Apple Bets $10.5B on Robots and Lasers to Upgrade Their Supply Chain

Apple s $10 5B on Robots to Lasers Shores Up Supply Chain  Bloomberg

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.


Via: Apple’s $10.5B on Robots to Lasers Shores Up Supply Chain - Bloomberg

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How Apple Makes the Mac Pro – All the Detail Thanks to Atomic Delights

How Apple Makes the Mac Pro  Atomic Delights

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.

Via: How Apple Makes the Mac Pro — Atomic Delights

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Making the all-new Apple Mac Pro – with Robots!! (Video)

Apple  Making the all new Mac Pro  YouTube 1

Given all the video and photos I process, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that my next computer purchase will be the new Mac Pro. Even though it’s a bit pricey, the speed and processing power it is expected to deliver will improve my output and efficiency considerably.

So, it’s good to know that the Mac Pro assembly is being done in the U.S. Although I fully understand that it won’t mean a lot of jobs being repatriated from off-shore to the States, every little bit helps. And, it’s judicious application of robotics and factory automation technology that makes it both cost effective and good business to do the assembly Stateside.

Here’s a look at the Mac Pro manufacturing and assembly process:


Via: Apple - Making the all-new Mac Pro - YouTube

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MakerBot Academy – Putting 3D Printers in All US Schools

Announcement | MakerBot Academy and America s Classrooms

Makerbot and America Makes jointly announced “Makerbot Academy”, a new initiative to support and strengthen American schools and STEM education. A big part of the initiative centres around giving students access to technology to foster interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm in STEM.

The new Makerbot Academy, with support from donors, plans to place thousands of 3D printers in schools across the nation. Here’s the opening text of the announcement:

We’re proud to announce MakerBot Academy, an educational mission to put a MakerBot® Desktop 3D Printer in every school in the United States of America.

The first MakerBot Academy initiative includes 3D printing bundles for classrooms, an awesome Thingiverse Challenge, and generous support from individuals and organizations.

What You Can Do

1. Get the word out. Tell the teachers you know to register at

2. Support a school. Contribute to the effort by choosing a teacher; help get them set for the Next Industrial Revolution.

3. Participate in the Thingiverse Challenge. Develop models that teachers can use to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.

Responding to a Presidential Call to Action

At this year’s State Of The Union address, President Obama announced a new initiative to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. He affirmed, “3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. The next industrial revolution in manufacturing will happen in America.”

We’re inspired by the President’s commitment to keep America at the forefront of the Next Industrial Revolution and we’re eager to do our part to educate the next generation of innovative makers who will keep our economy strong.

Let’s Get MakerBot Desktop 3D Printers into American Schools

Together with America Makes, and by leveraging the crowdfunding power of, we’re launching our first MakerBot Academy initiative:  Get thousands of MakerBot® Replicator® 2 Desktop 3D Printers into K-12 public school classrooms across the country — by December 31, 2013!

Via: Announcement | MakerBot Academy and America’s Classrooms

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We the Geeks: “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something” – White House Google+ Hangout Tuesday

We the Geeks  Don t Be Bored Make Something | The White House

Look what the White House just announced for Tuesday afternoon (ET):

Have you ever considered what you might create with a state-of-the-art digital design studio? Have you ever thought about planning and printing a new pair of sneakers, instead of just buying some? Have you ever dreamt about what you would make if you had all the tools of industrial design at your fingertips?

Well, those dreams may be closer than you think.

A new generation of American pioneers is democratizing the tools of the industrial revolution and spreading them to students around the country. But these tools aren’t the rusty machines you might imagine – they’re 3-D printers, laser cutters, and water jets, and they give you the ability to make almost anything. Not only that, they may be coming soon to a school near you.

Announcing the first ever White House Science Fair, the President called for an all hands on deck approach to grow a generation of Americans who are, “the makers of things, and not just the consumers of things.” And at the 2012 White House Science Fair, the President met student Joey Hudy and launched his marshmallow cannon, noting that Joey’s motto was, “Don’t be bored, make something.” Responding to that call, citizens, communities, and organizations are coming together to give students the tools to design with their minds and make with their hands.

Join us and leading tinkerers, educators, and innovators on Tuesday, November 12th, at 2:00 pm EST for a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout, called “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something”.

The Hangout will be moderated by Kumar Garg, Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation, and Cristin Dorgelo, Assistant Director for Grand Challenges, and will feature a panel of these leading experts:

Hear from the people building the next generation of shop class by tuning into "We the Geeks: Don’t be Bored, Make Something" live on and the White House Google+ page on Tuesday, November 12, at 2:00 pm EDT.

