”

He added: “We also want to provide a convenient way for the public to recycle their household items by providing doorstep collection services. We hope that this initiative will help reduce the amount of waste we generate as a nation.”

In 2018, Singapore’s population of 5.8 million people generated 7.7 million tonnes of solid waste, about 21,000 tonnes per day.

The ezi app launches three months after Singapore introduced a new waste masterplan to ease the burden on the city-state’s only landfill, which is expected to be full by 2035 or earlier. The plan included newly designed recycling bins with clearer labelling on what can and cannot be recycled to reduce contamination.

Among the targets of the waste masterplan was an increase of the country’s overall recycling rate—which has been largely flat since 2012—from 60 per cent in 2018 to 70 per cent by 2030.

The government also hopes to increase the domestic recycling rate from 22 per cent in 2018 to 30 per cent by 2030.

The new waste reduction targets were deemed unambitious by some.

Dr Martin Blake, strategic advisor to Singapore-based waste management firm Blue Planet Environmental Solutions, noted that with the targeted increase to Singapore’s domestic recycling target—of less than one percentage point a year—would mean barely any overall increase in recycling given the country’s projected population growth, to just under 7 million by 2030, over the next decade.

Source: Eco-Business

ABB Demonstrates Mobile Lab Robot For Hospital Of The Future
Oct 30 2019

Swiss technology company ABB has opened its first global healthcare research hub. Located on the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus, in Houston, Texas, the facility showcases a number of concept technologies, including a mobile YuMi robot, which will be designed to assist medical and laboratory staff with laboratory and logistics tasks in hospitals.

The dual-arm mobile YuMi will be able to sense and navigate its way around its human co-workers autonomously, while learning to find different routes from one location to another. It has the potential to undertake a wide range of repetitive and time-consuming activities, including preparation of medicines, loading and unloading centrifuges, pipetting and handling liquids and picking up and sorting test tubes.

The mobile YuMi could also be used in hospitals for a wide variety of logistics roles. YuMi may be able to dispense medicines, transport them to where they are needed in hospitals, bring medical supplies to hospital staff and bed linen direct to patients’ bedrooms.

At TMC Innovation Institute, ABB will develop robots that are able to carry out repetitive, delicate and mundane processes, leaving highly skilled medical and laboratory staff free to undertake more valuable roles and ultimately treat more patients. ABB analysis shows that repetitive tasks could be completed up to 50% faster with automation, compared to current manual processes, with the added benefit that robots can work 24 hours a day.

“The healthcare sector is undergoing significant transformation as the diagnosis and treatment of disease advances, while coping with an ageing population, increasing costs and a growing worldwide shortage of medical staff. With our new healthcare research and development hub at TMC we are aiming to develop answers to these challenges – together with the best minds in academia, science and medicine,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business.

“Our experience in industrial and collaborative robotics will give us a strong basis to be able to adapt flexible automation to the healthcare sector. Together with our partners at TMC, we will develop cutting-edge robotics solutions. We are working to reduce the number of manual procedures performed by medical staff, improve the accuracy of laboratory work and enhance patient satisfaction and ultimately patient safety.”

Other technologies showcased by ABB at the Healthcare Research Hub include YuMi robots that could aid in centrifuge tending and test tube handling systems, and an IRB 1200 robot that could execute liquid transfers in a pipetting application. All are common medical laboratory tasks that robotic automation may be able to support by combining consistent performance with a level of flexibility and continuous operation that could increase throughput and quality while minimising costs.

TMC is the largest medical city in the world with world-class collaborative research resources, including some of the world’s leading companies and hospitals. ABB’s new 500 m² (5,300 sq ft) Healthcare Hub will be housed at the TMC Innovation Institute, a state-of-the-art hub that fosters collaboration of medicine and cutting-edge technology, connecting start-ups with pioneers in academia and leading technology companies in order to accelerate the development and prototyping of breakthrough medical technology.

“Texas Medical Center, TMC Innovation, and the entire TMC network of member institutions are pleased to welcome ABB on the occasion of its first foray into the healthcare space with this incredible and unprecedented new robotics facility,” emphasised Bill McKeon, President & CEO of Texas Medical Center.

He added, “A primary goal across TMC – the largest medical city in the world – is to make research happen faster while simultaneously cutting costs in order to create more rapid and cost-effective solutions for patients who are in desperate need of treatment. ABB’s move into the heart of the Texas Medical Center campus with this first-of-its-kind R&D facility for creating robotics solutions in healthcare will set a new course for advancements in medicine and establish TMC as the nexus for a new kind of synergistic partnership that will shape the future of healthcare for clinicians, researchers, and patients alike.”

Robotic automation in the healthcare sector offers significant opportunity for future growth. According to internal ABB research, the global market is estimated to reach nearly 60,000 non-surgical medical robots by 2025, a fourfold increase from 2018.

Source: Industryeurope.com

Ono Food Co. Brings The Restaurant Industry One Step Closer To Full Automation
Oct 17 2019

Automation in the restaurant industry isn’t necessarily new. We’ve seen robots flip burgers and pour coffee for a few years now. But adoption of the technology is starting to pick up from a drip to a trickle.

Zume, for example, is rolling out its largely automated mobile kitchen fleet through a partnership with &pizza. Zume CEO Alex Garden has flat-out said that the company’s priority is to automate the business as much as it can to free up repetitive jobs so employees can do more of the things they enjoy.

Now, another concept is looking to go one step further. Ono Food Co. announced this week that the first mobile restaurant powered entirely by robotic technology, called Ono Blends, will open later this month in Venice, California. Not coincidentally, the company was founded by two people who know quite a bit about robotics and automation. CEO Stephen Klein came from robotic coffee bar Café X in San Francisco, and previously worked at Instacart. CTO Daniel Fukuba directed the engineering team at a firm that provided automation for Zume, SpaceX, Tesla, Apple and more.

Klein said the biggest objective with the Ono Blends launch is to provide healthy fast food options to customers wherever they are throughout the day, and that the biggest differentiators between Ono and other mobile concepts is that it is fully automated and its 56-square-foot space can be assembled anywhere.

“We think future of food isn’t mobile but modular,” Klein said.

There are plenty of benefits behind such an approach, including a significantly lower barrier to entry compared to a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. Occupancy rates for brick-and-mortar locations typically take up to 8% to 10% of a restaurant's gross sales, if not higher in a market like LA.

For Ono, however, automation is the headline.

“Because of that automation, (the product) is better, faster and cheaper,” Klein said.

Just how Ono achieves “better, faster and cheaper” requires a multi-tiered answer. Klein said every step of Ono Blends’ assembly process is monitored by hundreds of sensors to ensure no spillage, cross-contamination or inconsistencies. He adds that Ono’s technology creates 60 blends per hour, versus the industry standard of about 20, and uses about 28 times less water because of its cleaning system.

Such efficiency yields cost savings. But most of those savings come from the real estate piece and the labor piece. Klein said Ono pays a livable wage by Los Angeles standards, but its Ono Blends truck has just one employee on board, sometimes two. These employees serve as “Ono Guides” to engage customers and educate them about the ingredients, etc.

“Our goal is to serve higher quality food with a focus on sustainability and that costs a lot. Our food cost is higher than most concepts, at 35% of our gross revenue,” Klein said. “But we can be more efficient and save on labor and real estate and, because of that, we can charge customers two to three times less than other concepts like Moon Juice.”

For context, the cost of a 20-ounce smoothie, such as the avocado and matcha, from Ono Blends is about six bucks.

How the concept works is simple. Customers order through a kiosk on the truck (and, soon, via a mobile app), which spins into motion the robotics system that creates a smoothie within 60 seconds. Ono started with smoothies because it is agnostic to the time of day, Klein said.

The company’s objective is to expand into other culinary categories by 2021, including through a possible partnership with a celebrity chef.

For now, however, another narrative has taken the spotlight and that is the emergence of automated concepts and automation in general. We’ve not only seen it in startups like Zume, but also with giants like Domino’s testing driverless delivery, or McDonald’s testing robot fryers.

Some investors seem to like the potential of a fully (or mostly) automated concept. Zume secured $375 million in funding late last year and is valued above $2 billion. Ono has also received undisclosed funding and Klein is adamant about scaling into other markets in the next year.

We’re very much on the ground floor here, but if startups like Ono can successfully prove efficiencies, expect automation adoption to turn from a trickle into a stream. We may not see fully automated concepts like this, but we’ll see more automation. No question.

