Nora Ayanian sees a future of autonomous robot coordination

Nora Ayanian

Photo Source Tumo

“Teams of humans are exceptionally good at coordination. Teams of robots, however, are clumsy at coordination, requiring extensive communication and computation.” – Nora Ayanian

There’s no denying it, robots are incomparably skilled when carrying out a specific given task, even if that task requires some light improvisation. The same can’t be said, however, when robots are forced to worked together; the overlap in work either results in extra work on the programming side or redundant/ineffective task management on the robot side. But what if robots could coordinate themselves autonomously depending on what the other robots are currently doing? It may sound like something out of Westworld, but this is exactly the question that Nora Ayanian is working to answer.

Nora Ayanian, assistant professor and Director of the ACT (Automatic Coordination of Teams) Lab at USC, endeavors to make robots and robotics a very real part of everyday life. “I want to make robots easy to use and have them everywhere,” said Ayanian, “they should be accessible, user-friendly and interactive so you can have them in your house and in your car. Right now, robots are really difficult for novices to use.”

Despite her passion for the robotic, her goal to achieve robotic automation would require researching a much less predictable source: people. By developing an online multiplayer game with funding from the National Science Foundation CAREER award, Ayanian was able to study the ways that humans can coordinate together when presented with very little information or communication tools. This research would prove invaluable in defining an automated coordination system for robots and allow to them to “think” of solutions for problems based on the activities of the greater robotic team.

Though automated coordination could certainly be applied to groups of identical robots with identical programming, Nora Ayanian believes that diversity, both in terms of team and of the robots themselves, is the key to solving complex tasks.

“The way we solve multi-robot problems right now is to uniformly apply one control policy to all of the identical robots in the team. For example, imagine we’re trying to monitor air quality with a team of physically identical aerial robots. If we considered all the factors that could affect the problem, the robots, and their capabilities, we might have too many factors to consider and our problem would be intractable,” wrote Ayanian in a blog post for Justmeans.com. “Imagine that same team of aerial robots assisted by robots on the ground. The robots on the ground could provide additional information such as temperature, position, topography, and satellite communications via hardware the aerial robots might not be able to carry. They could also perform computation, telling the aerial robots where to go and mapping the air quality, allowing the aerial robots to use more of their on-board energy for sensing.”

The contributions Nora Ayanian has made to the field of robotics don’t just end with the vast potential of her research, they are also every present in the new generation of roboticists she inspires and works alongside in her role as Director of USC’s ACT lab. We are incredibly excited to see what Ayanian’s work means for the future of robotics and dub her our “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Nora Ayanian does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is she affiliated with our company.

Sources:

https://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2016/

http://www.justmeans.com/blog/diversity-in-the-it-industry-is-key-to-solving-global-problems

USC News: New USC Viterbi professor sees robots in future

USC News: Two USC Viterbi researchers named among top ‘Innovators Under 35’

Are You Robotic Industries Association Certified?

RIAMember

“Our experience and capabilities in robotic programming will be further recognized through this certification. It demonstrates our continuing commitment with providing customers arc welding and cutting solutions for a completely automated system.” – Justin Percio, Business Manager, Welding Automation Systems, Lincoln Electric

Robotics are a fundamental part of WVCO and of our shared passion. Our PRE-TEC division builds custom and pre-engineered robotics, from multi-axis robot arms and end-of-arm tooling, to conveyance systems, and safety hardware —backed by all the support, training, programming, and maintenance you need. Beyond our own manufacturing, however, we are also a member of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), a relationship that has enabled us to better serve customers by giving us access to the latest technologies, methodologies, and resources.

RIA

RIA is the only North American trade group dedicated solely to robotics and robot safety. It was first founded in 1974 in an effort to “drive innovation, growth, and safety in manufacturing and service industries through education, promotion, and advancement of robotics, related automation technologies, and companies delivering integrated solutions.” They’ve succeeded in their endeavor, providing companies with a venue to seek help, answers, information, and certification.

