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LG uses Augmented Pixels’ sensor for better robot navigation and VR tracking

June 20, 2017 - 9:00am

Augmented Pixels has created a new way to navigate using computer vision, and LG Electronics is announcing today it has built a 3D camera module that uses that technology to assist autonomous robots.

Palo Alto, California-based Augmented Pixels, a computer vision research and development company, calls the technology SLAM, or simultaneous location and mapping. It is targeting SLAM at robots, drones, AR, and VR.

The module can also be used for inside-out tracking for augmented reality and virtual reality headsets. That means that it figures out the position of the headset using a camera that is on the headset.

“Augmented Pixels currently has the fastest proprietary SLAM for mono and stereo cameras, as well as sensor fusion and technologies for autonomous navigation (obstacle avoidance, point cloud semantics, etc.) on the market,” said Vitaliy Goncharuk, CEO of Augmented Pixels, in a statement. “All our systems are hardware-agnostic, but our clients require a complete solution, that combines computer vision software with hardware. Our partnership with LG Electronics allows us to come up with a very efficient solution for markets of AR Glasses and Home Robotics.”

LG Electronics has designed a compact module consisting of a stereo camera, IR, and processor on board that aims to optimize high performance against low power consumption. It can be customized for different hardware platforms and use cases. Augmented Pixels provides software for autonomous navigation (obstacle avoidance, point cloud semantics, etc.), based on its proprietary SLAM technology.

Yun Sup Shin, principal engineer at LG Electronics, said in a statement, “We are very excited to be working with Augmented Pixels to offer the customers the exact technology they need. The single module that incorporates our camera and SLAM technology is an efficient solution in terms of performance and pricing. It can satisfy requirements of many manufacturers of robots and AR/VR systems, who are looking for effective ways to incorporate enhanced computer vision into their products. Our compact module has a processor, so all algorithms and software running on board provide flexibility to our customers and remove a lot of limitations based on limited calculation power of consumer devices.”

How tech took over Father’s Day

June 18, 2017 - 3:30pm
DJI drone

GUEST:

What did you buy your dad for Father’s Day this year? Did you purchase a tie or fishing rod? Or did you looking to the tech industry to fulfill your needs? According to Time, some of 2017’s most popular Father’s Day gifts are items like drones and gaming chairs. This is a huge turn from the more traditional items like tools and clothing, which don’t show up on the list. Clearly, we have entered a new era in which we know that our fathers are more technologically advanced and want to enjoy themselves. This is an active shift in masculinity among our immediate preceding generation.

When I was young, I can vividly recall my dad having no idea how to set up our Nintendo 64 that my brother and I begged him for. I’m pretty sure we ended up doing it ourselves. My dad, an avid craftsman whose military background prompts him to wake up at 5 a.m. every day, couldn’t understand why we would want to sit inside and play video games instead of going fishing with him at the crack of dawn. He would lecture us about how when he was a kid, he would leave his house at 7 in the morning and come back at 7 at night. He was a survivor, an outdoorsman, a total badass. It made no sense to him that we were more interested in playing video games like Mario Kart and Donkey Kong than playing with sticks in the woods.

Well, this same guy now has more games on his iPhone than he does contacts.

The point is; the idea of the manly man has changed drastically since my childhood. The idea that dads aren’t supposed to have fun has evolved into the “dad is mom’s oldest child” stereotype. This is a positive change and one that we encounter daily. When you hear the word “masculinity” you probably think of actors like John Wayne and Bruce Willis whose careers have been made off being the everyman who saves the day. Today, the idea of being “more masculine” is becoming a negative ideal for men under 30. In a recent survey from polling outlet YouGov, an astounding 42 percent of men aged 18-24 have a negative perception of the word “masculinity.” This is a 27 percent decline when compared to the next age group, 25-49.

So, why are we buying our dads computer games instead of tool belts now?

