ICYMI: Robot News Wrapup from the Editor’s Inbox

Flying BVLOS over Kansas. Image: Iris Automation

November 15, 2019      

Wow, it was another busy week in the robotics world, proving once again how much this industry is growing with new products, services and other news. To end the week, I’m cleaning out the in-box with some shorter news items and opinions. Let’s jump right in!

BVLOS on the rise

It wasn’t too long ago that we were all concerned about the time it would take either the government or those in the industry to adopt beyond visual line of flight (BVLOS) technologies, but here we are at the end of 2019 and it feels like BVLOS is the new normal.

Earlier this week, the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Integration Pilot Program announced the successful completion of a BVLOS drone operation. In cooperation with partners from Kansas State University Polytechnic, Iris Automation, Evergy, and the Kansas DOT, the program conducted a nine-mile flight with a fixed-wing drone. The drone was used to inspect power lines with Evergy, and the team completed more than 150 miles in BVLOS operations over the course of two days.

“This marks the first true BVLOS flight in the nation and is a tremendous milestone for the drone industry,” said Iris Automation CEO Alexander Harmsen. “We see this as one of the most notable accomplishments to come from the IPP program to date. We’re thrilled to set the precedent and bring our industry’s utilization of drones from dream to reality.”

In August, a team in the Alaska IPP conducted a BVLOS drone operation without human visual observers. Iris Automation was also involved in that operation.

Military driving large cargo delivery

While most of us are imagining drone delivery as being able to get pizzas or packages delivered to the doorstep, the military is focusing on large cargo delivery via drone, especially in dangerous areas.

news wrapup silent arrow drone cargo delivery

Silent Arrow GD-2000 Undergoing Flight Testing via Rotorcraft Slingload Deployment, Pendleton UAS Test Range, Pendleton Oregon USA

Yates Electrospace Corp., developer of the Silent Arrow platform, announced signing a development contract with the U.S. Special Operations Command. The Silent Arrow is a 1-ton autonomous cargo aircraft that can deliver up to 1,631 pounds (740kg) of supplies with improved accuracy, zero vertical impact force and with far greater stealth than manned aircraft.

“Under the contract, USSOCOM will provide access to aircraft, test ranges, and subject matter experts to establish the airworthiness and performance of Silent Arrow for resupplying tactical teams within a hostile environment, resupplying forward operating bases, and delivering critical humanitarian aid and disaster relief without the need to land or place USSOCOM aircrew in harm’s way,” the announcement stated. Read the press release here.

Robots at Stanford Hospital

Set to open on Sunday, Nov. 17, the new Stanford Hospital will include a fleet of robots that will deliver linens, packages, and medical supplies to help keep track of the hospital’s medication inventory and count out pills for nurses to administer.

A fleet of 23 TUG robots from Aethon will travel on pre-programmed routes throughout the hospital to make deliveries, and three pill-dispensing robots from Swisslog (two BoxPickers and one PillPick) will be used to distribute medication.

You can read more about the new robots on this Stanford site.

Next-gen lidar from Velodyne

The latest lidar sensor from Velodyne is Alpha Prime – the company this week launched its new sensor, which uses “surround view technology to deliver the combined highest performance specifications for the autonomous mobility industry in one sensor.” Aimed at autonomous markets that include transportation, trucking, and robotics, Velodyne says the Alpha Prime is available now for orders and delivery.

The latest lidar from Velodyne can detect ‘low visibility humans’ Image: Velodyne

Among the advances, the system has “exceptional detection” of dark or low reflectance objects at long distances, such as tires, dark vehicles, low reflectivity pavement and low visibility pedestrians. In addition, the system can localize vehicles – indoor or outdoor – without a GPS for precise positioning. Read the press release here.

U.K., Africa looking for robot companies 

  • The EPSRC UK-RAS Network issued a call for Strategic Task Groups in robotics and automated systems, in an effort to boost the strategic development of robotics and autonomous systesm in the U.K. Read more here.
  • The African Drone Forum announced the African Drone Business Challenge, a competition for African entrepreneurs that have identified new and innovative business models enabled through drone technology and data. Read more here.

Who wants to potty train aibo?

Sony Electronics today announced a software update for its “autonomous robot puppy compainion,” aibo. Version 2.50 for the ERS1000 aibo model includes an application programmable interface (API) that lets owners and developers to have access to new programmable resources. The update also includes “new whimsical capabilities,” such as the ability to virtually feed aibo cookies or potty train it.

I thought the reason that you’d want to get a robot dog is so that you DON’T have to potty train it, but OK Sony. Read more here.

That’s it for this week – have a great weekend, everyone!