‘RBR Says’ for September 25th, 2020
Robotics Business Review reviews recent announcements, articles, research and more…
OnRobot Launches Out-of-the-Box Robotic Sanding Tool for Finishing Applications
EOAT provider OnRobot recently announced the availability of lightweight, all-electric orbital sander for finishing applications such as sanding and polishing. According to the company, the OnRobot Sander comes complete as a sanding solution ready for immediate use. The OnRobot Sander includes the EOA sanding tool (compatible with most robots), along with sanding and polishing pads, and simple to use programing software. Optional Grit Changer and force/torque sensor are also available.
This announcement comes on the heels of a June launch of the company’s the OnRobot Screwdriver solution. Like the OnRobot Sander, the screw driving solution is engineered to be used out of the box. Both products are designed to be simple to program and use, and the company notes that they are well suited for small-to-medium manufactures. The announcements also represent OnRobots continuing expansion from a product-oriented company, to a provider of higher value task-oriented and application-oriented solutions. This initiative is perfectly in keeping with OnRobot’s selection as a 2020 RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award winner.
AUTONOMOUS MOBILE ROBOTS
Brain Corporation Brings on a New CTO
San Diego based Brain Corporation, a developer of AI powered software and services for autonomous mobile robots, recently announced the appointment of Jon Thomason as Chief Technology Officer. Thomason is an AI and autonomous systems technologies expert, and most recently worked as VP of Software Engineering at Uber Advanced Technologies Group (ATG). Thomason also had various technical management stints at Amazon, Microsoft, and Qualcomm.
It is difficult to say whether Thomason’s move to Brain Corporation was a case of a better opportunity or an exit from a foundering ship. Most likely, it was a combination of both.
Brain Corporation is on a roll, with its BrainOS platform powering thousands of mobile robots around the world for applications such as floor care, in-building delivery, and retail shelf-scanning. The company is well funded (US $160M+) and continues to sign partnership deals with OEMs for the BrainOS system. In June 2020, the company announced the addition of a new Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Service with deep expertise in strategic business development, an indication that both the company and technology are robust and proven, and poised for the next stage of growth.
Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) is chartered with developing self-driving vehicle technology, with the goal of replacing drivers – the largest expense in non-autonomous ride-sharing – thereby providing the company with one path to profitability. In 2018, Uber invested US $457M in the self-driving vehicles unit, which itself has gone on to acquire additional firms (computer vision startup Mighty AI in 2019, for example). But Thomason leaves an ATG in ‘flux’, or perhaps ‘thrashing’ is the better word.
Since the time of ATG’s founding, the group has burned through cash, and was spun off as an Uber subsidiary with its own set of investors. ATG also ditched their initial, and ambitious, autonomous driving strategy for more selective, incremental, and cost effective plans. The demoralizing effect of a well-publicized fatal crash in Arizona also impacted the group, as well as failed partnerships and the Covid-19 pandemic.
SECURITY and DEFENSE
Pentagon Seeks To Address Major Flaw With Unmanned Vehicles: The Sensors They Use To Navigate Make Them Easy To Attack
Very interesting Forbes piece covering the US Department of Defense initiatives to develop methods of reducing location vulnerability of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles – ground, maritime and air. It seems that some sensing systems need active illumination used to navigate at night. When headlights or other emitting sensors such as LiDAR are switched on, it makes the vehicles vulnerable to attack.
This is a good example of the rarefied requirements of autonomous mil/aero systems compared to even the most challenging demands of their commercial class analogs. Articles like this Forbes piece is also a reminder of the continuing opportunities for sensing systems for autonomous vehicles beyond cost and size reduction.
AUTONOMOUS MARITIME SYSTEMS
Dive Technologies and Virginia Tech Partner on Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
Boston-based Dive Technologies, Inc., a designer and manufacturer of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) has partnered with the Center for Marine Autonomy and Robotics (CMAR) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). Under the multi-year agreement CMAR and Dive Technologies will work together to develop and test a “large, novel autonomous underwater vehicle”, including “sea testing”.
The press release announcing the partnership is pretty thin, but notable in two respects. First, Dive Technologies’ management and technical team are seasoned AUV professionals. The company’s CEO, CTO and others are former employees of General Dynamics Mission Systems (GDMS), a business unit of General Dynamics, which produces the Bluefin medium-class AUV and the Knifefish, an AUV designed for the U.S. Navy for mine hunting operations. A few of these were also employed at Bluefin Robotics, the developer of the GDMS’ Bluefin platform, prior to the acquisition by GDMS.
The announcement is also a reminder of the outsized role Massachusetts plays in the autonomous underwater sector. In addition to Dive Technologies and Bluefin Robotics (General Dynamics Mission Systems), Boston area autonomous maritime systems firms include Hydroid (Kongsberg Maritime), Boston Engineering, BAE Systems (Acquired Riptide Autonomous Solutions in 2019), Teledyne Marine Systems and more.
Dan Kara is Vice President, Robotics at WTWH Media where he chartered with driving the company’s robotics initiatives including online and print publications, and in-person and digital events. Prior to joining WTWH, he was Practice Director, Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ABI Research and Chief Research Officer for Myria RAS, both research and advisory services firms focused on automation, robotics and intelligent systems. Dan also served as President of Robotics Trends, an integrated media and research firm serving the personal, service and industrial robotics markets. He holds an MS in Computer Science from Boston University. (Contact: dkara[AT]wtwhmedia.com, https://www.linkedin.com/in/dankara/)
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