It’s not that we are getting softer; it’s more about the difference in the world we live in today. A perfect example of the change in tide is the idea of being a “geek.” Just 20 years ago, the geek tag was a stain on your social life and put you in the outcast group. Enjoying board games, sci-fi movies, and playing with computers was social suicide. Being a geek was admitting that you weren’t manly enough and you didn’t fit the traditional mold. This is a fact that hasn’t escaped comedian and geek icon Chris Hardwick. “When I was growing up there was nothing cool about being a nerd. You had to hide from people and keep it inside,” he said. “… And that’s no longer the case! Nerds are powerful; like, pop culture is run by nerds. Like, even the redneckiest of rednecks has a smartphone.”

Today, those geeks from the ’80s and ’90s have moved the world further in 30 years than the previous three generations of “manly man” who ate nails for breakfast and glass for dinner, did in 100 years. It’s OK to be a geek today. It’s acceptable. Most of the world’s young billionaires are tech geniuses who played computer games when they were kids, and those “geeks” unknowingly fought for today’s perception of masculinity.

Where we are today

The fact is, we are a much more tech-savvy culture today and that has severely changed the meaning of masculinity. While our fathers are certainly less tech savvy than we are, they are miles ahead of their fathers who still think the cordless telephone is impressive. I’m exaggerating, but you get the point. A big thanks should be given to the twentysomethings of today who have helped shift their parents into a more technological mindset, but we shouldn’t forget the path paved by the “geeks” and “nerds” of the ’80s. Playing video games, being good with computers and having an interest in tech is not this black cloud like it was back in the ’80s and the popularity of these interests is proof. The gaming industry is a great example of this.

The Entertainment Software Association’s 2016 report shows that gaming is an adult hobby. According to their 2016 report, 44 percent of gamers are over the age of 36 and another 29 percent of gamers are in the 18-35 segment. That is an astounding 73 percent of the gaming community that are out of high school and legal adults. This poll includes demographics across all devices including mobile devices. Not surprisingly, the most popular game genre for mobile devices are puzzle/card games while the most popular genre for gaming consoles are shooters, most notably Call of Duty whose Black Ops 3 was the best selling game in 2016. Following Call of Duty was Madden NFL 16 whose success can be directly connected to the success of the NFL in the United States which last season saw a 23 percent jump in net revenue. Both of these titles have huge followings and are very popular in the competitive gaming community, where the average age of players is about 27.

In summation, there has been a clear shift in our perception when it comes to the importance of masculinity. Men are no longer worried with how their interests will reflect on how people perceive their level of “manliness.” This change started nearly 30 years ago when computer games made their appearance and gave the more analytical man a form of entertainment. It is no coincidence that the 18-34 demographic is much more worried about enjoying themselves than being “masculine” and it seems like the 35-plus demographic isn’t far behind based on their recent purchasing patterns. So this Father’s Day, dads didn’t always get ties–they got something techy.

And then they made a horrible joke about it because no matter the gift, dad jokes will always happen.

Kyle Portman is an Interior and Exterior Design Consultant based in Canada and has been working for himself since 2012.

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Edgybees mashes up video games and real drones for a futuristic new racer

May 31, 2017 - 5:15pm

While Amazon is busy figuring out infrastructure for its Prime Air drone empire, augmented reality startup Edgybees has launched Drone Prix AR, an AR racing game for drones.

Edgybees in fact draws from Amazon’s talent pool; Menashe Haskin, a former manager at the Amazon Prime Air office in Israel, helped cofound it in 2016. Fellow founders CEO Adam Kaplan and vice president for research and development Nitay Megides come from data virtualization and robotics backgrounds respectively.

Even as regulations have ramped up for commercial drones, they garnered some time in the limelight at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year. Industry revenue is estimated to reach more than $6 billion in 2017 and exceed $11.2 billion by 2020, according to market researcher Gartner. The Consumer Technology Association thinks that 2017 will be a big year for drones on the consumer side, estimating a 40 percent increase to 3.4 million drones bought by hobbyists, increasing the audience for drone-based games and apps.