RIA Certified Robot Integrator

RIA certification is an invaluable way for robot integrators and inventors to highlight their experience, capabilities, and aptitude to users, suppliers, investors, clients, and partners alike. It demonstrates that they’ve met the critical criteria determined by the RIA, which in turn means they’re an expert in best practices.

The certification is relatively new, first established in 2012. Prior to it, end users struggled to determine robotic integrators’ expertise and business requirements.  The certification plays a crucial role in establishing an industry standard for end users to evaluate vendors and ensure the best possible partnerships.

“The RIA certification program doesn’t only benefit end users, however. It’s the perfect opportunity for certified robot integrators to differentiate themselves,” says Armando Barry, certification consultant to RIA. “Achieving RIA certification will reflect a significant commitment by robot integrators, that elevates their technical expertise in applying robots in a consistent manner,” Barry concluded.

PRE-TEC Robotics

How to Become Certified

In order to become certified, integrators go through a rigorous process which includes an on-site audit, safety training and hands-on testing of key personnel among other important criteria.

There are three basic parts to the on-site exam and audit:

1. Hands-On section
2. Expert Response Section: (Participant industry tenure & biography)
3. On-site audit of business infrastructure per completed “Self Score Card”. Supporting evidence will be gathered before any certification date is scheduled.

The entire certification process demonstrates the requisite level of technical knowledge required to execute robotic system projects and tasks in a safe, efficient, and economical manner. It also signifies not only the company, but the technician has the ability of working with various codes and standards.

To learn more about this certification, we hope you will visit the RIA Certified Robot Integrator Program page. For more information on RIA, membership and the certification program, please contact RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088 or visit Robotics Online at www.robotics.org.

Sources:

RIA

Intelligrated

Could a Robot Learn By Itself?

Ashutosh Saxena

Photo Source Cornell Engineering

“We now live in a world where robots are helping humans in their daily lives, and just like humans, robots need to learn new skills in order to do their jobs successfully. And we shouldn’t expect a robot to learn on its own from scratch, any more than we’d expect a human to do so—imagine a child growing up with no access to textbooks, libraries, or the Internet.” – Ashutosh Saxena

What if robots could learn to carry out tasks autonomously? In other words, when giving a robot a new task it could “figure out” on it’s own how to do it? This is exactly the question that Ashutosh Saxena is working to answer.

Professor Saxena is a roboticist at Cornell University working to develop a massive online search engine that robots could access and find the required knowledge to carry out tasks, the aptly named RoboBrain. When given a question, RoboBrain will search the internet for relevant knowledge databases and images, sidestepping the need to teach robots to do tasks through step by step instructions.

“In 2014, I started a project called RoboBrain at Cornell University along with PhD students Ashesh Jain and Ozan Sener. We now have collaborators at Stanford and Brown. What we’re working on is a way of sharing information that allows robots to gather whatever knowledge they need for a task,” writes Saxena. “If one robot learns, then the knowledge is propagated to all the robots. RoboBrain achieves this by gathering the knowledge from a variety of sources. The system stores multiple kinds of information, including symbols, natural language, visual or shape features, haptic properties, and motions.”

The implications of such a project, if successful, could be enormous. It would lead to an increase in efficiency and reduce downtime and spending spent in “training” robots how to carry out tasks. RoboBrain could also lead to robots with more capacity to carry out objectives than previously intended.

Saxena’s work has garnered him several awards and recognition, including Eight Innovators to Watch in 2015, Smithsonian Institution; World Technology Award, 2015; The 50-years of Shakey at AAAI-RSS Blue Sky Ideas award, 2015; RSS Early Career Award, 2014; NSF Career award, 2013; Microsoft Faculty Fellow, 2012; Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, 2011; Best Cognitive Robotics paper, IROS’14. Best student paper, RSS’13; CUAir at AUVSI’12: First prize, mission performance; Google Faculty Research Award, 2012.

