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#432031 Why the Rise of Self-Driving Vehicles ...

It’s been a long time coming. For years Waymo (formerly known as Google Chauffeur) has been diligently developing, driving, testing and refining its fleets of various models of self-driving cars. Now Waymo is going big. The company recently placed an order for several thousand new Chrysler Pacifica minivans and next year plans to launch driverless taxis in a number of US cities.

This deal raises one of the biggest unanswered questions about autonomous vehicles: if fleets of driverless taxis make it cheap and easy for regular people to get around, what’s going to happen to car ownership?

One popular line of thought goes as follows: as autonomous ride-hailing services become ubiquitous, people will no longer need to buy their own cars. This notion has a certain logical appeal. It makes sense to assume that as driverless taxis become widely available, most of us will eagerly sell the family car and use on-demand taxis to get to work, run errands, or pick up the kids. After all, vehicle ownership is pricey and most cars spend the vast majority of their lives parked.

Even experts believe commercial availability of autonomous vehicles will cause car sales to drop.

Market research firm KPMG estimates that by 2030, midsize car sales in the US will decline from today’s 5.4 million units sold each year to nearly half that number, a measly 2.1 million units. Another market research firm, ReThinkX, offers an even more pessimistic estimate (or optimistic, depending on your opinion of cars), predicting that autonomous vehicles will reduce consumer demand for new vehicles by a whopping 70 percent.

The reality is that the impending death of private vehicle sales is greatly exaggerated. Despite the fact that autonomous taxis will be a beneficial and widely-embraced form of urban transportation, we will witness the opposite. Most people will still prefer to own their own autonomous vehicle. In fact, the total number of units of autonomous vehicles sold each year is going to increase rather than decrease.

When people predict the demise of car ownership, they are overlooking the reality that the new autonomous automotive industry is not going to be just a re-hash of today’s car industry with driverless vehicles. Instead, the automotive industry of the future will be selling what could be considered an entirely new product: a wide variety of intelligent, self-guiding transportation robots. When cars become a widely used type of transportation robot, they will be cheap, ubiquitous, and versatile.

Several unique characteristics of autonomous vehicles will ensure that people will continue to buy their own cars.

1. Cost: Thanks to simpler electric engines and lighter auto bodies, autonomous vehicles will be cheaper to buy and maintain than today’s human-driven vehicles. Some estimates bring the price to $10K per vehicle, a stark contrast with today’s average of $30K per vehicle.

2. Personal belongings: Consumers will be able to do much more in their driverless vehicles, including work, play, and rest. This means they will want to keep more personal items in their cars.

3. Frequent upgrades: The average (human-driven) car today is owned for 10 years. As driverless cars become software-driven devices, their price/performance ratio will track to Moore’s law. Their rapid improvement will increase the appeal and frequency of new vehicle purchases.

4. Instant accessibility: In a dense urban setting, a driverless taxi is able to show up within minutes of being summoned. But not so in rural areas, where people live miles apart. For many, delay and “loss of control” over their own mobility will increase the appeal of owning their own vehicle.

5. Diversity of form and function: Autonomous vehicles will be available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Consumers will drive demand for custom-made, purpose-built autonomous vehicles whose form is adapted for a particular function.

Let’s explore each of these characteristics in more detail.

Autonomous vehicles will cost less for several reasons. For one, they will be powered by electric engines, which are cheaper to construct and maintain than gasoline-powered engines. Removing human drivers will also save consumers money. Autonomous vehicles will be much less likely to have accidents, hence they can be built out of lightweight, lower-cost materials and will be cheaper to insure. With the human interface no longer needed, autonomous vehicles won’t be burdened by the manufacturing costs of a complex dashboard, steering wheel, and foot pedals.

While hop-on, hop-off autonomous taxi-based mobility services may be ideal for some of the urban population, several sizeable customer segments will still want to own their own cars.