Drone Prix creates an AR race course that overlays whatever environment the drone is in, generating collectable prizes and obstacles for the player to avoid. In a partnership with drone creator DJI and Epson, Drone Prix is optimized for DJI drones and uses the Epson Moverio BT-300 Drone Edition smart glasses. Players can stream a first-person view from their drone’s built-in camera using DJI controllers with a video screen or via their smartphones with the DJI GO app. However, the Moverio Drone Edition glasses can also provide a more seamless heads-up display.

Others have tried to create AR racing games for drones, such as Drone n Base, which sought $70,000 on Indiegogo in 2015 to create its own drone as well as the corresponding game for players’ mobile devices. The project ended up raising only about $25,000, but it nevertheless moved forward with manufacturing and released its iOS app in beta earlier this year in January.

Drone Prix is single-player game for now, though it does feature a leaderboard, and comes with 30 obstacle courses in various levels of difficulty. It’s too early to say whether the game will take off, since it seems that most people are using their drones to make films or take selfies. But if the Drone Racing League is any indication, there’s interest in more applications, which Edgybees is likely counting on. According to CNBC, 28.2 million viewers watched DRL’s first season on ESPN last year, and the second season which airs this June will be broadcast in 75 countries.

You no longer have to register your drone

May 19, 2017 - 5:11pm

A federal appeals court has shot down a rule requiring hobbyists to register their drones.

Appeals court judges in Washington, D.C. agreed on Friday with a drone enthusiast’s challenge to a FAA requirement that all hobbyists register their drones in a national database and pay a $5 fee. People who failed to comply with the regulations, intended to promote drone safety and help identify dangerous drone operators, risked fines and jail time.

The court found that the FAA’s drone registration rule, which debuted in Dec. 2015, conflicts with previous federal legislation from 2012 that said that the FAA lacks the authority to regulate “model aircraft.” The appeals court categorizes drones as model aircraft.

”Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler,” the appeals court said in siding with plaintiff John Taylor, a drone hobbyist from Washington, DC. “The Registration Rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft.”

At least for now, the appeals court order dismantles the FAA’s years’ long efforts to create and then enforce a national drone registration system for recreational use. To develop the drone registration system, the FAA created a committee that included representatives from companies like Amazon and Google to help devise the registration system’s requirements.

Eventually, the FAA built a website for people to register their drones and created educational campaigns about flight safety. Drone owners were required to place registration numbers on their aircraft.

The FAA responded to the ruling on Friday by saying that it would review the decision before determining its next step, if any. A potential strategy is to get Congress to amend the original 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act that designated drones as model aircraft that were not subject to FAA authority.

“Congress is of course always free to repeal or amend its 2012 prohibition on FAA rules regarding model aircraft,” the judges said. “Perhaps Congress should do so. Perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written.”

Some of the organizations that agreed with Friday’s ruling included the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), an aviation non-profit. AMA president Rich Hanson said in a statement that “federal registration shouldn’t apply at such a low threshold that it includes toys.”

“For decades, AMA members have registered their aircraft with AMA and have followed our community-based safety programming,” Hanson said. “It is our belief that a community-based program works better than a federally mandated program to manage the recreational community.”

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone and robotics advocacy non-profit, disagreed with the Friday ruling, and said that it a federal registration system “is important to promote accountability and responsibility by users of the national airspace.”

“We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned,” said AUVSI president and CEO Brian Wynne in a statement.

The Small UAV Coalition, a drone coalition with members including Amazon, Intel, and Verizon’s venture capital arm, also opposed the court order.

“The FAA must have appropriate authority to maintain reasonable oversight of UAS operations, including management of a national UAS registry, which is the first step to identifying UAS operating in the national airspace,” the Small UAV Coalition said in a statement.

China-based DJI, currently the world’s biggest drone manufacturer, applauded the FAA’s work to create the drone registration system.

