DARPA unveiled the latest version of the ATLAS robot redesigned by Boston Dynamics. Although it positioned the modifications as an ‘upgrade’, over 75% of the robot has changed for the better.
Wakamaru, the mutil-function service robot developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries close to a decade ago has never seemed to gain much traction or use outside of research labs and universities. While Wakamaru is extremely cute, most observers agreed that it didn’t really address a compelling customer need, especially at it’s USD$14,000 price point.
A tweet earlier today by @rani_chocobreak seems to provide visual confirmation that Wakamaru may have reached the end of its rope. According to the tweet, there are quite a few Wakamaru robots stored in the garbage collection area at an unnamed Japanese university.
大学のゴミ捨て場に凄まじいものが捨ててあった pic.twitter.com/slCOpZzuRZ— らに (@rani_chocobreak) June 23, 2014
Here’s the online version of the Yomiuri Shimbun article reporting on the Japanese government strategy to boost low-cost robots - http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20140615-00050113-yom-bus_all.
Basically the information is the same as we reported in the previous post, though there are a few more specifics. The article also mentions a proposed robot competition, tentatively named “Robot Olympics”, the government plans to stage in conjunction with the Tokyo Olympics and ParaOlympics in 2020. Needless to say the IOC will make them come up with a different name as it has in the past with other robot events.
The Tokyo MakerCamp, organised by Tokyo Hackerspace and MONO, was a big success with over 100 registered participants. The basic agenda was free form following the BarCamp model, with participants dynamically proposing topics they wanted to discuss.
MONO has particularly good luck using NITTO double sided tape to secure prints when 3D printing.
Deagostini Japan and Mitsui Sumitomo bank are introducing a Robi branded VISA credit card in Japan next month. The introductory campaign includes Robi branded items including a mini Robi figure and Quo prepaid cards featuring an original Robi design.
Needless to say, the promotion is only open to Japan residents.
It’s an age-old, or at least decades-old, story. A startup company, based on exciting technology and full of enthusiasm, comes roaring out of the gate ready to set the world on fire. They garner tons of media attention, recruit some of the top people in the industry, attract healthy amounts of venture capital, and proceed full speed ahead. Then at some point, often three or four years into their evolution, they are forced by the realities of product and market development to “select and focus”. They realise that they can’t develop a viable, sustainable business trying to do too many things at once.
Rethink Robotics, one of the most exciting and innovative robotics companies to appear over the past six years, apparently reached that stage this week and has announced significant layoffs amounting to almost a quarter of their estimated headcount.
According to a report on Boston.com, Rethink Robotics CEO Scott Eckert said that -
"...the layoffs are the result of Rethink deciding to focus on the market segments that have been most receptive to Baxter since its launch, including plastics manufacturing, consumer goods, and warehousing and logistics. Rethink has also been selling Baxter to academic and corporate research labs in the U.S. and overseas."
A restructuring of this magnitude, while certainly a concern, isn’t that unusual for high tech startups during this phase of their development. In fact, if managed properly, it can be quite healthy and could put the company in a much stronger position in the long term.
At the same time there is a significant risk that some customers may have a degree of trepidation about committing to the Rethink Robotics design approach, especially for robot implementations that are mission critical for their companies. Robotics, unlike software applications or consumer electronics, are used in critical parts of their customers manufacturing and supply chains.
Rethink represents a dramatic shift in the way that companies think about and implement robotics, and can potentially yield significant benefits. But before companies adopt the Rethink approach they have to be extremely confident that Rethink as a company will be around to support them.
In many ways it’s a chicken/egg problem, and one that we hope and expect will play out well for Rethink. Restructuring and refocusing is absolutely the right move at this point. They have the right technology at the right time in the right market. The opportunity is their’s to win, or to lose.
Bloomberg reports that Apple plans to spend a record $10.5 billion on improving and optimizing their supply chain including assembly robots, factory automation, milling machines, and other technology.
The information, derived in large part from Apple’s fiscal 2014 capital expenditure forecast, clearly demonstrates that Apple takes full control and ownership of their supply chain, unlike many other companies that tend to throw designs over the fence and leave the details up to their suppliers.
This isn’t a new initiative for the Apple management leadership. Prior to taking over as CEO when Steve Jobs passed away, Tim Cook husbanded the creation/re-engineering of Apple’s existing supply chain. However, it does represent a major “power-up” move since the forecast 2014 capital expenditures represent a 61% increase from the previous fiscal year and a whooping 10X increase over the 2008 numbers.
Doing a bit more research after my previous post on the Apple Mac Pro I found an excellent writeup on the Atomic Delights blog that goes through the entire Mac Pro manufacturing/assembly process step by step.
The article is definitely worth taking a few minutes to read through if you’re interested in what state-of-the-art manufacturing can accomplish, especially if you have the technology and deep pockets of Apple.