TIME robotics

Robot Kills Man at Volkswagen Plant

The machine grabbed and crushed the technician

A robot crushed a worker at a Volkswagen production plant in Germany, the company said Wednesday.

A 22-year-old man was helping to put together the stationary robot that grabs and configures auto parts Monday when the machine grabbed and pushed him against a metal plate, the Associated Press reported. He later died from the injuries. Volkswagen did not release the man’s name.

A spokesperson for the car company told the Associated Press that the robot can be programmed for specific tasks and that the company believes the malfunction was due to human error.

Though the company uses some lightweight robots to work on the production line next to humans, a spokesperson told the Financial Times that this was not one of those robots. The type of robot that crushed the employee is usually kept in a cage. The man was working on the robot inside the cage when he was grabbed.

Prosecutors are still deciding whether to bring charges and whom they would pursue.

[AP]

Read next: Driverless Car Maker Denies Claim of Near-Miss With Google Car

TIME robotics

South Korean Team Wins DARPA Robotics Challenge

Challenge was launched in response to the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan

A South Korean team took home the top prize on Saturday at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals in California.

Team Kaist from Daejeon and its robot, DRC-Hubo, were awarded the grand prize of $2 million over 22 competing robots, according to DARPA, the military technology arm of the Defense Department. The humanoid robot had performed the best across a series of eight tasks relevant to natural disaster response, which included tripping circuit breakers, climbing stairs and walking through rubble.

Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Fla., and its Running Man robot took second place and $1 million, and the CHIMP robot of Pittsburgh’s Tartan Rescue came in at No. 3, earning $500,000.

The competition, launched after Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011, was intended to accelerate development in robotics with the ability to one day enter disaster-stricken areas that are too dangerous for humans.

“This is the end of the DARPA Robotics Challenge,” DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said, “but only the beginning of a future in which robots can work alongside people to reduce the toll of disasters.”

TIME Tech

Watch This Robot Perfectly Mimic a Master Japanese Swordsman

This robot can cut through anything

Robots these days can play the violin, send us Amazon packages, even adapt if they get hurt. Now, one of them can slice us all to bits.

Yaskawa Electric Corporation recently tracked the movements of Isao Machii, a renowned Japanese swordsman, and taught a robot called Motoman-MH24 how to mimic his use of a katana (also known as a scary Japanese sword). In a video released by the robotics company, the sword-wielding robot can be seen slicing through flowers and fruit with ease and precision. He even battles Machii, who holds several world records and has sliced through a fried shrimp hurtling towards him at 80 m.p.h., in a 1,000-cut challenge.

Hopefully, Yaskawa’s next project is a robot that’s really good at dulling swords so it can protect all of humanity.

TIME robots

Watch the Scariest Robot in the World Jump Over Stuff Automatically

Please don't become self-aware

It’s bad enough that Boston Dynamics has made a robotic cheetah that can run nearly 30 m.p.h. (48 km/h). Now MIT has its own cheetah-robot that can autonomously leap tall obstacles in a single bound. The robot uses lasers to see its environment, and the onboard computer uses a three-part algorithm to detect an obstacle, adjust its approach, then measure the appropriate jump trajectory. The entire process takes about 100 milliseconds. Right now the cheetah can clear hurdles as high as 18 in. (46 cm) at an average running speed of 5 m.p.h. (8 km/h).

MIT researchers are planning to demonstrate their cheetah’s abilities at the DARPA Robotics Challenge in June.

TIME Careers

These Jobs Are Most Likely To Be Taken by a Computer

SPAIN-TECHNOLOGY-ROBOT
Gerard Julien—AFP/Getty Images A man moves his finger toward SVH (Servo Electric 5 Finger Gripping Hand) automated hand made by Schunk during the 2014 IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Madrid on November 19, 2014.

Great news, dentists!

Telemarketers’ jobs have the highest chance of being automated, according to recent report. Other positions with huge potential for being overtaken by robots? Cashiers, tellers and drivers, among others, according to this new NPR interactive.

While telemarketers have a 99% chance of one day being totally replaced by technology (it’s already happening), cashiers, tellers and drivers all have over a 97% chance at being automated. Many positions within the “production” category put together by NPR, including packaging and assembly jobs, tend to rank highly as well.

The job with the lowest shot at being overtaken by technology in the future? Mental health and substance abuse social workers. They have a 0.3% chance, according to the data. Occupational therapists also rank at 0.3%, while dentists, surgeons and nutritionists appear pretty safe at just 0.4%.

Per NPR:

The researchers admit that these estimates are rough and likely to be wrong. But consider this a snapshot of what some smart people think the future might look like. If it says your job will likely be replaced by a machine, you’ve been warned.

To play around with the complete data, check here. But beware, it’s pretty addicting.

TIME robotics

Watch This Drone’s Unfortunate Encounter With a Goose

Both appear to be okay

In a video posted by RTV NH, a media production company in Holland, a goose appears to smash into a drone (potentially on purpose). Thankfully, both the drone and the goose seemingly end the encounter unscathed.

In case you were wondering, the bird is an Egyptian Goose, which is known for being territorial. The drone was capturing images of Oudorperpolder, in the city of Alkmaar, according to The Daily Mail.