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com. Copyright 2017

Amazon is opening a drone research center in France to boost its Prime Air service

May 18, 2017 - 3:52am

In an effort to accelerate development of drone delivery service, Amazon today announced that it is investing in a new research and development center that will be located in a Paris suburb.

The fledgling drone service is known as Prime Air, and the new Prime Air Development Center will be based in Clichy, France.

The new center will be home to about a dozen software developers, who will initially focus on creating a system for traffic management.

“This team of talented engineers will be instrumental in developing the world’s safest and most sophisticated traffic management software for autonomous drones,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global innovation policy and communications, in a statement.

Ultimately, the goal with Prime Air is to have a delivery system that gets orders to people in less than 30 minutes.

Amazon stressed that its in-house traffic management software would work in tandem with current air traffic control systems — because nobody wants their order of toilet paper and John Grisham novels to accidentally bring down an A-380.

In fact, when operational, the drones would operate at low altitudes.

The new French center will work in partnership with several other Prime Air development centers around the world, including in the U.S., Austria, and Israel. The announcement also comes just a few weeks after the company said it was opening a machine learning hub in the U.K.

“France is packed with talent. Its academic excellence is globally renowned, and we believe that this unique savoir-faire will play a pivotal role as we continue to innovate on behalf of customers,” added Frédéric Duval, country manager of Amazon.fr, said in a statement.

Amazon doubles down on machine learning with new U.K. development hub

May 4, 2017 - 2:06am

Amazon has announced plans to expand its development center in Cambridge, England as the internet giant doubles down on its investment in machine learning, drones, Alexa digital, and other forms of artificial intelligence.

It’s been known that Amazon has for some time had a “top secret” lab in Cambridge, where it has been building out its Prime Air drone delivery service — in fact, it was in this very city that the company first delivered a package by drone back in December. Moving forward, Amazon will now have two sites in the famous university city, which is located about 50 miles north of London, and plans to open a new 60,000 sq. ft facility later this fall.

The new building can fit around 400 people, who will include “machine learning scientists, knowledge engineers, data scientists, mathematical modellers, speech scientists, and software engineers,” according to a press release issued by the company. However, the facility will also house current employees working on a range of Amazon devices, including the Alexa-enabled Echo, the Kindle, and the Fire tablet.

When the new facility opens, the existing base will be used primarily to develop the company’s Prime Air drone service.

“By the end of this year, we will have more than 1,500 innovation-related roles here in Britain, working on everything from machine learning and drone technology to streaming video technology and Amazon Web Services,” noted Doug Gurr, Amazon’s U.K. country manager.

Amazon has been announcing major expansion plans around the world this year. In the U.K., the company recently committed to hiring 5,000 employees across the country, and it also announced plans to grow its headcount by 55 percent in the U.S. over the next 18 months, taking its domestic employee count to 280,000.

Naturally, the U.K. government was quick to pounce on this latest news as evidence of the country’s continued success in a post-Brexit world, with minister of state for digital and culture, Matt Hancock, adding: “Amazon’s increased investment in developing cutting-edge technology in Cambridge is another vote of confidence in the U.K. as a world-leading center of invention and innovation.”

The drone industry takes two steps forward

April 29, 2017 - 2:33pm

GUEST:

On Thursday the FAA released an entirely new kind of map that will open up controlled airspace for drone pilots. To date, controlled airspace was a broad five-mile radius around an airport that restricted drone flight. The new three dimensional grids are less draconian. Instead of indiscriminate five-mile circles around an airport, actual flight paths and neighborhood boundaries are taken into account. Operators will still need authorization to use the airspace, but the new maps remove some ambiguity and will result in more commercial drone flights — from inspections to drone deliveries — in thousands of neighborhoods around the country.

Drones operate in an airspace that, for the first 75-some years of its existence, the FAA didn’t have to expend a lot of time or resources on. This week’s news represents a huge step forward.

And earlier this month, at the FAA UAS Symposium in Virginia, the agency sent another strong signal that changes are coming for drones: It announced that third-party developers will soon be able to communicate with FAA systems. The interface will move from phone calls and filling out forms to integrations with the tools and applications operators already use in their drone operations.