These include people who live in sparsely-populated rural areas who can’t afford to wait extended periods of time for a taxi to appear. Families with children will prefer to own their own driverless cars to house their childrens’ car seats and favorite toys and sippy cups. Another loyal car-buying segment will be die-hard gadget-hounds who will eagerly buy a sexy upgraded model every year or so, unable to resist the siren song of AI that is three times as safe, or a ride that is twice as smooth.

Finally, consider the allure of robotic diversity.

Commuters will invest in a home office on wheels, a sleek, traveling workspace resembling the first-class suite on an airplane. On the high end of the market, city-dwellers and country-dwellers alike will special-order custom-made autonomous vehicles whose shape and on-board gadgetry is adapted for a particular function or hobby. Privately-owned small businesses will buy their own autonomous delivery robot that could range in size from a knee-high, last-mile delivery pod, to a giant, long-haul shipping device.

As autonomous vehicles near commercial viability, Waymo’s procurement deal with Fiat Chrysler is just the beginning.

The exact value of this future automotive industry has yet to be defined, but research from Intel’s internal autonomous vehicle division estimates this new so-called “passenger economy” could be worth nearly $7 trillion a year. To position themselves to capture a chunk of this potential revenue, companies whose businesses used to lie in previously disparate fields such as robotics, software, ships, and entertainment (to name but a few) have begun to form a bewildering web of what they hope will be symbiotic partnerships. Car hailing and chip companies are collaborating with car rental companies, who in turn are befriending giant software firms, who are launching joint projects with all sizes of hardware companies, and so on.

Last year, car companies sold an estimated 80 million new cars worldwide. Over the course of nearly a century, car companies and their partners, global chains of suppliers and service providers, have become masters at mass-producing and maintaining sturdy and cost-effective human-driven vehicles. As autonomous vehicle technology becomes ready for mainstream use, traditional automotive companies are being forced to grapple with the painful realization that they must compete in a new playing field.

The challenge for traditional car-makers won’t be that people no longer want to own cars. Instead, the challenge will be learning to compete in a new and larger transportation industry where consumers will choose their product according to the appeal of its customized body and the quality of its intelligent software.

Melba Kurman and Hod Lipson are the authors of Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead and Fabricated: the New World of 3D Printing.

Image Credit: hfzimages / Shutterstock.com

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#431301 Collective Intelligence Is the Root of ...

Many of us intuitively think about intelligence as an individual trait. As a society, we have a tendency to praise individual game-changers for accomplishments that would not be possible without their teams, often tens of thousands of people that work behind the scenes to make extraordinary things happen.
Matt Ridley, best-selling author of multiple books, including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, challenges this view. He argues that human achievement and intelligence are entirely “networking phenomena.” In other words, intelligence is collective and emergent as opposed to individual.
When asked what scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit, Ridley highlights collective intelligence: “It is by putting brains together through the division of labor— through trade and specialization—that human society stumbled upon a way to raise the living standards, carrying capacity, technological virtuosity, and knowledge base of the species.”
Ridley has spent a lifetime exploring human prosperity and the factors that contribute to it. In a conversation with Singularity Hub, he redefined how we perceive intelligence and human progress.
Raya Bidshahri: The common perspective seems to be that competition is what drives innovation and, consequently, human progress. Why do you think collaboration trumps competition when it comes to human progress?
Matt Ridley: There is a tendency to think that competition is an animal instinct that is natural and collaboration is a human instinct we have to learn. I think there is no evidence for that. Both are deeply rooted in us as a species. The evidence from evolutionary biology tells us that collaboration is just as important as competition. Yet, at the end, the Darwinian perspective is quite correct: it’s usually cooperation for the purpose of competition, wherein a given group tries to achieve something more effectively than another group. But the point is that the capacity to co-operate is very deep in our psyche.
RB: You write that “human achievement is entirely a networking phenomenon,” and we need to stop thinking about intelligence as an individual trait, and that instead we should look at what you refer to as collective intelligence. Why is that?
MR: The best way to think about it is that IQ doesn’t matter, because a hundred stupid people who are talking to each other will accomplish more than a hundred intelligent people who aren’t. It’s absolutely vital to see that everything from the manufacturing of a pencil to the manufacturing of a nuclear power station can’t be done by an individual human brain. You can’t possibly hold in your head all the knowledge you need to do these things. For the last 200,000 years we’ve been exchanging and specializing, which enables us to achieve much greater intelligence than we can as individuals.
RB: We often think of achievement and intelligence on individual terms. Why do you think it’s so counter-intuitive for us to think about collective intelligence?
MR: People are surprisingly myopic to the extent they understand the nature of intelligence. I think it goes back to a pre-human tendency to think in terms of individual stories and actors. For example, we love to read about the famous inventor or scientist who invented or discovered something. We never tell these stories as network stories. We tell them as individual hero stories.