“Automation will be commoditized quicker than most people think. It’s happening already,” Klein said. “That being said, it’s hard for various establishments to set up automation, particularly for franchise owners, it can be cost prohibitive and retrofitting a restaurant is cost intensive. Automation in fast food will come through new restaurants versus existing restaurants.”

The timing couldn’t be better. The market is crowded and precious real estate is elusive, and we’re at record unemployment rates while minimum wages rise. Because of this–at the very least–back-of-the-house automation and modular formats will become more ubiquitous.

“QSRs have very thin margins. If you can operate in a smaller space or save on labor, it’ll translate to huge savings in the long term,” Klein said.

Still, he adds, none of these cost-savings or efficient technologies matter if the food isn’t nailed down. It is, after all, still the restaurant industry.

“Automation is just a tool, just like a Turbo Chef or a microwave is a tool. We’ll continue to see a lot of interesting applications with automation that will be exciting. We already are starting to see a lot of these types of modular kitchens being worked on,” Klein said. “But if the quality of the food and the taste isn’t there, no food business will survive.”

Source: Forbes

Is the future of renewable energy in Asia to share it?r
Sep 11 2019

What if countries in Asia, with their shared wealth of sun, wind and tidal potential, could improve energy security and ramp up renewable energy consumption by sharing clean energy across their borders?

From June to October, Nepal and Bhutan could export large amounts of hydropower to India, where energy demand peaks amid the summer heat. In the drier months, as hydropower production falls, the Himalayan states could then tap into the solar and wind energy generated in India.

In the vast plains of Mongolia, where the sun shines 250 days a year on average, long distance transmission of renewable sources such as wind and solar could under certain conditions lead to lower electricity costs than that generated in China, Japan and South Korea, according to research by the Economic Research Institute of Asean and East Asia.

This would open up new energy markets in the landlocked country and boost economic growth, while allowing its neighbours to benefit from cheaper, cleaner energy.

Closer to the equator in Southeast Asia, cross-border trade in renewable energy would significantly improve electricity access in the region, where an estimated 65 million people currently lack access to electricity due to unreliable energy distribution networks and the growing cost of oil and gas.

In the future, if countries could tap into the renewable energy resources of their neighbours, they could eventually wean off polluting fossil fuels and improve quality of life, said Christopher Len, senior research fellow at the Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore.

“The basic idea is that instead of generating energy from fossil fuels which are polluting, renewable energy can be transmitted over long distances anytime via interconnected ultra-high voltage power transmission lines to any location where there is demand,” he said.

“Instead of relying on individual local generating sources, a transnational energy network would enable a more stable supply of clean energy which could be transmitted to whenever there is demand,” Len added. “Such linkages would reduce our current reliance on fossil fuel-based power plants.”

Will Asia’s renewable energy industry go borderless?

If Asia could build an interconnected, diversified energy grid, renewable resource-rich locations could be linked to high energy demand centres. The wide geographical spread of countries with differing peak times would allow for greater energy security and help each country accelerate its low carbon transition.

This is the vision behind the Asia Super Grid, brainchild of Masayoshi Son, chief executive officer of Japanese multinational Softbank. Seeking to develop a renewable energy pathway for Japan after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Son proposed building an interconnected grid in Northeast Asia that would link resource-rich countries Mongolia and Russia, to high-energy consumers Japan, China and South Korea.

“It’s an idea to connect Japan to other countries to expand the utilisation of renewables. South Korea and Japan are totally isolated in terms of grid connection, but if we see the distance between them and their neighbours, it isn’t too far,” said Mika Ohbayashi, director of the Renewable Energy Institute in Japan, adding that far larger interconnection projects already exist in Europe.

“If we compare to 10 or 20 years ago, both renewables and the technology needed to connect these countries have become very cheap,” she said, pointing to how China and Europe are using high-voltage, direct current (HDVC) electric transmission cables to transmit electricity across long distances at a lower cost than before.

Debabrata Chattopadhyay, power system planning group lead at the World Bank predicts that cross border transmission of electricity from renewables could displace a lot of fossil fuel energy generation in South Asia.

“There’s a lot of excess renewable capacity in India. During low demand periods, the surplus power could go to places like Bangladesh or Sri Lanka which lack renewable energy potential. This could replace a lot of its gas generation and delay or avoid some of the coal plants they are planning to build,” he said.

Furthermore, it would solve intermittency issues associated with fluctuating supply of renewable sources. Ohbayashi believes that installing more renewable energy plants across Asia will lead to a more stable and reliable energy management system as “somewhere in the region, the wind is blowing and the sun is shining,” providing a constant supply to the grid.

Studies by the Asean Centre for Energy (ACE) also found that cross-border interconnection will help certain regions replace fossil fuel-based electricity with imports of cheaper, cleaner electricity from power plants that are closer than the national grid.

“In many cases, countries prefer to have a cross-border connection to electrify a region far from the main grid. It might be costly for them to extend electricity to that province, so it is more economically viable to import electricity from nearby,” said Aloysius Damar Pranadi, a research analyst for the power sector at ACE.

According to Pranadi, the issue of electricity access undergirds the development of cross-border energy interconnection in Southeast Asia, which was first proposed in 1997 with the Asean Power Grid.

“One of the social benefits from cross-border grids is providing universal access to electricity, which will improve by having more interconnection between countries,” he said.

The state of interconnectivity in Southeast Asia

Currently, eight cross-border interconnections are in operation in Southeast Asia, most of which trade electricity generated from hydropower. In 2016, Malaysia’s Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) started exporting cheap hydropower-generated electricity to West Kalimantan via a transmission line from Bengkayang in Kalimantan to Mambong in Sarawak.

Although West Kalimantan could continue to develop coal-fired power plants locally, it opted to access electricity from cleaner hydropower in Malaysia, stated a paper by the Asian Development Bank. One benefit of deploying the cross-border grid was that it was faster to implement than a coal power plant, which can take seven to ten years to develop.

Currently, an interconnected grid linking Laos, Thailand and Malaysia is the only multilateral grid in Southeast Asia. Thailand, which sells the electricity it buys from Laos to Malaysia, has also recently expressed that it plans to become the region’s power trading hub by reviving the original Asean Power Grid idea.

Although plans to connect power plants in Southeast Asia have been discussed for decades, lack of government coordination, infrastructure funding, differences in electricity prices, and the protection of domestic industry have stalled the development of large scale, multinational energy trade.

However, Wattanapong Kurovat, director general of Thailand’s energy policy and planning office, recently said that the country “has the capacity and the infrastructure to become the regional hub” as the kingdom looks to achieve 35 per cent renewable energy production by 2037.

According to a 2017 report by the International Energy Agency, improved connectivity between countries could pave the way for large renewable projects in developing countries that otherwise would not have the demand to use them, such as hydropower in Laos or wind power in Vietnam.

However, Len said that for such a system to function effectively, robust market mechanisms and a strong degree of trust have to exist within states.

In Southeast Asia, challenges lie in their differing energy markets, which predominantly follow a single-buyer model with independent power producers (IPPs). In countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia, national and state utility companies hold a monopoly over their respective jurisdictions, while Singapore and the Philippines have liberalised energy sectors with market-driven tarriffs.

Similarly, Japan only started opening its energy market in 2016. However, according to Ohbayashi, the Japanese government remains opposed to the idea of importing energy from abroad because they do not want to introduce cheaper electricity from outside players.

Despite the challenges, she believes that trading clean energy across borders is the best way forward for countries who share the common goal of reducing their carbon emissions and integrating renewables into their energy mix.

“Asian countries have long traded with one another, but cross-border electricity trading will require another level of trust between us. A new era of prosperity and stronger ties, driven by clean energy, will be brought on by clean energy interconnectivity.”

Source: Eco-Business

Mobile Identity Is The New Security Perimeter
Sep 10 2019

It’s no secret that traffic is getting worse in major metropolitan areas. According to the 2018 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, in the U.S. alone, congestion cost drivers an average of 97 hours a year, and $87 billion in 2018, an average of $1,348 per driver. However, this is not just a U.S. issue. Some of the most congested cities in 2018 included Mexico City, São Paulo, and London. Despite effort and investment, the road congestion, environmental hazard and strain on our transportation infrastructure continues to worsen because of the ever-increasing number of cars on the road.

We do not need to wait 5, 10, or 20 years for a new technological solution to be introduced or for current infrastructure to improve. As a society, we have the ability to beat traffic NOW. Ultimately, we need to reevaluate how to get from point A to point B, and whether getting in a car always makes the most sense. Many cities offer great public transportation options.