Unfortunately for drones and fowl alike, this could be an increasingly common occurrence, especially as the drone industry is expected to continue booming in coming years. Business Insider report commercial and civilian drone sales will grow at 19% between 2015 and 2020, while military models will see 5% growth.

The drone industry overall is expected to be worth over $8.4 billion by 2019, CNBC reports, citing ABI Research estimates.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.

TIME robotics

A Drug-Buying Robot Has Been Freed From Police Custody

!Mediengrupppe Bitnik Items purchased on the darknet by the Random Darknet Shopper

The bot, programmed to buy illegal goods online, was part of an art exhibition

A robot programmed to buy drugs from illegal online markets has been freed by Swiss police. The shopping bot, called the “Random Darknet Shopper,” was created last fall by a Swiss art group called !Mediengruppe Bitnik to purchase illicit goods online using a weekly allowance of $100 worth of Bitcoin. The various items the bot bought at random, including counterfeit sneakers and ecstasy, would be delivered to the art group’s gallery for an exhibition.

Swiss police captured the robot back in January and confiscated its purchases. However, last week, the art group announced that the police had returned Random Darknet Shopper as well as all of the goods it bought, except for the ecstasy. A Swiss police official told CNBC that the makers of the robot wouldn’t be charged for programming the robot to buy illegal items.

“This is a great day for the bot, for us and for freedom of art!” the art group wrote in a blog post.

[CNBC]

TIME Innovation

Meet The Robot Chef That Can Prepare Your Dinner

Moley Robotics An automated kitchen by Moley Robotics.

It can do a very pleasant crab bisque in less than 30 minutes

Ever since Americans were introduced to Rosie, the beloved robot maid on The Jetsons, way back in the 1960s, robotic household help has been the ultimate in futuristic dream products.

A new product from Moley Robotics might bring that future one step closer, as the company unveiled a robot chef on Tuesday at Hannover Messe, a trade fair for industrial technology in Germany. Comprised of two robotic arms in a specially designed kitchen, which includes a stove top, utensils and a sink, the device is able to reproduce the movements of a human chef in order to create a meal from scratch. The robot learns the movements after they are performed by a human chef, captured on a 3D camera and uploaded into the computer.

A few weeks before the robot chef was unveiled, Moley invited TIME to check out the robot and test its fare. In less than half an hour, the robot made a crab bisque, based on the recipe and technique of Tim Anderson, winner of 2011’s season of MasterChef in the U.K., who is working with Moley to develop the kitchen. From selecting the right heat level on the stove-top to adding the pre-arranged ingredients at just the right moment to operating a small mixer, the robot arms made the soup from scratch. It even plated up the soup, including scraping the bottom of the ladle against the rim of the saucepan in order to prevent drips.

Why crab bisque? “Crab bisque is a challenging dish for a human chef to make, never mind a robot,” explains Anderson. “If it can make bisque, it can make a whole lot of other things.” When asked if he feels at threatened by seeing a machine expertly recreate one of his recipes, Anderson is somewhat surprisingly on the side of the technology. “Some people ask if this is going to put my out of a job. This has already given me a job.”

Comparing the robot to cookbooks and YouTube tutorials by professional chefs, Anderson says, “I think it’s going to help people build brands.” The aim is to have professional chefs record themselves cooking their own recipes so that the robot will be able to mimic the techniques and replicate the dish. Anderson envisions people learning how to make a variety of dishes by watching their robots in action. “It’s changed the way I think about cooking,” he says.

Moley, which was founded by computer scientist Mark Oleynik, has partnered with the London-based Shadow Robot Company, which developed the kitchen’s hands. Twenty motors, two dozen joints and 129 sensors are used in order to mimic the movements of human hands. The robotic arms and hands are capable of grasping utensils, pots, dishes and various bottles of ingredients. Olyenik says that the robot hands are also capable of powering through cooking tasks quickly, though they’ve been designed to move quite slowly, so as not to alarm anyone watching it work.

Sadly for vegetarians, like Shadow Robot’s managing director Rich Walker, crab bisque is the only dish the robot is currently able to make. However, the company plans to build a digital library of 2,000 recipes before the kitchen is available to the wider public. Moley ambitiously aims to scale the robot chef for mass production and begin selling them as early as 2017. The robotic chef, complete with a purpose-built kitchen, including an oven, hob, dishwasher and sink, will cost £10,000 (around $15,000). Yet that price point will depend on a relatively high demand for the kitchen and it’s still unclear how large the market is for such a product at the moment.

Dan Kara, a robotics analyst for U.S.-based ABI Research, a market intelligence company that specializes in emerging technology, tells TIME that the household robots that have found a market tend to be smaller devices that tackle tedious chores. “Successful products for the home that I’ve seen have been floor-cleaning [devices] — sweepers and vacuums — and pool cleaners and lawnmowers,” he says, noting that people tend to favor robots that tackle tasks they don’t want to do “because it’s boring or repetitive.” Another key factor of a product’s success is affordability. “Once [robots] get above a certain price, the number of people using them drops right off.”