These breakthroughs in robotic learning coupled with the unparalleled potential of a developed RoboBrain is what makes Ashush Saxena our pick for “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Ashush Saxena does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

Stanford University

Rethink Robotics Youtube

MIT Technology Review

Smithsonian

Yaskawa Motoman Offers Tips on How to Select a Robotics Integrator

Motoman-PartnerThe 4 “Cs” to Selecting a Robotics Integrator

We are proud of the outstanding work and research being conducted by our robotics division, PRE-TEC, the largest custom robotic integrator on the West Coast. In the past decade alone, PRE-TEC has prepared more than 165 robotic systems thanks in part to the valuable partnerships we have with leading robotics companies like Yaskawa Motoman.

Yaskawa Motoman is an industry leader in the rapidly growing robotics field, and we’re proud our PRE-TEC division is a premier Motoman Strategic Partner.

Sam Schenck, Director of Strategic Partner Relations at Yaskawa America, Inc. – Motoman Robotics Division, recently wrote a piece for the company’s blog that offers valuable advice on how to select a robotics integrator. “Ultimately, picking the right robotics integrator is about making the part you want to make at the rate, quality and timing you need,” he writes in his recent post, 4 Things to Consider When Selecting a Robotics Integrator. “There are 4 “Cs” to sizing up any integrator; I define them as concept, cost, capabilities and capacity”.

Here is a quick summary of his advice.

1. Don’t accept claims that can’t be supported by evidence.

2. Be aware that the proposal price might not be your “all-in cost” for automation.

3. Regarding support, if you want an integrator to be available for immediate, on-site help should problems arise, make sure they have a support presence in your region.

4. If they have the capabilities you need, ask how much of their work is sub-contracted. You want to know if they are a net aggregator of pieces or a producer. Work with the latter, not the former.

Click here to read the full article.

PRE-TEC’s Custom Robotic Technologies Featured in New Website

The Precision Technologies Division (PRE-TEC) of Willamette Valley Company recently launched a new, mobile friendly website to better serve our customers and help them understand our services and custom robotic technologies.

The new site integrates a series of helpful videos on nearly every page to clearly demonstrate PRE-TEC’s flexible, automated solutions designed for the Manufacturing and the Wood Products industry.

PRE-TEC began nearly thirty years ago when a group of innovative individuals at Willamette Valley Company saw a need for easy-to-use, accurate equipment for metering chemical products. When they discovered this kind of equipment could not be found, they formed the “Equipment Division”.

In the mid-1990’s, the Equipment Division delved into the robotics field and became “Precision Technologies”, later renamed “PRE-TEC” in 2009.

Today, our PRE-TEC Division team are some of the brightest minds in the industry. This group of engineers have demonstrated time and time again how to change ideas into reality by applying scientific knowledge and innovative manufacturing know-how to the development of precision equipment.

Our team has prepared over 220 robotic systems throughout North America and is currently the largest custom robotic integrator on the West Coast.

We hope you will visit our new website and contact us with any questions and feedback: pre-tec@pre-tec.com or (800) 205-9826.  Be sure to check out all of our PRE-TEC videos on YouTube.  

Please visit www.wilvaco.com to learn more about WVCO’s other divisions.

FANUC America Introduces New CR-35iA Collaborative Robot Designed to Work Alongside Humans

FANUC_America_CR-35iA_Collaborative_robot

The FANUC CR-35iA collaborative robot allows shared workspace between an operator and the interactive robot. (Photo: Business Wire)

WVCO’s strategic robotics partner, FANUC America Corporation, recently announced the company has developed it’s new CR-35iA collaborative robot, the industry’s first 35 kg payload force limited collaborative robot designed to work alongside humans without the need for safety fences.

“The FANUC CR-35iA collaborative robot allows shared workspace between an operator and the interactive robot,” said Greg Buell, product manager, FANUC America. “The highly-sensitive robot gently stops if it comes in contact with the operator, allowing the robot and human to work side by side; in fact, FANUC currently has units running in production at General Motors.”

The CR-35iA robot was developed to help manufacturers solve ergonomic challenges by handling applications that are physically demanding for humans, such as heavy lifting.The robot’s shell is green to distinguish the collaborative robot from the standard yellow FANUC robots.