It is worth noting that more than 75% of commuters journey to work alone in a car. That’s a staggering number and quite an inefficient use of space. The good news is that there are ways to help immediately alleviate this road congestion.

Carpooling has been around for many years, but it’s never really taken hold as a major solution -- especially for people commuting to work -- because we didn’t have the tools to make it easy and efficient. With Waze Carpool, we do. Thanks to Waze’s unique position as a company connecting everyone on the road, we can bring drivers, riders, concerned citizens, government officials, advocacy groups, rideshare companies, and other private sector companies together to do something about this problem now.

Waze Carpool connects riders and drivers for an easier, more affordable commute, while also reducing the strain on our roads and the environment. Waze Carpool enables Waze users to request rides from (or give rides to) other community members, ultimately decreasing the number of vehicles on the road. Additionally, Waze Carpool users are also able to take full advantage of HOV lanes, providing the added bonus of reducing commute times.

For carpooling to truly be effective and reduce traffic in major cities, it will need to hit a critical mass in respective local areas. We don’t expect this density to happen immediately. Yet with Waze Carpool now available in all 50 U.S. states, Mexico, Brazil and Israel, we’re hoping more frustrated commuters will consider carpooling as an option.

Source: Forbes

Mobile Identity Is The New Security Perimeter
Aug 22 2019

        • 86% of enterprise executives say that mobile threats are growing faster than any other according to Verizon’s Mobile Security Index 2019 and 67% of enterprise execs are less confident about the security of their mobile devices compared to other IT assets.

        • Mobile devices are hackers’ favorite platform to target, with over 905,000 malware packages installed in Q1 of this year alone and over 5.3 million in 2018, according to Statistica.

        • 38% of mobile devices introduce unnecessary risk into the organization based on an analysis of privacy and security settings according to MobileIron’s Global Threat Report.

Mobile devices reflect you and your customers’ identity in the many apps, data, and ongoing activities you and they choose to engage in. Every enterprise looking to reinvent itself by scaling digital business strategies is putting mobile devices at the center of growth plans because they are everyone’s identity.

89% of security leaders believe that mobile devices will serve as your digital ID to access enterprise services and data in the near future according to a recent survey by IDG completed in conjunction with MobileIron, titled Say Goodbye to Passwords. You can download a copy of the study here. Mobile devices are increasingly becoming the IDs enterprises rely on to create and scale a mobile-centric zero trust security network throughout their organizations.

Enterprises are relying on mobile devices more than ever before, personalizing them for each associate or employee to launch and scale new business initiatives. These factors combined are leading to a rapid expansion of, and reliance on mobile devices as the single digital ID enterprises rely on to enable perimeter-less borders. The following IDG survey results reflect enterprise security leaders’ prediction of when mobile devices will authenticate Identity Access Management (IAM):

Passwords Aren’t Strong Enough For A Zero Trust World

The bottom line is that passwords are the weakest defense in a zero-trust world. Ineffective in stopping privileged credential-based breaches, with the most privileged system access credentials shared and at times resold by insiders, passwords give hackers a key to the front door of enterprises’ systems. They no longer have to hack their way in; stolen or purchased passwords and privileged access credentials available on the Dark Web enable hackers to use the front door of enterprise IT.

Both the IDG study published in conjunction with MobileIron, Say Goodbye to Passwords and Passwordless Authentication: Bridging the Gap Between High-Security and Low-Friction Identity Management by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) validate how weak passwords are in a zero-trust world and the many reasons they need to go. Here are a few of the many factors that favor move beyond passwords to mobile-centric zero-trust security framework:

         • While 95% of enterprise executives say they have multi-factor authentication (MFA) implemented, a little more than half of their users are using it. Senior security executives say they doubt the security benefits (36%), expense (33%), and the decision that users don’t access sensitive information (45%), making MFA pointless.

         • 86% of senior security executives would dump password use as an authentication method if they could. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed cited eliminating passwords as a way to cut almost half of all breach attempts. Perceived security shortcomings are a key reason why almost three-quarters of these security leaders say they’re actively looking for replacements for passwords for authentication.

         • 62% of the senior security execs reported extreme user irritation with password lockouts. The percentage of respondents who reported extreme user frustration at password lockouts rose to 67% at companies with more than 5,000 employees. Users having to call in and change their password with IT’s help is a major drain on productivity and worker’s time. Senior security executives want to abandon passwords given how high maintenance they are to support and how they drain time and productivity from any organization.

Creating A Mobile Zero Trust Network

The new reality for any enterprise is that mobile device identities are the new security perimeter. Mobility devices ranging from smartphones to tablets are exponentially expanding the threat surfaces that enterprises need to secure and passwords aren’t scaling to do the job. Instead of just relying on a password, secure access needs to be determined by a “never trust, always verify” approach that requires verification of the device, user, apps, networks, and evaluation of the presence of threats before granting access.

The formidable challenges of securing a perimeter-less enterprise where the mobile device identities are the new security perimeter need a mobile-centric zero-trust network to succeed. Zero trust validates the device, establishes user context, checks app authorization, verifies the network, and detects and remediates threats—all before granting secure access to any device or user. Zero trust platforms are built on unified endpoint management (UEM) systems and their enabling technologies including zero sign-on (ZSO) user and device authentication, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and mobile threat detection (MTD). The following illustration reflects best practices in provisioning, granting access, protecting, enforcing, and provisioning access privileges for a mobile Zero Trust network.


Your smartphone or mobile device of choice is increasingly going to become your ID and secure access to resources across the enterprises you work for. Passwords have proven to be ineffective in thwarting the most common source of breaches, which is privileged credential abuse. Enterprise executives interviewed for two completely different studies reached the same conclusion: IT infrastructure will be much safer once passwords are gone.

Source: Forbes

A Sign Of The Future Restaurant: The New McDonald’s To-Go Location
Aug 22 2019

Hungry for a quick meal but don’t want to sit down to eat it? McDonald’s has a solution. The fast food giant is known for its quick drive-thru service, but now it’s taking things a step further with a new to-go location that only serves food with no seating. Think of it as McDonald’s of the futurethat has the potential to revolutionize fast food and restaurants.

        • McDonald’s recently opened a to-go location in London.
        • Customers order via touchscreen kiosks and quickly pick up their food to go—there’s no seating in the restaurant.
        • The concept leverages technology to make ordering easier and faster.

        • McDonald’s is providing an option for busy customers on the go to get their food even faster than before.
        • The concept is already expanding to retail stores and could soon be done by other restaurants.

A Smaller McDonald’s, With Screens

Instead of being full of tables and chairs, the restaurant features touch screens for customers to order. The pilot location is London is much smaller than a typical McDonald’s. Even the menu is streamlined with only favorite items like fries, chicken nuggets and the classic Big Mac. After ordering, customers move over to the collection area, where they wait for their order. Since customers can only order through the kiosks, all human employees work on fulfilling the orders, which gets the food to customers much faster.

It’s the biggest change to McDonald’s since it introduced the drive-thru in the 1970s, and it has the potential to set the pace for a new wave of restaurants. Today’s consumers are busy and constantly on the go. They want quick, convenient solutions that cut the fluff and streamline as much as possible. But trimming the menu, employees and seating frills, McDonald’s offers customers a quick way to get their food and get going with their busy lives. Experience locations are becoming a trend in the retail space, with stores like Walmart and Nordstrom opening pick-up only locations with a similar concept to McDonald’s to-go restaurant.

A Potential Future of Only To-Go Locations

The to-go location works on a busy London street full of professionals, city-dwellers and tourists who are anxious to fuel up and keep going. McDonald’s has yet to announce plans to expand the to-go location to other parts of the world, instead saying it is committed to the original restaurant brand while also wanting to serve customers in the best ways possible. However, if the to-go location is successful, we’ll likely see them pop up in other busy areas.

The Dangers of Too Much Technology Too Soon

Some grocers have abstained from self check out technology, and lead with the human touch. Trader Joe’s is one example that continues to lead with human service, and customer service is an attractive part of shopping this chain. Companies must be careful not to throw technology up too quickly without thinking about how you will make both employees and customers feel in the process. Walmart has implemented robots in many of its stores, and an article in the Washington Post highlighted how much both employees and customers hate the robots. With its takeout location, McDonald’s is leveraging new technology and touchscreen ordering. McDonald’s creative solution makes the technology an integral part of its business operations, which could prove incredibly successful.

Getting fast food to go could soon be a lot easier. More restaurants need to follow in McDonald’s footsteps by using new technology to think outside the box and create innovative and convenient solutions for customers.