“It’s absolutely vital to see that everything from the manufacturing of a pencil to the manufacturing of a nuclear power station can’t be done by an individual human brain.”

This idea of a brilliant hero who saves the world in the face of every obstacle seems to speak to tribal hunter-gatherer societies, where the alpha male leads and wins. But it doesn’t resonate with how human beings have structured modern society in the last 100,000 years or so. We modern-day humans haven’t internalized a way of thinking that incorporates this definition of distributed and collective intelligence.
RB: One of the books you’re best known for is The Rational Optimist. What does it mean to be a rational optimist?
MR: My optimism is rational because it’s not based on a feeling, it’s based on evidence. If you look at the data on human living standards over the last 200 years and compare it with the way that most people actually perceive our progress during that time, you’ll see an extraordinary gap. On the whole, people seem to think that things are getting worse, but things are actually getting better.
We’ve seen the most astonishing improvements in human living standards: we’ve brought the number of people living in extreme poverty to 9 percent from about 70 percent when I was born. The human lifespan is expanding by five hours a day, child mortality has gone down by two thirds in half a century, and much more. These feats dwarf the things that are going wrong. Yet most people are quite pessimistic about the future despite the things we’ve achieved in the past.
RB: Where does this idea of collective intelligence fit in rational optimism?
MR: Underlying the idea of rational optimism was understanding what prosperity is, and why it happens to us and not to rabbits or rocks. Why are we the only species in the world that has concepts like a GDP, growth rate, or living standard? My answer is that it comes back to this phenomena of collective intelligence. The reason for a rise in living standards is innovation, and the cause of that innovation is our ability to collaborate.
The grand theme of human history is exchange of ideas, collaborating through specialization and the division of labor. Throughout history, it’s in places where there is a lot of open exchange and trade where you get a lot of innovation. And indeed, there are some extraordinary episodes in human history when societies get cut off from exchange and their innovation slows down and they start moving backwards. One example of this is Tasmania, which was isolated and lost a lot of the technologies it started off with.
RB: Lots of people like to point out that just because the world has been getting better doesn’t guarantee it will continue to do so. How do you respond to that line of argumentation?
MR: There is a quote by Thomas Babington Macaulay from 1830, where he was fed up with the pessimists of the time saying things will only get worse. He says, “On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?” And this was back in the 1830s, where in Britain and a few other parts of the world, we were only seeing the beginning of the rise of living standards. It’s perverse to argue that because things were getting better in the past, now they are about to get worse.

“I think it’s worth remembering that good news tends to be gradual, and bad news tends to be sudden. Hence, the good stuff is rarely going to make the news.”