Got comments or questions? Ask them using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks on Twitter and on Google+ and we'll answer some of them during the live Hangout.


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RobotWorld 2013: Robotis Posed To Disrupt Robot Development

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At the RobotWorld exhibition in Seoul Korea this week, Robotis featured what may turn out to be a major revolution in popular robot experimentation and creation.

For quite a few years the company has had its eye on the worldwide maker movement, and has actively participated in maker fair of events in several different countries. While they were exhibiting their commercial line of robot kits, servos, and controllers at some of the events, they also had their ear to ground and actively engaged with all the visitors and makers.

Although people were extremely impressed by the capabilities and performance of their professional grade robot systems, they were also put off by the level of sophistication required, and the pricing. Robotis carefully studied their needs, and spent more than two years developing a totally new approach that the company believes will be welcomed with enthusiasm by the maker community.

At RobotWorld we were able to talk directly with both the company’s technical and marketing staff to get an inside view of the new products and what their impact might be on the market.

Robotis had a presence at many major robot conferences, exhibitions, and competitions, like RoboGames, over the years, and had succeeded in having their technology adopted by major universities, R&D centers, and high-end robot hobbyists involved in humanoid robotics. While they were quite successful, they also realized that in many respects they were “preaching to the choir” – meaning that most of their customers were already actively involved in robotics.

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The new ROBOTIS product lineup extends smoothly from entry level exploration kits targeted at pre-schoolers and lower elementary school age, up through the higher grades including high school, college, and professional use.

Around 2011 Jinwook Kim, who was responsible for Robotis marketing in the United States at that time, was exposed to the maker movement by some users and attended his first Maker Faire, primarily out of curiosity. It didn’t take long before he realized how massive both the Maker and the Open Hardware Movement were rapidly becoming. It took some hard work, but he was slowly able to convince the company management and product development of the tremendous potential represented by the adoption of open hardware in the hobby, education, and professional sectors.

The Robotis strategy is very simple, focused, and eloquent. They decided to create a direct progression of logically connected products, starting at the low end with an Arduino compatible low-cost controller and servo offering that extends to higher-end professional grade robot systems.

Their key OpenCM themes are “low-cost”, “open source”, “convenient”, and “expandable”.

The OpenCM product line starts with an extremely attractive Arduino like controller board specifically designed for robot use, the OpenCM–9.04.

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OpenCM-9.04 Controller Specifications:

72Mhz ARM Cortex-M3 core
5V-16V (Depends on DXLs)
128k FLASH
20k SRAM
10 x 12 bit ADC Channels
12 x 16 bit Timer
1 x CAN (2.0B Active)
2 x I2C(SMBus/PMBus)
2 x SPI(18Mbit/s)
USB 2.0 Full-speed
7-Channel DMA
2 Watchdog timers
SysTick timer
User Switch
Ext. ADC Ref Selection (up to 5V)

The OpenCM-9.04 controller is completely open source. All of hardware and software is completely disclosed and available for users to modify and expand. The controller board schematic and layout will be available in Eagle format on github. The software is also available on github, including the Bootloader, Core–library, Processing–core, and Processing–head.

In a significant shift from previous designs, the board implements 100 mil header pitch compliant with US standards. It includes a three pin connector to control ROBOTIS Dynamixel servos using TTL communication. There is also a JTAG / SWD terminal that can be used run commercial development programs.

The ROBOTIS OpenCM software IDE enables users to create programs the same way that they are used to with Arduino boards and also program in C/C++. And, the software is supported across Windows, Mac, and Linux – something that’s expected in the maker community but has been all too rare in the robot world in the past. Sample libraries are provided supporting Dynamixel servo control.

The most surprising thing about this new controller is its price. The company expects it to sell worldwide for approximately USD$10.

Dynamixel XL-320 Servo

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A high-performance low-cost controller board is impressive enough by itself, but what really makes the Robotis OpenCM initiative exciting is the introduction of the new Dynamixel XL-320 servo. The new servo, featuring the quality and high performance that ROBOTIS has become known for, is expected to sell for less than USD$30 and will enable users to easily create cost-effective robot designs – anywhere from simple actuators up to completely functional humanoid robots at an affordable price. This has the potential to be truly groundbreaking – triggering a real revolution in low-cost robotics.

In the past, servo cost has always been that the determining factor in the cost of a total robot design. And, the situation has gotten worse as the number of servos for particular robot increases in number.

That’s why most of the commonly available humanoid robot kits on the market today cost close to $1000 or more. But, by using the new Robotis XL-320 servos a smaller, but just as capable, humanoid robot could be designed for as little as half the price.