Source: Forbes

Cashless Stores Alienate Customers in the Name of Efficiency
Aug 4 2019

BRANDS INCREASINGLY SEEK to provide "frictionless" experiences—a sense of ease and efficiency that enables users to engage with them on their terms. However, in a small but growing number of cases, frictionless means eliminating cash as an accepted payment method. This is a seemingly minor but significant shift in the retail landscape. As a society, it signals a shift away from inclusive commerce toward what might better be described as the age of the preferred customer. There’s been growing support from both consumers and retailers to move away from cash in favor of digital payment options. This includes credit and debit cards, as well as newer payment forms like mobile (Apple Pay, Google Pay), peer-to-peer (PayPal, Venmo), and virtual or crypto currencies (bitcoin, etherium). According to one recent survey of over 15,000 global consumers, 47 percent of respondents were “excited about the prospect of a cashless world.” The question is whether this is a good thing for those on both sides of the transaction.

On the surface, the move to a cashless society may seem like a win-win situation. However, the only clear winner would be the federal government. In a cashless environ­ment, money laundering and tax evasion would become much more difficult. For brands and consumers, the change is less clear. When Sweetgreen, the fast-casual restaurant chain, decided to stop taking cash payments in 2016, it cited a number of valid reasons for the decision. These included the decreased risk of theft, environmental sustainability, and overall operational efficiency. Less than four years later, the chain reversed its decision. Sweetgreen had benefited from the change, but it came with an unintended consequence: The brand was unintentionally self-selecting its customers. For a chain whose mission embraces inclusion—in the form of access to healthy food—the inability to serve all potential customers created a problem that required a course correction. Interestingly, the pushback against cashless business practices has mostly come at the state and municipal level. The Amazon Go business model is predicated on a cash-free customer experience. But the company's ambitious expansion plans have been tempered by local government intervention. New Jersey and Philadelphia passed laws requiring that all retailers accept cash payments, and San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC, are considering similar legislation. Why? Almost 1 in 4 US consumers (which equates to 32.6 million households) are unbanked or underbanked. That means these people either have no access to banking products like credit and debit cards, or must pay exorbitant fees to use instruments like prepaid debit cards. (It seems counter­intuitive, but the highest fees in the banking and credit industries are charged to those who can least afford them.) Denying these individuals access to basic products and services based solely on payment method borders on discriminatory. It’s one thing for luxury brands to self-select their customers on the basis of price point, but it’s another for a retailer to deny access to a person trying to buy a pack of gum.

Beyond the altruistic arguments that merchants use for going cash-free, there’s another, unstated reason they're drawn to this model: Consumers spend more. Scientific studies dating back to the 1970s have shown a clear correlation between cashless environments and increased consumer spending. For retailers, the payoff can be substantial. In the absence of cash payment alternatives, consumers' “willingness to pay” can be increased by up to 100 percent. Increases in average order size can more than offset the roughly 3 percent transaction fee merchants pay to payment processors. It also explains why a growing number of retail environments, from cruise lines to resorts to amusement parks, are implementing cashless transactional experiences. In these cases, customer convenience directly translates to brand profit.

Despite regular reports of retail data breaches, in much of the developed world the use of cash is on the decline. The incentives for brands to abandon cash are also compelling. Still, until there is a viable alternative payment method that caters to all consumers equally, the need for cash will persist. Brands need to consider inclusive commerce a core part of their overall customer experience. Cash may no longer be king, but its place in the retail landscape will remain for decades to come.

Source: Wired.com

How Far Can Voice Automation Take You?
Jul 11 2019

“Computer, how far to Seti Alpha Six?”

“Three days, two hours, seventeen minutes,” would come the answer, delivered in a robotic, monotone voice.

Only a few decades ago, voice interactions between humans and computers were considered to be highly futuristic. Popular science fiction shows such as Star Trek typically portrayed those interactions, set hundreds of years into the future, as terse query-and-answer exchanges.

But, as so often happens, truth has proven to be more fantastic than fiction. Because in today’s reality, voice interactions with humans are not only commonplace, but they are quite advanced — and growing more so with each passing day. Voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Assistant have become pervasive, assisting millions in getting through their day, helping with both work and play. Our company specifically has voice testing solutions for both Amazon and Google, and many businesses have been quick to adopt voice automation tools, harnessing the technology in ways that assist customers, boost worker productivity and, as is the case in the automotive industry, aim to improve safety.

Despite the astounding leaps in capability and widespread adoption of the technology, many businesses are leaving significant opportunities on the table with their approach to voice automation.

Voice-Assisted Software Development

An interesting use case for voice automation is software development. Consider the experience of an Audible development team, which a spokesperson for the company explained as part of a panel with Orbita and Applause at VOICE Summit last year. Audible, an Amazon company, began using Amazon’s Alexa in the software development process, making it an integral member of the development team. Alexa was used to automate components of the team’s continuous integration pipeline.

Alexa was trained to recognize each team member by the distinctive tone, pitch, and inflections of his or her voice. She also had access to each team member’s calendar and schedule. So, when a team member spoke a command to initiate a common development chore — begin the build, for example — Alexa would carry out that command and report back on the status.

The ability to control much of the development process through simple voice commands certainly streamlined the work process for each individual, but it also helped fine-tune the collaboration among team members that is so essential to the success of any software development effort. It’s possible that voice automation will commonly be integrated into development teams in the future, leading to more collaborative development environments.

Speed Business Operations With Voice

There are two sides to every coin, as the saying goes, and that applies to the integration of voice automation into business processes. The development team scenario described above is a case in point. Though voice automation can be integrated into the software development process, should it be? That’s a determination that must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Though the Audible team found voice automation to be a great addition, such a use may not be necessary for all development teams. After all, many development tasks can be accomplished with the mere click of a button. Initiating such tasks with voice may not always save time. Adding voice automation to the mix, in fact, might accomplish little more than introducing unneeded complexity.

But there are many business processes and tasks where the application of voice automation is more of a sure thing. The management of business meetings is a perfect example. Already, voice assistants, tied into meeting management and meeting-facilitating tools like GoToMeeting, can:

• Remind you of an upcoming meeting

• Let other meeting invitees know that you are running a bit late

• Reschedule the meeting for you if need be

• Take care of routine chores such as setting up projectors and launching web conferencing platforms

Meetings, as tiresome as they may often be, are not going anywhere; they will always remain an integral component of conducting business. But an automated voice assistant, while bearing the burden of meeting management, can remove much of the pain associated with business meetings — making them more productive.

Very recently, the bridge between voice and business operations grew even stronger. Polycom announced "the integration of two Amazon Web Services (AWS) solutions -- Amazon Chime and Alexa for Business -- with the Trio conference phone." This integration will further facilitate the use of voice commands in managing business meetings.

Voice Is An Attribute, Not Just A Platform

Though voice is the shiny new tool in your toolkit, don’t expect it to stay that way for long. Expect it to soon be well-used. Expect it to soon fall to hand just as readily and reliably as any of your favorite productivity tools.

But right now — while voice is that shiny new tool — it’s time to seriously consider how you’ll apply that tool in enhancing productivity in your business operations. There are plenty of pioneering uses of voice automation available to help guide the way and spark your imagination. Some vehicle brands let you start and warm your car from the cozy confines of your home. No keys are needed — only your voice.

Voice automation is light years ahead of where science fiction predicted a few decades ago, though it’s still relatively nascent. That’s why it is so important to adopt a voice-first approach to the design of business systems and processes. Even so, half of all companies are currently regarding voice as merely a platform.

But voice is not just a platform, it’s an attribute. It is crucial that business leadership begins to think of voice as an attribute that comprises a core component of each organization’s digital strategy. Soon, voice will become as important to the digital experience and strategy as mobile. And, just as with all components of the digital experience, applications of voice automation should be thoroughly tested to ensure the delivery of a quality user experience.

Make no mistake about it: Voice automation is the future — a future that has arrived considerably earlier than once anticipated.

Source: BBC News

Bristol Airport tests driverless pods on shared roads
Jul 8 2019

Bristol Airport has begun testing driverless pods on its roads which are shared with buses, cars and pedestrians.

The Capri project has secured £4.2m to run the pilot scheme as part of its overall aim to develop the technology.

Previously, Capri has tested the pods on designated roads or sharing space with pedestrians only.

The pods will run along routes about 1,800ft (548m) long between the car park and terminal on the airport site.

Capri said the aim was to ensure the pods were safe when encountering cyclists, children and adults who may be distracted.

The electrically powered pods will also help the airport cut its carbon emissions on the ground, it added.