Another thing to point out is that people have always said this. Every generation thought they were at the peak looking downhill. If you think about the opportunities technology is about to give us, whether it’s through blockchain, gene editing, or artificial intelligence, there is every reason to believe that 2017 is going to look like a time of absolute misery compared to what our children and grandchildren are going to experience.
RB: There seems to be a fair amount of mayhem in today’s world, and lots of valid problems to pay attention to in the news. What would you say to empower our readers that we will push through it and continue to grow and improve as a species?
MR: I think it’s worth remembering that good news tends to be gradual, and bad news tends to be sudden. Hence, the good stuff is rarely going to make the news. It’s happening in an inexorable way, as a result of ordinary people exchanging, specializing, collaborating, and innovating, and it’s surprisingly hard to stop it.
Even if you look back to the 1940s, at the end of a world war, there was still a lot of innovation happening. In some ways it feels like we are going through a bad period now. I do worry a lot about the anti-enlightenment values that I see spreading in various parts of the world. But then I remind myself that people are working on innovative projects in the background, and these things are going to come through and push us forward.
Image Credit: Sahacha Nilkumhang / Shutterstock.com

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#431178 Soft Robotics Releases Development Kit ...

Cambridge, MA – Soft Robotics Inc, which has built a fundamentally new class of robotic grippers, announced the release of its expanded and upgraded Soft Robotics Development Kit; SRDK 2.0.

The Soft Robotics Development Kit 2.0 comes complete with:

Robot tool flange mounting plate
4, 5 and 6 position hub plates
Tool Center Point
Soft Robotics Control Unit G2
6 rail mounted, 4 accordion actuator modules
Custom pneumatic manifold
Mounting hardware and accessories

Where the SRDK 1.0 included 5 four accordion actuator modules and the opportunity to create a gripper containing two to five actuators, The SRDK 2.0 contains 6 four accordion actuator modules plus the addition of a six position hub allowing users the ability to configure six actuator test tools. This expands use of the Development Kit to larger product applications, such as: large bagged and pouched items, IV bags, bags of nuts, bread and other food items.

SRDK 2.0 also contains an upgraded Soft Robotics Control Unit (SRCU G2) – the proprietary system that controls all software and hardware with one turnkey pneumatic operation. The upgraded SRCU features new software with a cleaner, user friendly interface and an IP65 rating. Highly intuitive, the software is able to store up to eight grip profiles and allows for very precise adjustments to actuation and vacuum.

Also new with the release of SRDK 2.0, is the introduction of several accessory kits that will allow for an expanded number of configurations and product applications available for testing.

Accessory Kit 1 – For SRDK 1.0 users only – includes the six position hub and 4 accordion actuators now included in SRDK 2.0
Accessory Kit 2 – For SRDK 1.0 or 2.0 users – includes 2 accordion actuators
Accessory Kit 3 – For SRDK 1.0 or 2.0 users – includes 3 accordion actuators

The shorter 2 and 3 accordion actuators provide increased stability for high-speed applications, increased placement precision, higher grip force capabilities and are optimized for gripping small, shallow objects.

Designed to plug and play with any existing robot currently in the market, the Soft Robotics Development Kit 2.0 allows end-users and OEM Integrators the ability to customize, test and validate their ideal Soft Robotics solution, with their own equipment, in their own environment.

Once an ideal solution has been found, the Soft Robotics team will take those exact specifications and build a production-grade tool for implementation into the manufacturing line. And, it doesn’t end there. Created to be fully reusable, the process – configure, test, validate, build, production – can start over again as many times as needed.

See the new SRDK 2.0 on display for the first time at PACK EXPO Las Vegas, September 25 – 27, 2017 in Soft Robotics booth S-5925.

Learn more about the Soft Robotics Development Kit at www.softroboticsinc.com/srdk.
Photo Credit: Soft Robotics – www.softroboticsinc.com
###
About Soft Robotics
Soft Robotics designs and builds soft robotic gripping systems and automation solutions
that can grasp and manipulate items of varying size, shape and weight. Spun out of the
Whitesides Group at Harvard University, Soft Robotics is the only company to be
commercializing this groundbreaking and proprietary technology platform. Today, the
company is a global enterprise solving previously off-limits automation challenges for
customers in food & beverage, advanced manufacturing and ecommerce. Soft Robotics’
engineers are building an ecosystem of robots, control systems, data and machine
learning to enable the workplace of the future. For more information, please visit
www.softroboticsinc.com.