A robotic chef, however, “just seems like a bridge too far at this time,” though Kara pointa out that he isn’t familiar with Moley’s kitchen or its specific technology.

Which isn’t to say that a robot chef wouldn’t have interested buyers. The robotics industry is growing and the Boston Consulting Group has estimated that spending on robots could “jump from just over $15 billion in 2010 to about $67 billion by 2025.”

But there is still work to be done on Moley’s kitchen before it would be an even remotely practical, albeit pricey, purchase. As the robot doesn’t have any way to see, it’s unable to locate an ingredient or utensil that might be moved or knocked out of place. It also can’t chop or prep food yet, so it must use prepared ingredients that are meticulously laid out. The company is working on improving the robot’s functions and expanding its capabilities, but as Oleynick admits, “it will have some limits because nothing can replace human touch.”

TIME Amazon

Why Amazon Is Hosting a $25,000 Robot Showdown

Amazon Opens Fulfillment Center In DuPont, Washington
Stephen Brashear—Getty Images Amazon Kiva robots, which help fill orders by bringing shelves of merchandise to Amazon Associates, navigate an Amazon Fulfillment Center on February 13, 2015 in DuPont, Washington.

One small step for robots, one giant leap for warehouse automation

Some 25 teams will compete in Amazon’s upcoming robot throwdown, a competition that will test the outer limits of what a robot can see, grasp and pack into a cardboard box.

The e-commerce giant recently awarded travel grants to 25 robot team finalists who will be flown to Seattle this May to compete in Amazon’s Picking Challenge. Each team’s robot will be confronted with a shelf of 25 common household items. It will have to accurately identify, grasp and package the items with care.

Points will be awarded for computer vision — the ability to tell apart a box of Oreo cookies, for instance, from a box of Cheez-It crackers — as well as dexterity. Dropping or damaging an item will result in points deducted, MIT Technology Review reports. The winner will receive $25,000 in prize money.

Robots already play an instrumental role in Amazon’s packaging centers, ferrying 700-pound inventory shelves in and out of storage, but the challenges of handling individual objects with care has posed a persistent challenge for researchers. Amazon says it hopes the contest will “strengthen the ties between the industrial and academic robotic communities and promote shared and open solutions.”

TIME robotics

Meet Sawyer, a New Robot That Wants to Revolutionize Manufacturing

It can do far more delicate tasks than most factory robots

There’s a new robot in town.

Meet Sawyer, a new robot unveiled Thursday by Rethink Robotics, a Boston-based robotics company aiming to make factories more efficient, safer and more productive.

Weighing in at 41.9 lbs and standing 3.3 feet tall, the one-armed Sawyer is smaller and more flexible than Rethink’s only other robot, the double-armed Baxter, which debuted in 2012. While Baxter has helped companies do heavy duty work like loading boxes, Sawyer was created to automate more detailed, smaller tasks, like testing circuit boards and machine tending — jobs that have traditionally proven too intricate for industrial robots.

“[Baxter] gave us a tremendous base of companies that were thinking like us. We have a vision, idea and experience, but we don’t necessarily have all the answers,'” Rethink CMO Jim Lawton says of Sawyer’s development, which began in late 2013. “It’s like taking one step across the river. You can’t get there in one step, so you need to build commercially viable products as stepping stones. Eventually, you get to the other side of the river.”

Rethink’s customers have already used both robots — though Sawyer only in field tests — to perform low-level factory jobs, positions that are often menial, dangerous or undesirable. The machines are also relatively cheap: Sawyer will start at $29,000 when it’s introduced more widely this fall, while Baxter starts at $25,000; similar robots can cost several times more. The robots’ signature touch is digital “faces” that double as easy-to-use interfaces, allowing companies to get Sawyer and Baxter up-and-running within hours or days.

Together, Sawyer and Baxter are just two of the many robots fueling fears automation and other technologies are taking humans’ jobs. Rethink is used to the criticism: factory labor has long been a politically charged topic, and the seven-year-old startup has often been in the spotlight thanks to its big-name investors like Bezos Expeditions and Charles River Ventures. Rethink’s most recent funding round in January raised $26.6 million. That’s considered a significant investment in the robotics industry, which is expected to grow 12% globally every year, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

Still, Rethink Robotics argues that its robots will only supplement their human counterparts, not outmode them. “Companies who are buying robots are filling in the tasks they can’t get people to stay and do,” says co-founder Rodney Brooks. “They’re using the people they have more positively by using their intelligence.”

Global manufacturing company Jabil, which uses thousands of robots including Sawyer and Baxter, agrees that robots will support instead of replace manufacturing workers. After all, the manufacturing field is in global decline as emerging and advanced economies shift toward high-skill jobs, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report. In the U.S., for example, the share of jobs in manufacturing fell from 25% in 1950 to about 9% in 2013.

“The trend that’s across the entire manufacturing continuum is a demographic shift that’s making it more and more difficult to attract the kind of low-cost labor that we’ve been able to do in the past, and to keep wages at the levels they’re at,” says John Dulchinos, VP of global automation at Jabil. “Robots by themselves aren’t the answer, but robots are a piece of the equation.”

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