The airport was chosen as the pods were originally developed by Bristol firm Advanced Transport Systems.

Dr Julian Turner, chief executive of Westfield Technology which makes the pods, said: "The design came out of the local area so it's great to bring it back again.

"The vehicle will navigate, slow down if someone walks in front of it and take you to your destination."


They've been running driverless pods at Heathrow for a decade. So why the fuss at Bristol Airport this morning?

In short, because they'll be sharing the road. Driverless vehicles have been running successfully all over the world, but always on dedicated roads.

No human drivers to interact with, no kids running in the road, no dozy pedestrians talking on a phone and not looking at the traffic.

So-called "driverless" car experiments on public roads have so far always had an engineer in the car, clutching an emergency stop button.

Bristol Airport offers this project a perfect test bed. The short run from the long stay car parks to the terminal building is complex enough.

There will be other motorists, other buses, cyclists, and plenty of pedestrians crossing the road.

Can the new system safely navigate all these daily hazards, and still deliver people quicker to the terminal?

Driverless car engineers the world over will be watching keenly how it works.

Source: BBC News

Could AI Navigate Automated Customer Service Phone Trees For Us?
Jun 14 2019

No customer service task is more obnoxious than wading through a modern automated phone tree system trying to reach a human agent. Today most routine customer service tasks can be completed online, meaning that when we actually pick up the phone to call a company we are looking to speak with a human. Yet as companies have increasingly turned to automation to replace human call center employees, many have made it almost impossible to actually reach a human agent, raising the intriguing possibility of whether the humans could fight back through automated agents of their own.

Today’s automated customer service phone system is nothing short of a catastrophe. Companies today expect most tasks to be completed online and have invested heavily in automation to ensure most customers never actually need to contact their company other than to pay their monthly bill, which is itself typically automated via an automatic payment system.

The problem is that when these automatic systems go wrong, we typically need to speak with a human to resolve the situation. This means calling those very customer service phone numbers that companies are so eager to eliminate.

Today’s customer service number typically connects to an endless forest of menu options that increasingly no longer even offers the old standby of “talk to a human agent.” Instead, customers are left to wade through voice menu after voice menu, struggling to find an option that actually aligns with their needs. It is not uncommon to call a company to request a billing error correction, only to find their customer service phone tree offers only the option to disconnect service or read the customer’s bill aloud, without any other option.

Increasingly, the only way to actually reach a human agent is to remain silent or repeatedly speak gibberish such that the automated system eventually gives up and transfers the caller to a live human agent. This can require in some cases five to ten minutes of active work to finally receive a transfer and then up to an hour with some companies to finally reach a human agent.

What if customers could fight back with their own automated systems?

Imagine a future digital assistant that could be instructed to call a customer service number and get a human agent on the line. This assistant might initially navigate the phone tree searching for a human agent option, trying various options to reach one, before giving up and trying tactics like speaking gibberish or adding line noise such that the automated system transfers to a human agent. The digital assistant would then wait on hold on behalf of its user until it finally gets a live human on the line and transfers the call.

While this workflow represents a bit of a stretch for today’s digital assistants and risks an assistant accidentally triggering an undesired behavior like requesting service termination for the user's water service by selecting the wrong menu item when contesting a billing error, it reminds us of the untapped potential for assistants as they improve over time.

What about a simple assistant that could simply wait on hold for us?

Today it is not uncommon to spend 10 to 20 minutes on hold or even an hour or more, elevator music blaring, interrupted every few moments by a message about how important our call is, making it all but impossible to actually focus on other meaningful tasks in the meantime.

Imagine an alternative future in which when we are placed on hold there is a button on our phone we can push to transfer control to our assistant. The microphone and speaker are muted and we can go about our business, with the assistant ringing the phone and transferring the call to us once a human agent finally picks up.

A task that simple is actually entirely within the realm of today’s technologyand would relieve a tremendous source of aggravation and lost time for those who frequently spend their days on hold.

Putting this all together, if we as customers are increasingly forced to waste our time interacting with algorithms, shouldn’t we have our own algorithms with which to fight back?

Source: Forbes

Self-driving parcel lockers and delivery vehicles to be trialled in Northern California
Jun 7 2019

Parcel logistics firm OnTrac has partnered with last-mile tech startup BoxBot to test the application of autonomous vehicles and mobile parcel lockers for last-mile delivery.

Founded by former Tesla and Uber engineers, BoxBot’s fleet includes two types of vehicles: parcel delivery vans with external lockers; and self-driving electric cars that can manage more complex deliveries, such as those requiring signatures. The vehicles can be reloaded with packages throughout the day at one of BoxBot’s automated local hubs.

To use the service, recipients schedule their delivery at a time of their choosing (including evenings). When the autonomous vehicle arrives, customers receive a text message alert with a unique code that they can use to retrieve their packages from the parcel lockers.

“OnTrac understands that the future of our logistics business relies on the well-being of our planet and the sustainability of our local communities,” said Rob Humphrey, OnTrac president. “Working with BoxBot gives us an efficient and reliable partner who shares our focus on not only resource conservation, but also providing a great service experience for our customers with every package, every day.”

BoxBot will work with OnTrac to test its technology, identify new ways in which autonomy can improve the delivery experience, and tightly integrate within the existing OnTrac delivery infrastructure.

BoxBot will operate as a regional service provider for OnTrac in select ZIP codes in Northern California, handling last-mile deliveries through BoxBot’s fleet of delivery vans and drivers. In compliance with California regulations, BoxBot’s autonomous vehicles operate under the supervision of a safety driver during testing.

“BoxBot is a new type of last-mile delivery company, powered by automation,” said Austin Oehlerking, BoxBot’s co-founder and CEO. “We’re excited to join OnTrac in giving people more control over when and how their packages are delivered and helping take the pain out of e-commerce. That means happier customers, lower costs and less theft.”

Source: Parcel and Postal Technology International

Self-driving parcel lockers and delivery vehicles to be trialled in Northern California
Jun 7 2019

Parcel logistics firm OnTrac has partnered with last-mile tech startup BoxBot to test the application of autonomous vehicles and mobile parcel lockers for last-mile delivery.

Founded by former Tesla and Uber engineers, BoxBot’s fleet includes two types of vehicles: parcel delivery vans with external lockers; and self-driving electric cars that can manage more complex deliveries, such as those requiring signatures. The vehicles can be reloaded with packages throughout the day at one of BoxBot’s automated local hubs.

To use the service, recipients schedule their delivery at a time of their choosing (including evenings). When the autonomous vehicle arrives, customers receive a text message alert with a unique code that they can use to retrieve their packages from the parcel lockers.

“OnTrac understands that the future of our logistics business relies on the well-being of our planet and the sustainability of our local communities,” said Rob Humphrey, OnTrac president. “Working with BoxBot gives us an efficient and reliable partner who shares our focus on not only resource conservation, but also providing a great service experience for our customers with every package, every day.”

BoxBot will work with OnTrac to test its technology, identify new ways in which autonomy can improve the delivery experience, and tightly integrate within the existing OnTrac delivery infrastructure.

BoxBot will operate as a regional service provider for OnTrac in select ZIP codes in Northern California, handling last-mile deliveries through BoxBot’s fleet of delivery vans and drivers. In compliance with California regulations, BoxBot’s autonomous vehicles operate under the supervision of a safety driver during testing.

“BoxBot is a new type of last-mile delivery company, powered by automation,” said Austin Oehlerking, BoxBot’s co-founder and CEO. “We’re excited to join OnTrac in giving people more control over when and how their packages are delivered and helping take the pain out of e-commerce. That means happier customers, lower costs and less theft.”

Source: Parcel and Postal Technology International

Japan's Quest For Smart Automation Brings It To Israel
May 11 2019

Decades of low birth rates have left Japan with one of the world’s oldest and fastest ageing populations. While that poses long-term healthcare, insurance, housing, and social challenges, a decline in the current workforce is being felt immediately in Japan’s falling economic output. Japanese newspapers are filled with dire warnings: employment in industries such as agriculture and construction is expected to halve. Manufacturing employment is expected to fall from 10.1m to 8m, highlighting the challenge to Japan’s industrial competitiveness. A survey of 276,000 companies nationwide found that 66.4% (two-thirds) lack someone to take over the business, this as the average age of Japanese corporate presidents continues to rise.