Media contact:
Jennie Kondracki
The Kondracki Group, LLC
262-501-4507
jennie@kondrackigroup.com
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#428039 Naturipe Berry Growers Invests in ...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Gary Wishnatzki
O: (813)498-4278
C: (813)335-3959
gw@harvestcroo.com

NATURIPE BERRY GROWERS INVESTS IN HARVEST CROO ROBOTICS
Adds to the growing list of strawberry industry investors

Tampa, FL (September 20, 2016) – Naturipe Berry Growers has joined the growing list of strawberry industry investors supporting Harvest CROO Robotics’ mission to answer the need for agricultural labor with technology. Naturipe is one of the largest strawberry growers in North America. With the support of Naturipe, now more than 20% of the U.S. strawberry industry has invested in Harvest CROO Robotics.

“The lack of availability of labor to harvest strawberries is one of the great challenges facing our industry,” said Rich Amirsehhi, President and CEO of Naturipe Berry Growers. “Harvest CROO Robotics’ technology to harvest berries has tremendous promise to solve this critical problem.”

Harvest CROO Robotics continues to develop and test the latest technology for agricultural robotics. The company will test their latest prototype during the Florida strawberry season, which begins in November. Improvements include harvest speed and the development of an autonomous mobile platform that will carry the robotic pickers through the field. After berries are picked, they will be transferred overhead to the platform level, where they will be inspected and packed into consumer units by delta robots. The development of the packing robots, next year, will mark another key milestone in Harvest CROO Robotics’ technological advances.

“The technology is prepared to make a major leap this coming season,” said Bob Pitzer, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Harvest CROO. “We were at commercial speed, last March, at a rate of 8 seconds to pick a plant. Now by using embedded processors and a streamlined picking head design, we expect to easily cut that time in half.”

“Naturipe Berry Growers sees joining this collaborative effort as an important step in ensuring the sustainability of the U.S. strawberry industry and putting our growers in a position to be early adopters of the technology,” said Amirsehhi.

Harvest CROO is currently fundraising in preparation for the next round of prototypes. To learn more about Harvest CROO, including investment opportunities, contact info@harvestcroo.com.
###

About Harvest CROO:

Harvest CROO (Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer) began in 2012 on Gary Wishnatzki’s vision of creating a solution to the dwindling labor force in agriculture. With the expertise of Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, Bob Pitzer, they began developing the first Harvest CROO machines. In Previous rounds, $1.8 million was raised through qualified investors. Many of these investors are members of the strawberry industry, including Sweet Life Farms, Sam Astin III, California Giant, Inc., Main Street Produce, Inc., Sweet Darling Sales, Inc. Innovative Produce Inc., DG Berry, Inc., Central West, and Naturipe Berry Growers. In Round C, Harvest CROO is seeking to raise $3 million to build the next version, the Alpha unit, which will be the predecessor to a production model. To learn more about Harvest CROO, including current career opportunities for experienced engineers, contact info@harvestcroo.com.

About Naturipe Berry Growers:

Naturipe Berry Growers (NBG) is a co-op of growers that was founded in 1917 as the Central California Berry Growers Association. NBG markets their fruit through Naturipe Farms LLC, which is a grower-owned producer and international marketer of healthy, best tasting, premium berries. With production primarily from multi generation family farms, located in prime berry growing regions throughout North and South America. The diverse grower base ensures year-round availability of “locally grown” and “in-season global” conventional and organic berries. Naturipe Farms, formed in 2000, is a partnership between MBG Marketing, Hortifrut SA, Naturipe Berry Growers and Munger Farms. With sales and customer service offices located strategically throughout the USA – (HQ) Salinas CA., Grand Junction MI., Estero FL., Boston MA., Wenatchee WA., Atlanta GA.
For more information visit: www.naturipefarms.com or https://www.facebook.com/Naturipe
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#427791 Robot Operating System (ROS) continues ...