Dynamixel XL-320 Servo Specifications:

Weight- 16.7g
Dimensions- 24.2mm x 36mm x 24mm
Min Angle- 0.29 degrees
Gear Ratio- 238:1
Stall Torque- Approximately 4 (at 7.4V)
No load speed- Approximately 114 RPM (at 7.4V)
Operating Voltage- 6-8.4V (7.4V recommended)
Link (Physical)- TTL Level Multi Drop
Baud rate- 7843bps - 1 Mbps
Feedback- Position, temperature, load, input voltage, etc.

Usually with low-cost servos manufacturers tend to sacrifice features and performance. Robotis has taken the opposite approach. They dramatically decreased the cost while preserving advanced features like the ability for the controller and program to read feedback information from the servo including position, temperature, load, input voltage, and other important factors. They’ve achieved truly surprising performance at this price point.

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Providing power for robot designs another important challenge facing makers. To address that challenge, and make things easier, Robotis is releasing a new lithium-ion 3.7 V rechargeable battery pack rated at 1300 mA. With an extremely small form factor, the battery pack has a built-in charging circuit and LED charge indicator while being compatible with the popular micro – be USB cable.

As you might expect, the company also has plans for additional shield boards that plug into the controller in the same fashion as Arduino shield boards. We are not at liberty to disclose any of the details at this time, but they are coming soon.

The new low cost XL-320 servo is also being used in a wide range of ROBOTIS products, as you can see in these photos:


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And even in the exciting new DARwin Mini humanoid robot:

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During the Robotis OpenCM briefing in Seoul Korea we were shown demonstrations of the new controller moving two servos based on input from a Gyro Sensor; servo velocity control; direction change using a touch sensor; and other tests simulating real world robot applications.



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3Doodler ABS vs PLA Chart


The folks at 3Doodler, the innovative 3D plastic pen that provides you with tremendous artistic freedom, published a helpful comparision infographic covering the strengths and weaknesses of ABS and PLA plastic filaments used for 3D printing.

Although many of their observations only apply to creating objects and art with the 3Doodler pen, it is quite useful in understanding how the two plastics perform, and why you might want to select one over the other.

In my particular case, I'm opting for PLA, primarily because that's all I use in my Tantillus printer, so I have a wide selection of colors already on hand.

Related links: ABS vs PLA: Head to Head - The 3Doodler

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Wonderful Robot Carnival #10 Scheduled

wonderful robot carnival

Just rapped up my absolute favorite US robot competition (RoboGames), walked back to the hotel, and logged on to find that my absolute favorite Japanese robot competition - Wonderful Robot Carnival - has scheduled the 10th event for Sunday, July 14th, from 12:00-18:30 in the Akihabara area.

The Wonderful Robot Carnival features a whole series of different challenges, everything from a 2 meter dash, bottle traction (pulling a storage box full of water bottles, dice shoot, ROBO-ONE style battles, and much more.

One of the most interesting aspects of the competition is that all robots compete in all the challenges, whether they are good at it or not. The over all champion and top positions are determined by the highest overall point score, which evens out things quite a bit.

Related links: Wonderful Robot Carnival (Japanese)

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Real World Tests Are Always The Best (Video)

fritz robot

I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical when I first ran across the Fritz Robotic Head Kickstarter project. The concept was good, and it was easy to understand, but I had to question how engaging it would actually turn out to be for kids and other people that come into contact with the robot puppet head.

It turns out that I shouldn't have been concerned. Fritz's creators trotted him out for the Robotics Exhibition at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum last weekend, and he was a big hit.

I hope they'll repeat the experiment. For example, RoboGames 2013, coming up later this week in San Mateo, California would be an awesome location for Fritz to get more exposure, especially with all the families with kids that turn out.

Related links: Kids with Fritz The Robotic Head at Robotics Exhibit - YouTube

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NAO Writer – NAO Robot Writes Any Word (Video)

nao robot

Franck Calzada is a real robot wizard, especially with the NAO humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics. He keeps on surprising me, always pleasantly, with new functionality, features, and extensions of other available routines.

This time he has his NAO executing an enhanced version of the word recognition handwriting functionality that I saw Taylor Veltrop demonstrate at the Paris Hackathon last year. Building on the original concept, Franck added speech to text word recognition, and the reverse, enabling the robot to grok and print almost any word. He's also improved the robot performance making it look much more professional.

The only minor fault I could find with Franck's implementation is the stroke order. NAO prints the characters in a very odd sequence, very different from actual handwriting - at least the handwriting of most people I know.

I can't wait to see what Franck comes up with next.

Related links: NAO Writer - NAO Robot writes any word - YouTube

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