It doesn't look that far removed from R2D2 in "Star Wars" -- a small, autonomous robot that wheels down a sidewalk at about 4 mph. The Starship robot has been developed by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis to be the cost-efficient grocery delivery service of the future.
Set to be piloted in several countries including the U.S. and the U.K. in 2016, the robots are meant "to fundamentally improve local delivery of goods and groceries, making it almost free," according to a Starship press release.
The company expects to launch fleets of the small robots that can deliver up to 20 pounds of groceries for $1.50 in under a half-hour. Customers select a delivery time that's convenient for them, and they are able to track the robot's progress through a mobile app. Once the Starship robot shows up, the app user is the only person who can unlock the machine's cargo and get the groceries.
The robot uses navigation software with obstacle avoidance, which allows it to drive autonomously without causing havoc on the sidewalk, but a human operator can intervene remotely to guarantee a safe delivery.
"Our vision revolves around three zeroes -- zero cost, zero waiting time, and zero environmental impact," Ahti Heinla, Starship Technologies CEO, said in the release. "We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications."
Heinla added that the robots "are not drones" -- instead of conspicuously flying through the air, they are earthbound, designed to blend in safely with pedestrians. They are also environmentally friendly by being carbon emission-free.
The main goal of the robot is to simplify the delivery process. Retailers ship the grocery items to a central hub where the robot fleet takes over, completing the delivery to the customer, avoiding expensive door-to-door travel costs.
"With ecommerce continuing to grow, consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery -- but at a cost that suits them," Heinla said. "The last few miles often amounts to the majority of that total delivery cost. Our robots are purposefully designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets -- it's fit for purpose and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer."
Full text of the article by Brian Mastroianni in CBS News.
Yamaha Motors has revealed it is developing a robot designed to ride any racing motorbike at high speeds.
The Japanese company unveiled a prototype at the Tokyo Motor Show.
At present it is reliant on human operators, but in time the firm plans to have the android make its own decisions about the best course and speed to achieve the best race time around a track.
Called the Motobot, this is a fully capable motorcycle-riding humanoid robot that unites both Yamaha's motorcycle and robotics technologies. The Motobot is able to ride entirely on its own with no human participation. So far, Yamaha has not disclosed much about the robotic system, except of a few words in a short press release.
“R&D [Research and Development] is currently underway with the goal of developing the robot to ride an unmodified motorcycle on a racetrack at more than 200 km/h,” the Yamaha statement says.
What is also known so far is that the Motobot interacts with the bike in exactly the same way that a human does, twisting its wrists to control the throttle, squeezing the clutch, changing gear and hunkering down behind the windscreen.
The only limit to its capability is that it so far needs a pair of stabilising wheels on both sides of the motorcycle to prevent the bike from tipping. It is hoped that they won’t be necessary in the future.
The Motobot has been developed to serve as an unmanned test pilot to ensure a human rider’s safety. Instead of using human riders to test unknown and potentially dangerous prototypes, Yamaha can make use of the Motobot to ride hundreds or even thousands of test laps before humans get involved.
An experimental self-driving car has set a record for an autonomous road trip in Mexico. The trip from the U.S.-Mexico border to Mexico City provided the opportunity to collect data and prepare for an even longer upcoming road trip from Reno, Nevada to Mexico City.
The autonomous car in this case was a 2010 Volkswagen Passat Variant named Autonomos. The modified, self-driving vehicle can automatically control speed, direction, and braking without human driver intervention, but it also relies upon GPS to safely follow preset routes. Researchers prepared special maps containing terabytes of data detailing the number of lanes, highway markings, exits, intersections and traffic lights.
“We covered 250 to 300 miles daily, so it took a week to arrive to Mexico City,” said Raul Rojas, a visiting professor of robotics and intelligent systems math at the University of Nevada, Reno, in a press release. “Some parts of the highway were scary, but we had no important safety incidents.”
The 2,414-kilometer (1,500-mile) Mexico road trip took place along Mexico’s Highway 15. About five percent of the route included construction work and potholes. But the bigger challenge for the self-driving car came from the lack of lane markings along lengthy stretches of highway due to repaving work over the summer.
Rojas previously tested the same car in autonomous driving mode on a 306-kilometer round trip from Berlin to Leipzig in Germany. He and his colleagues outfitted Autonomos as a “driving laboratory” with seven laser scanners, nine video cameras, seven radars and a GPS roof antenna.
For the Mexico trip, Rojas brought along three German colleagues. Everyone took turns as safety drivers; one person kept an eye on the road in the driver’s seat and one person watched the computer and navigation systems to see what moves the autonomous car planned to do next. The remaining pair of people followed in a support vehicle.
The Mexico road trip represented just one leg of an planed 6,437-kilometer trip from Reno to Mexico City. Eventually, Rojas hopes to improve the autonomous car’s ability to predict the behavior of other drivers and pedestrians. Such capabilities would go a long way toward making autonomous cars safer beyond just highway driving.
“If a human can drive with two eyes, I am sure that we will be able to drive autonomously with a computer the size of a notebook and just a handful of video cameras in just a few more years,” Rojas said.
Huge tech companies and automakers have increasingly been testing self-driving cars on public roads. But semi-autonomous features have also been creeping into existing commercial cars. For example, Tesla Motors recently uploaded new Autopilot software to its Tesla Model S vehicles. And in 2014, the Mercedes-Benz S Class already brought semi-autonomous features to the commercial car market with adaptive cruise control and automatic collision prevention.
Full text of this article by Jeremy Hsu in the IEEE Spectrum.