Today by far the most commonly used robotics software is ROS, which stands for Robot Operating System. This is an open source software, and the most number of developers and robotics users are involved with this program with an ever increasing rate. It contains set of libraries, algorithms, developer tools and drivers for developing robotics projects. The first release of ROS was in 2010, and as of end of 2016, ROS has reached its 10th official release, which is called “ROS Kinetic Kame”. There are translations to 11 languages other than English, which are: German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Turkish, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Thai and Chinese. It currently has 2000+ software libraries, which keeps increasing every year.
Many robots use ROS now, including but not limited to hobby robots, drones, educational or advanced humanoid robots, domestic robots including cleaning robot vacuums, cooking robots or telepresence robots and more, robot arms, farming robots, industrial robots, even Robonaut of NASA in space or the four legged military robots in development. A list of robots which use ROS can be found here: http://wiki.ros.org/Robots.
We were checking the Alexa.Com ranking of ROS since few years, in order to track the increase in usage, and we believe it is time to share it now, as we have enough data. The numbers on the left are dates we looked and the numbers on the right indicate the ranking of Ros.Org website from top, among all websites in the world:
May 2011: 189,000 th in the world, from top, among all other websites
April 2012: 187,900 th
January 2014: 107,821
May 2014: 112,236
September 2014: 83,875 (7219 in Canada, the country where it is most accessed)
January 2015: 83,556 (4,258 in Canada)
February 2015 : 75,680 (33185 in USA)
April 2015: 59,200 (31,334 in USA)
August 2015: 65,754 (50,132 in USA)
September 2016: 30,201 (China 5073)
This chart shows the increasing rank of ros.org among other websites in the world, which is a good indicator of its growth. The numbers on the left represent the site’s ranking from the top, among all other sites in the world. Chart Copyright: Robokingdom LLC.

As can be seen here, in May 2011, when we first checked this ranking, ROS.org was at 189,000 th place in the world from the top among all other websites in terms of unique visitors that visit the site, and it almost continuously increased its ranking. As of September 2016, it is now the 30,201st most reached website in the world, with mostly being accessed in China (5073 from top in China). Let’s not forget that even if it’s position remained the same, let alone going up, it would still mean the traffic of the site was going up, as every year there are more websites in the world which means the same ranking means better place and more traffic. The ranking of 30,201 means ROS.org is a very high traffic website in the world right now, being accessed probably by at least hundreds of thousands of people every day, with no indication of slowing down its rise yet.
The most important result of all of this, is that the use of robots is increasing, both in terms of number and type (when you look at the type of robots that use ros, as it also increases in variety all the time).
From Alexa, we were also able to see, from publicly available information, that the percentage of reach among countries for ROS.org is as follows:
China 47.5%
USA 11.5%
Japan 8.7%
South Korea 3.5%
Germany 3.4%
This also shows us that in China, a lot of things are going on for robotics development right now, as it gets most of its traffic from there with 47.5%. USA then follows with 11.5% and Japan is third with 8.7%.
With ROS, any type of sensors can be controlled, including 1d/2d range sensors, 3d range finders and cameras, audio/speech recognition sensors, cameras, environmental sensors, force/torque/touch sensors, motion capture, pose estimation, power supply, RFID, and sensor interfaces.
In ros.org site, in addition to all packages, there are also extensive tutorials and a discussion board that one can ask questions and share knowledge.
ROS also has an industrial section, the version of software modified for industrial applications. It is called ROS industrial, and can be reached at: http://rosindustrial.org/. Although we see domestic robots with new abilities or advanced research projects that aim to develop capabilities of robotics every year, according to the results of a study that is shown on http://rosindustrial.org/the-challenge/ website, the abilities of industrial robots are not progressing and the abilities are restricted to welding, material handling, dispensing, coating (although we know that they do additional tasks such as packaging, inspection, labeling etc…). ROS Industrial aims to solve this challenge by providing a common skeleton to all developers, with its extensive and stronger software architecture, than other individual robotics programs.
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