WVCO is proud to have a long time partnership with organizations like FANUC America.  Our robotics division, PRE-TEC, has partnered with the company to develop automated manufacturing solutions using six axis robots and other precision equipment for customers all over the world. Earlier this year, we introduced introduced M2000iA, FANUC’s largest robot available in the North American market.

Large Robots

Standing with M2000iA

Click here to learn more about FANUC’s CR-35iA collaborative robot. You can also visit the company’s website at www.fanucamerica.com.

About FANUC America Corporation
FANUC America Corporation is a subsidiary of FANUC CORPORATION in Japan, and provides industry-leading robotics, CNC systems, and factory automation. FANUC’s innovative technologies and proven expertise help manufacturers in the Americas maximize efficiency, reliability and profitability.

WVCO’s PRE-TEC Division Partners with Fanuc to Integrate ‘The Big Robot’

Large Robots

Standing with M2000iA

WVCO’s PRE-TEC Division team are some of the brightest minds in the industry. Since the mid 1990s, this team has successfully created more than 220 robotic systems and is currently FANUC’s largest custom robotic Integrator on the West Coast.

Much of the success of our robotics division has been made possible by partnering with leading edge companies like the FANUC America Corporation to develop automated manufacturing solutions using six axis robots and other precision equipment gor customers all over the world.

Recently, this team delved into a BIG project. We mean REALLY big.

Meet M2000iA, FANUC’s largest robot available in the North American market. This beast of a robot is offered with a 900Kg (2,094lbs) capacity or 1350Kg (2,976lbs) capacity- in other words, it can handle enormous objects like car & truck bodies, and very large castings. Our PRE-TEC team has proudly partnered once again with FANUC to integrate this huge robot for a customer here in the Northwest.

It takes a very innovative company like FANUC to supply us with the broad range of robots and servo drives we need to build the flexible automated solutions that integrate the multi-axis robot arms, with end-of-arm tooling, conveyance systems, and safety hardware.

With headquarters in Rochester Hills, Michigan, FANUC America Corporation produces software, controls, and vision products that aid in the development of robotic systems. Their technologies help manufacturers like us maximize efficiency, reliability and profitability.

To get an idea of their extensive capabilities, just watch this video where they demonstrate four FANUC Arc Mate 100iC robots welding an automotive trailer hitch:

For more information about the FANUC America Corporation, visit www.fanucamerica.com.

PRE-TEC designs and builds automated solutions for challenging manufacturing applications, and support all projects with training, spare parts, and preventive maintenance programs. Download our company overview for contact information and to learn more: Please visit www.wilvaco.com to learn more about WVCO’s other divisions.

Click here to download more info on M2000iA

WVCO Featured Innovator of the Month: MIT Professor Julie Shah

Julie Shaw

Image Courtesy of MIT Industrial Liaison Program

“Imagine if robots could be truly collaborative partners, able to anticipate and adapt to the needs of their human teammates. Such robots could greatly extend productivity. That possibility is really exciting to me.” -Julie Shah

Willamette Valley Company was built on the principle of innovation. Throughout the years, our team of forward thinking innovators has produced a range of game changing solutions within  our divisions like PRE-TEC, Willamette Valley Company Railroad Division, POLYQuik Performance Products, and WVCO Wood Products.

This month, our featured innovator is Julie Shah, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and head of the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT.

The Interactive Robotics Group is a robotics research lab committed to developing robots that work in tandem with humans to accomplish what neither can do alone. She is best known for her team’s innovative methods of enabling human-robot collaboration, i.e. Creating robots who can function as colleagues for humans in fields such as disaster response, manufacturing, surgery and space exploration.

“Human interaction isn’t part of the traditional curriculum for training roboticists,” she says in this MIT Technology Review profile. “Our field is always pushing to make our systems more autonomous, and have richer capabilities and intelligence, but in that push we tend to look past the fact that these systems are, and always will be, working in human contexts”.

Here she is describing her work in the robotics field in her own words

Ms. Shah has received international recognition for her work in the robotics field, including an NSF CAREER award in 2014 and in the MIT Technology Review 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013. She has also been named by MIT Technology Review as one of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35.