As the world’s third largest economy struggles to cope with these challenges, Japan Inc. is finding Israel a particularly appealing destination to scout for innovation in manufacturing automation. There’s a lot of innovation to go around: Israel, which, at some 6,200 currently active innovation companies, has the largest number of startups per capita in the world, (around 1 startup for every 1,400 people) is bursting with innovation. It’s digital health industry, particularly appealing to Japanese companies in pharma, biotech, and medical devices, is experiencing an unprecedented boom, driven by new artificial intelligence capabilities based on 25 years of accumulated country-wide electronic medical records. But it’s Israel’s Industrial Internet of Things (I4) ecosystem, which is catching the attention of Japanese trading firms.

Part of that new visibility has come from the hundreds of Japanese corporations that have visited Israel over the past 5 years through governmental bilateral efforts, and a range of Israeli and Japanese organizations. Some Japanese companies have connected to Israeli tech through Start-Up Nation Central, an Israeli non-profit that guides and connects multinational corporations and governments to the right Israeli innovation for their needs. While some have taken a wait and learn approach, increasingly more Japanese companies are starting to put down stakes in Israel’s innovation ecosystem.

The latest examples include diversified trading house Marubeni Corp, Mitsui & Co., Ltd, an industrial and retail conglomerate, and industrial firm Toho Technology Corp. The three companies are members of Japan’s “sogo shosha” –a grouping of the country’s legendary post-war trading companies, now with increasingly global ambitions, and the capex to realize those ambitions.

To support the growing demand, Start-Up Nation Central recently signed an agreement with ABeam Consulting Corp, a Tokyo-based management consulting firm, to identify Japanese companies who need Israel’s unique mix of smart factory startups, out-of-the-box thinking, investors, incubators, academic research bodies, and even other multinationals. ABeam, with some 700 clients across Asia, will now include Israeli startups in its Start-up Research Service.

It’s an increasingly busy service for ABeam and other similar bilateral innovation facilitators. Cultural gaps between the two peoples are as far apart as their borders are physically. It is most acute in business dealings between freewheeling, spontaneous and (at times) overconfident Israeli entrepreneurs, and their Japanese corporate counterparts, who expect prompt responsiveness and consistent professional organization. Cultural differences can at times be a deal breaker for the Japanese, who prize a synergetic relationship as highly as they do the startup's technology and customer record.

Still, the gaps are being closed as the network consolidates, and the pace of the sogo shosha engagement with Israeli innovation –just as it is with Germany’s Mittelstand SMEs—is quickening.

Tokyo-based Marubeni, Japan’s fifth-largest trading house, hired an Israeli scout and relocated an HQ-executive within one quarter of their group CEO’s delegation to Israel in November 2017, a relatively quick decision cycle amongst Japanese corporations. Global IOT Technology Venture (GITV), a Japanese investor in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies, in October invested $1M in industrial automation startup KITOV Systems, after being introduced to the company by SNC.

Toho, a wholesale distributor of pharmaceutical products in Japan, worked with SNC to see innovation in factory automation and energy technologies for its core business fields. It then wanted to see Israeli innovation in Agri-tech and Digital Health for its potential new business lines. In March, Toho signed a pilot agreement with CoreTigo, an Israeli startup that makes low-latency wireless communications equipment for smart factories. The companies say they’re aiming to release a product after joint evaluation. “Toho are looking at a long tail in Japan to work with, from makers of sensor and robotics, to manufacturers of machines," says Gabi Danieli, Coretigo’s Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer.

“Toho are very serious,” Danieli adds.

Source: Forbes

Is UAE leading the way for concentrated solar power in the Gulf?
May 10 2019

Last month, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a report on a renewable energy “roadmap to 2050”.

The report highlighted the possibility that by 2050, about 86 per cent of the world’s power demands could be met by renewable power. It also highlighted that 50 per cent of global electricity production could be provided via renewable energy sources.

What could this mean for the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)?

There seems to be a massive shift in the region’s policies towards economics, and subsequently, technology. The UAE for one has initiated the Vision 2021 programme, which includes sustainability as one of the country’s major goals—and seems to be taking it quite seriously.

The country has set a target of achieving 30 per cent of its energy needs from renewable energy by 2030. That might not be as ambitious as Denmark—a country that has slightly lesser GDP than the UAE, but has still set a goal to achieve 50 per cent of its energy from wind power.

Still, the UAE is leading in the region, especially when it comes to concentrated solar power (CSP) technology. The UAE was, until recently, the only country to have that technology in the GCC.

CSP refers to a type of solar technology that uses giant mirrors to direct sunlight on to a receiver, which converts it into heat. There are several types of such mirrors, they can be parabolic troughs or rounded dishes, or power towers.

Concentrated solar power can be a lot more effective than solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. This is because PV uses solar panels that can only work when there is sunlight, meaning electricity can only be generated as long as sunlight falls on the panels.

CSP on the other hand stores the sunlight as heat, which can be used at a later time, and even when there is no sunlight. In effect, CSP works like any other thermal power plant.

The only difference is that the heating material for all other thermal power plants is fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. In nuclear power plants, the heating agent is usually uranium.

Susan Kraemer, news editor for SOLARPaces.org, an international network for CSP research, told IPS that, “(CSP) has a built-in advantage over PV, which is that as a thermal power source, it can store its solar energy cost effectively in large tanks of molten salts and therefore is a form of solar able to deliver its solar energy round the clock, not just while the sun shines.”

A solar farm made up of PV panels would have to add a battery, to provide dispatchable energy like CSP. The batteries, Kraemer said, have a limited cycle life, and would have to be changed regularly, whereas CSP as thermal storage can be recycled indefinitely.

However, CSP does come with one disadvantage. It is more expensive than PV technology.

“The added complexity makes CSP more expensive to build than PV. However, some value in combining the two, to get both advantages: CSP is cheapest night time solar and PV for cheapest daytime solar.”

The UAE was the first from the GCC countries to get CSP technology, and is currently the only country in the GCC to have actual electricity generation through this. The UAE has had CSP since 2013—with an installed capacity of 100 MW and electricity generation of 261 GWh.

The UAE seems to be pioneering the development of CSP within the GCC countries, with one of biggest investments being the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. It boasts to be the world’s largest single site solar park—and aims to achieve 1000 MW capacity by 2020 and 5000 MW by 2030.

The owner of this park is Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). It will, DEWA claims, have both PV and CSP technology, along with a research centre, and a solar-powered water desalination plant.

It is difficult to gauge exactly how many homes this can power because solar megawatts depend on the amount of sunlight it receives, and the angle at which the receiver is set.

However, some statistics can help. For example, Masdar states that its 10 MW and 1MW solar power plant and rooftop panels can power 500 homes for a year. How does this compare to other countries in the world? Worldwide, there are only 19 countries to have installed capacity for concentrated solar power. Below is a comparison of the countries. Saudi Arabia only recently acquired this technology in 2018—although it has not produced any power. Its installed capacity stands at 50 MW. Meanwhile, the other GCC countries are either in the process of developing CSP or considering CSP options. Kuwait completed its first CSP power plant in May 2018, while Oman will have its first CSP run electricity grid by 2023.

Source: Eco-Business

New tech in UK prisons can pinpoint illegal phones to an ‘exact cell’
Apr 23 2019

The U.K.’s Ministry of Justice has started to use “specialist mobile detection technology” to find and then seize phones that are being used illegally by prisoners.

The technology is being used to tackle the problem of mobile phone smuggling, which authorities said resulted in both violence and drug-dealing inside prisons.

When it detects the presence of a cell phone in prison, the technology sends real-time alerts. A digital heat map is used to identify the strength of the phone’s signal, enabling prison officers to home in on its location “to the exact cell.”

Prison staff are able to look at the data of a specific period of time to monitor the emergence of any patterns, such as when prisoners work together to smuggle drugs into a prison. The intelligence can be analysed and lead to arrests.

The technology has undergone a six-month trial in one prison and is being rolled out to four more facilities. The locations of where it’s being used have not been made public.

“As criminals look for new ways to smuggle contraband into prisons, it is vital that we stay one step ahead, and this kind of technology will help prevent them operating from their cells,” David Gauke, the U.K.’s justice secretary, said in a statement Sunday.

“This is vital to ensuring prisons are places of safety and rehabilitation, where offenders can turn their backs on crime for good,” Gauke added.

Source: CNBC

Green machines? Flying taxis could slash emissions for long journeys
Apr 10 2019

The vehicles could slash greenhouse gas emissions in half for three people on a 100 kilometre trip.

Futuristic electric flying taxis like those seen in the movie “Blade Runner” could offer a more sustainable - and much faster - way to travel long distances than traditional car journeys, academics at the University of Michigan said on Tuesday.