Her dedication to creating a more collaborative relationship between humans and robots to achieve greater good makes her our pick for our “Innovator of the Month”.

Sourced By:
This MIT engineering professor is turning robots into ideal colleagues for humans.

interactive.mit.edu

Machines Like Us: Robots and Drones at Work

Spotlight on Robotics Engineer Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks

Photo source csail.mit.edu

As a company that strives to explore new ideas, devices and processes, we admire individuals who exemplify the spirit of innovation. This month our featured innovator is Australian Robotics Engineer, author, entrepreneur and MIT Professor, Rodney Brooks.

His TED Speaker bio describes him as one who “studies and engineers robot intelligence, looking for the holy grail of robotics: the AGI, or artificial general intelligence”.

In this famous TED Talk from 2013, Professor Brooks presents the idea that robots can play an essential role in our future as the number of working-age adults drops and the number of retirees increases. Rather than viewing robots as a replacement for people on the job, perhaps we should see them as helpful collaborators, freeing us up to spend time on less mundane and mechanical challenges. Watch below.

Perhaps he is best known for popularizing the actionist approach to robotics, the belief that actions or behaviors are a more appropriate standard in robotics. This approach focuses on robots that possess an ability to to exhibit complex behaviors by gradually correcting its actions via sensory-motor links- in other words- a robot who can figure things out.

He is changing the field of robotics and argues that in order for robots to accomplish everyday tasks in an environment shared by humans, their higher cognitive abilities need to be based on the action and experience with the environment. He was one of the first scientists to give robots the ability to process data on their own. “Over time there’s been a realization that vision, sound-processing, and early language are maybe the keys to how our brain is organized,” he says in this 2002 article.

Rodney Brooks is a founder of iRobot, makers of the popular Roomba vacuum. He now heads Rethink Robotics, whose mission is to apply advanced robotic intelligence to manufacturing and physical labor. “When I look out in the future, I can’t imagine a world, 500 years from now, where we don’t have robots everywhere,” he says.

In 2014, The Robotics Industries Association presented Professor Brooks was honored the Joseph F. Engelberger Award honoring “persons who have contributed outstandingly to the furtherance of the science and practice of robotics”.

US DOT Unveils Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices

 U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx examines the aging infrasture in our country. Photo via instagram.com/usdot.

In 30 years, how will you travel? That is the question the U.S. Dept. of Transportation wants us to ask ourselves. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was joined recently by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to unveil US DOT’s 30 Year Framework for the Future, Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices.

Beyond Traffic looks at the latest data and anticipates the trends and choices facing our transportation system over the next three decades. If we do not make significant changes, the US DOT predicts our country will face a grim future which will include extreme gridlock, higher costs, and more devastation to our already aging infrastructure.

Secretary Foxx’s draft framework for the future of transportation encourages us to ask ourselves the tough questions, look at the trends, and – hopefully – inspire some innovative thinkers to come up with solutions. “For too long, our national dialogue about transportation has been focused on recreating the past. Instead, we need to focus on the trends that are shaping our future,” he says.

How will we build a transportation system to accommodate a growing population and changing travel patterns?

How will we move things? By 2045, freight volume will increase 45 percent.

How will we build a transportation system that doesn’t just let a growing population travel – but lets them travel SAFER than ever?

How do we make our infrastructure more resilient for a time when weather events like Hurricane Sandy will occur with increasing frequency?

How can we invest the trillions of dollars our transportation needs in the smartest way possible?

These are the questions the US DOT wants us to tackle. So how can advances in robotics, research, and automation help us overcome the dramatic challenges the American transportation network is facing and change the future transportation?

Be a part of this important conversation and share your ideas at www.dot.gov/beyondtraffic.

More about Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices
Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices is structured in three parts. The first part discusses the major trends shaping our changing transportation system. The second part discusses the implications of these trends for each mode of transportation: highways, transit, pedestrian and bicycle, aviation, intercity and freight rail, maritime and pipeline. The third part presents a description of a possible future scenario based on the trends analyzed in the previous section.