Several firms are working to develop car-sized vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOLs) that can lift passengers above congestion, cruise at over 100 miles per hour (160 km), and land in small spaces within crowded urban centres.

The vehicles could slash greenhouse gas emissions in half for three people on a 100-km (62-mile) trip, said researchers, though much of the savings come by assuming passengers will be more willing to share their space than they are in cars.

“It was very surprising to see that VTOLs were competitive with regard to energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in certain scenarios,” said Gregory Keoleian, from the university’s Center for Sustainable Systems, in a statement.

“VTOLs with full occupancy could outperform ground-based cars for trips from San Francisco to San Jose or from Detroit to Cleveland, for example.”

Academics working with researchers at the carmaker Ford found that VTOLs require a large amount of energy to take-off and climb but they were more efficient than cars once cruising.

As a result, they produced more emissions than land vehicles over short trips of the type which account for most journeys, but were more efficient over longer distances, according to the study in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers also argued each seat in a flying taxi is likely to be sold separately, as is the case with planes, meaning they would normally be fully occupied unlike cars which have an average occupancy of about between one and two people.

A flying taxi holding one pilot and three passengers could make a 100-km trip in about 27 minutes, said researchers.

It would produce about 52 per cent less greenhouse gas per passenger than two petrol-powered vehicles making the same journey by road, they calculated, and 6 per cent less than two electric cars.

However, if the VTOL had just one occupant, the emissions savings would be reduced to 35 per cent compared to one petrol car and would be 28 per cent higher than one electric vehicle.

Despite the appeal of flying cars, it is “a fantasy” to imagine they could offer sustainable mass transport, said Jemilah Magnusson of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

“A much more efficient and easier way to improve the state of long-distance car travel is to provide public transit options and to provide incentives for people to not drive solo in their cars,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The University of Michigan study did not offer a timeline of when to expect VTOLs to take passengers on their first flights.

Source: Eco-Business

Dubai introduces cameras that use AI to measure people’s happiness
Mar 12 2019

Smart cameras have been introduced to measure customer satisfaction at four “Customer Happiness Centers” in Dubai.

In an announcement Monday, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) said that the system would use “highly accurate” cameras powered by artificial intelligence technology.

The devices have both wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, and can take 30 frames per second from a range of seven meters.

The RTA’s Customer Happiness Centers provide services such as vehicle and drivers’ licensing.

“The initiative aims to measure customers happiness index through smart cameras that analyze the extent of their happiness,” Maher Shirah, director of Smart Services at RTA’s Corporate Technology Support Services Sector, said in a statement.

“The technology analyses the facial expressions of customers, without saving images in respect of their privacy, before and after processing their transactions at the center,” Shirah added.

The RTA added that the system was able to produce detailed reports of a customer’s happiness levels, with instant alerts triggered when a center’s “happiness rating” drops below a predefined level. When this happens, actions can be taken to “restore customers’ happiness level.”

Source: CNBC

The Autonomous Mobile Robot Market Is Taking Off Like A Rocket Ship
Mar 11 2019

We just completed the new global market study on the Autonomous Mobile Robot market. The market is exploding. In my twenty years of doing market research I have never seen anything like the growth this market is experiencing.

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are a form of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) that can be implemented without any supporting infrastructure like markers or wires or magnets implanted in the floor or precisely located laser targets.

There are two types of AMRs - those based on fleet management and systems that rely on picking optimization:

· Fleet management solutions typically operate with bigger payloads and route the robots from an origin to a destination.

· Pick optimization robots integrate the movement of machines and people in a process flow designed to increase picking throughput. Pick optimization robots support picking to cartons and totes and consequently have a small payload.

The pick optimization segment, driven by the growth of e-commerce, is by far the faster growing segment. Two of the larger suppliers of these types of solutions are 6 River Systems and Locus Robotics. Jerome Dubois, the cofounder and co-CEO of 6 River Systems, told me that their bookings are nearly 6 times greater than they were in 2017 (this is a calendar year 2018 study), that they have nearly tripled their deployed systems, and their staff has grown by 150%. "So, the growth is happening - we have had a full slate of projects in progress since mid-year. No question about it. Business is strong!"

Lior Elazary, the CEO of inVia Robotics, also reported stellar growth. inVia Robotics also competes in the pick optimization segment where a layer of robotic control software jointly controls the movements of workers and robots. "We now have over 300 robots in the field and are expecting to add 1000 this year alone." The demand is even higher, but they are running into a limit on their capacity. "One of the factors limiting our growth is the fact that most customers need to deploy the robots in parallel with their current operations. That is, they still need to fill all their orders while bringing up our robotic system in parallel. As a result, we have designed our system to accept arbitrary workflows so we can work with their existing workflow and deploy quickly. This allows our customers to deploy the system without any development on their side so we can integrate the system into the current process, deploy the robots and move to the next customer."

Retail warehouses get very busy in the last year when they need to scale up to support the Christmas surge in orders. Both Mr. Elazary and Mr. Dubois report customers being largely unwilling to deploy this time of year. Mr. Elazary put it this way, "all of our deployments and robots need to be done by September." So instead of having a full year to generate revenues, "we lose the last quarter for any deployments."

We are not only hearing this story from the suppliers. At ARC Advisory Group's Forum in Orlando, Florida, Alan McDonald, a Senior Director of Continuous Improvement at GEODIS, talked about why they are buying as many AMRs, their supplier is Locus Robotics, as they can get their hands on. GEODIS is one of the largest logistics service providers (LSPs) in the world. The labor shortage for warehouses is what drove GEODIS to explore the use of bots within a warehouse. Mr. McDonald pointed out that labor is harder to find today, which makes it more expensive. "Finding labor 10 years ago was significantly easier. Today, we cannot fill every role." One of the problems in a tight labor market is that people will accept a job but move on to another position either before they officially start or within a week or two. This leads to a lot of wasted money in training costs.

Since deploying the Locus bots, GEODIS has seen many benefits. In its 3 plus facilities, the company has 175 bots. Productivity has doubled, and training time has seen a 50 percent reduction since the deployment, and it is easier for non-native speakers to work with these systems than bar code scanners. Depending on the facility, the payback period has ranged from 6 to 18 months. In the supply chain realm, two-year payback periods are the norm. Any payback period under one year is excellent!

But the fleet management segment is growing quickly too. Dirk Erlacher, the CEO of Agilox, reports that their sales more than doubled from 2017 to 2018 and that based on very strong bookings they are projecting that sales will grow by 400% again in 2019.

Melonee Wise, the CEO of Fetch Robotics, also reported stellar growth. Fetch also plays in the fleet management segment. "There's not much limiting our growth. If I had to choose one reason, there's not much familiarity with AMRs in general. Many of the companies purchasing a robot from us have never purchased an AMR before. Our customers and prospects aren't yet well-versed in how to source, implement, and measure ROI. We strive to make this as easy for them as possible, but there is often some latent apprehension because of the novelty of our offerings. I'm seeing a great deal of enthusiasm for our cloud-first approach, which we call "on-demand automation." Because of the cloud and our software, we have AMRs up and running in a matter of hours. That time to value mitigates the apprehension I mentioned earlier. It means pilots can transition to deployments very quickly."

At Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) and Vecna Robotics the story is the same. "Vecna Robotics has experienced immense growth over the last year," John Hayes, the CEO at Vecna said. "We've partnered with three out of five of the largest logistics companies including FedEx. We are seeing three times year over year revenue growth and have nearly doubled our headcount from this time last year."

Ed Mullen, the Vice President of Sales for the Americas for MiR, stated "we also expected fast growth in 2018, and at least for us, it has turned out right. Our customers are mainly large multinational companies such as Toyota, Honeywell, Faurecia, Nidec, and Flex, and in 2018 many of these went from testing 1-2 robots on single plants to deploying larger fleets of up to 20 robots on multiple plants worldwide." The company grew 160%.

As far as limitations to growth, Mr. Mullen said, "we don't see many." Indeed, if anything new pricing models will juice growth in this market. "RaaS (Robots as a Service) is a huge topic. MiR will soon start offering a leasing option via an external partner. The leasing option means we are now able to offer a more flexible payment solution. This will allow more companies to adopt this new technology. Many of our current and potential customers want to lease our mobile robots in the same way as they are leasing electronic pallet lifters and AGVs (automatic guided vehicles), which are rented or leased 95% of the time. Companies want to invest in their core business and not in machines." Our study did find dramatic growth in the RaaS pricing option from 2017 to 2018.

And again, it is not just suppliers touting the fleet management style AMRs. At the ARC forum, Tyler Wolfe, the Director and Solutions Architect at Framebridge, was one of the participants on the AMR panel. Framebridge is an e-commerce custom framing company, which allows its customers to upload or mail in artwork or photography to be framed. As the company grew, it knew it could no longer rely on employees moving the components of the custom framing process by hand trucks throughout the warehouse. This system meant that workers spent most of their time simply moving around the facility instead of doing value added work. The Fetch robots would autonomously move the components to the different assembly stations within the facility, eliminating the need for employees to move them.

Some of the robots are also equipped with RFID readers, which enables workers to know exactly where any piece of art is at any time within the warehouse. With the company processing hundreds of pieces of custom artwork, and work-in-process often being difficult to locate, this is incredibly important.

One of the concerns with AMRs is how warehouse workers will interact with the bots. Within a week or two, employees were used to seeing the bots scurrying around the warehouse and were no longer concerned about collisions. Mr. Wolfe said Framebridge got a good ROI. The payback timeframes ranged from 3 to 12 months depending upon how the bots were used. He estimated a 70 percent reduction in indirect time spent by employees moving items around the warehouse.

The autonomous mobile robot market is a very young market taking off like a rocket ship.

Source: Forbes

Hyundai unveils walking car design that has 'limitless' possibilities
Jan 9 2019

Hyundai unveiled a walking car design – complete with robotic legs – that the company claims is the future of the first responder industry and has "limitless" purposes.

Debuted at the CES technology expo in Las Vegas on Monday, "Elevate" is designed for use at natural disaster sites, with users able to drive, walk, or climb over "the most treacherous terrain." Currently in the early concept stages, there is no official timeline for its commercial roll-out.

Hyundai has been working in partnership with Detroit firm Sundberg-Ferar on the concept for almost three years. Elevate would be the first Ultimate Mobility Vehicle with moveable legs, and the first to combine technology found in both electric cars and robots.

Capable of "both mammalian and reptilian walking gaits," the vehicle can climb walls, step over large gaps and move in any direction – all while keeping its passengers level. Its legs are also retractable, providing a regular driving mode that reduces energy use and allows Elevate to be operated as a normal car.

"Imagine a car stranded in a snow ditch just 10 feet off the highway being able to walk or climb over the treacherous terrain, back to the road potentially saving its injured passengers – this is the future of vehicular mobility," said David Byron, design manager at Sundberg-Ferar, in a press release on Monday.

'Limitless' uses John Suh, vice president and head of Hyundai Cradle, added that current rescue vehicles were only able to deliver first responders to the edge of a debris field, whereas Elevate can drive to the scene and climb right over flood debris or crumbled concrete.

"(But) this technology goes well beyond emergency situations," he said. "People living with disabilities worldwide … could hail an autonomous Hyundai Elevate that could walk up to their front door, level itself, and allow their wheelchair to roll right in. The possibilities are limitless."

Design issues

However, Michael Whiteley, head of fuel cell engineering at UCL's Electrochemical Innovation Lab, noted that while it was good to see Hyundai pushing boundaries, it was unlikely the Elevate concept would become a reality anytime soon.

"Sticking with four wheels might lead to some stability issues when 'walking,'" he told CNBC via email. "When two of the legs are lifted, the car could have balance issues with only two remaining wheels planted on terra firma. Will we see this in the future? Possibly not in the near future. The concept is a great idea, and may very well evolve over time – (but) I don't think that we are quite ready for this yet in terms of system cost and the feasibility issues of implementing such a vehicle to terrestrial application."

Allahyar Montazeri, lecturer in engineering at Lancaster University, told CNBC via email Wednesday that the proposed design could take vehicle use in rough terrain to "the next level" – but he noted that the mechanics were complex.

"The ultimate challenges … are uncertain parameters of terrain and ensuring the dynamic stability of the vehicle," he said. "For example, in a realistic terrain, the vehicle may be challenged by regions causing tip-over, trapped wheels, or loss of traction. Some regions are not traversable at all and others may cause disastrous system failures."

Montazeri added that the concept demanded an advanced design, incorporating elements of artificial intelligence to analyse potentially dangerous terrain with minimal action from the vehicle's operator.

Source: CNBC

Researchers develop artificial fingerprints, claiming they could hack into a third of smartphones
Jan 1 2019

Artificial fingerprints have been developed by researchers who say they could one day be used to hack into everyday devices.

Researchers from New York University and Michigan State University successfully generated what they call "DeepMasterPrints" earlier this year. These are machine-learning methods that act as a kind of "masterkey" which, the researchers claim, have the potential to unlock around one in three fingerprint-protected smartphones.

In the paper released in October, the authors said synthetic fingerprints could be "used by an adversary to launch an attack … that can compromise the security of a fingerprint-based recognition system."

Philip Bontrager, Aditi Roy, Julian Togelius, Nasir Memon and Arun Ross, the researchers behind the study, said the way fingerprints were recognized on smartphones and other devices was often problematic.

"Phones and many more devices don't capture your entire fingerprint," they told CNBC over the phone. "There's not enough space on the device, so they capture a partial fingerprint — which is not as secure as the full image. (People assume) the device stitches images of their fingerprint together, but that's not really what happens — it keeps sets of partial fingerprints."

Artificial fingerprints have been developed by researchers who say they could one day be used to hack into everyday devices.

Researchers from New York University and Michigan State University successfully generated what they call "DeepMasterPrints" earlier this year. These are machine-learning methods that act as a kind of "masterkey" which, the researchers claim, have the potential to unlock around one in three fingerprint-protected smartphones.

In the paper released in October, the authors said synthetic fingerprints could be "used by an adversary to launch an attack … that can compromise the security of a fingerprint-based recognition system."

Philip Bontrager, Aditi Roy, Julian Togelius, Nasir Memon and Arun Ross, the researchers behind the study, said the way fingerprints were recognized on smartphones and other devices was often problematic.

"Phones and many more devices don't capture your entire fingerprint," they told CNBC over the phone. "There's not enough space on the device, so they capture a partial fingerprint — which is not as secure as the full image. (People assume) the device stitches images of their fingerprint together, but that's not really what happens — it keeps sets of partial fingerprints."

For each finger stored in place of a password, the device keeps multiple images. If someone then uses their finger to unlock that device, they only need to match one of the partial fingerprint images on its security system.

"If you store images for three of your fingers the device may keep around 30 partial fingerprints," the researchers said. "With MasterPrints you just have to create a few — five or ten and I'm in business."

They added that this could unlock a "reasonably large" number of phones — just under a third.

"If every fifth phone works it would be a profitable scam," they said.

Defenses increasing

While the researchers told CNBC that their findings could be a potential threat to security systems, there were things software developers could do to make such an attack harder to pull off.

"Research in assessing vulnerabilities in a fingerprint recognition system is a constant arms race between fixing vulnerabilities and discovering new ones," the paper said. "It is important for researchers to probe for new vulnerabilities so that loopholes can be fixed."

Many developers were already making fingerprint scanners more secure by moving sensors from devices' buttons to screens, allowing them to pick up higher resolution images.

"Some smartphones have the sensors on the side buttons, which are very thin — they're convenient but less secure," the researchers told CNBC. "Their sensors only register a quarter or so of the fingerprint's features."

What's at stake?

Most smartphones give users the option to set up fingerprint recognition as a way to access their device, as well as a way to verify payments and unlock bank accounts. Amazon's U.K. site offers more than 2,000 products relating to fingerprint security, including padlocks and safes.

In July, it emerged that Mastercard was in talks with British banks about introducing cards with integrated fingerprint scanners, opening the market up to biometric payment systems.

Big firms are also using biometrics to provide smoother experiences for customers. Delta already allows its passengers to use their fingerprints to board flights and access airport lounges, and car rental firm Hertz recently unveiled a biometric system at Atlanta International Airport to make renting a car up to 75 percent faster.

Clear, the firm behind Delta and Hertz's fingerprint recognition technology, told CNBC via email that as long as companies provided the appropriate security, there was "no question" that biometrics were more secure than a traditional ID.

Clear "does not rent, sell or share member data. The platform is also Safety Act Certified by the Department of Homeland Security as a Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology," a spokesperson told CNBC via email this week.

"We go to great lengths to secure member data, protect privacy, and enable exceptional experiences. We operate a closed network that is not exposed to the internet, and our members' biometrics are encrypted at all times, in transit and at rest."

Spokespersons for smartphone makers Apple and Google were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC. Mastercard and Samsung declined to comment on the research.

Source: CNBC