Let’s take a closer look at these two developments.

The new maps

Commercial operators are the ones most affected by the new airspace maps. These operators are the most risk-averse and dependent on operating in urban areas. As a rule of thumb, many chief pilots that I’ve spoken to in the past have said they simply will not operate in controlled airspace due to the risk of a violation. This blocks vast numbers of potential commercial drone flights from ever taking off.

Knowing the airspace you’re going to operate in is a key first step of any flight, but it’s probably the one that is most confounding to drone pilots without a traditional aviation background. If you’re 4.9999 miles away from an airport, it makes sense that you should be allowed to fly 50 feet above a house to take some pictures, and that day is coming imminently.

In moving from the simple circle with a five-mile radius to the new smart grid, the FAA “crowdsourced” airports. It asked what an acceptable flying height would be, assuming that all runways were fully operational. 100-foot vertical separation may be impractical for traditional manned flights, but these are game changing chunks of airspace for nimble UAVs.

Granular airspace and maps will make it easier and faster for responsible operators to obtain authorization and fly in controlled areas. By providing a flight path, the grid system will allow for structured, automated approvals based on the rules of the grid — rather than relying on a tower operator who probably doesn’t want to deal with drone pilots in the first place.

The first maps released are grids that display 100-foot increments of operational airspace for more than 200 airports around the country. Naturally, takeoff and approach paths will remain highly restricted, but much of the traditionally controlled airspace is now clear to 100-200 feet within a mile or two of busy airports — more than adequate to enable meaningful commercial drone operations.

Above: A side-by-side view of the new and old map styles. Left is the new map with it’s more granular grid view. Right is the old-style map.

Granular airspace maps are the first step of (hopefully) many toward a more business-friendly regulatory environment. Large industries like shipping, real estate, and security are reluctant to bear the risk of investing in cutting-edge technology. With the right regulatory environment, businesses that touch consumers directly will be able to throw their weight into drones.

Letting developers in

More and more responsible operators are making their way to the FAA’s website and battling through archaic forms and submissions. However, the only way the FAA is going to get the majority of operators registered and submitting waiver requests is to let the tech industry do the heavy lifting. Industry can operate unfettered with the tried-and-true UI, UX, and customer development techniques that it excels at. Furthermore, private companies can apply those skills to informing and enabling the millions of drone pilots who truly want to operate in a safe and responsible manner.

The FAA has done a great job defining rules to operate in traditional airspace, but industry and regulators will need to go further for drones to deliver on their transformational potential. Drones won’t live up to their potential until airspace is fully democratized.

The airspace is changing and evolving through the careful combination of regulation, technology, and data. I think we’re all excited to see what happens next.

Jon Hegranes is CEO and cofounder of Kittyhawk.io.

5 industries drones will disrupt in 2017

April 2, 2017 - 12:10pm

GUEST:

Amazon’s aim of transforming e-commerce standards, perhaps even from same day to same hour delivery via drones, continues to make headlines. But as drone technology develops at jet speed, there is a whole host of other industries outside of e-commerce that stand to be disrupted in 2017.

In fact, many are already in the midst of a drone-powered revolution: agriculture, cinema, event photography, and inspections (of roofs, bridges, cell towers, and other potentially dangerous, hard to get to sites ) to name just a few. Drone deployment has been slow until now, partly due to stringent regulations. But here are six industries in which we can expect drones to take off in 2017.

1. Gaming and sports

If 2016 was the year drones were used to film sports, 2017 is the year they’ll be used as sports. Drone racing and drone shooting are both gaining popularity and prestige, though both of these activities keep drone and operator, for the most part, separate. But look for drone boarding (hook a tow rope to a drone, whether on water or snow, and away you go) to take to the skies this year as well. The rider can control the speed and direction of the drone from a remote control down below.

Expect augmented reality (AR) to penetrate the drone gaming space as well, where flying a drone will be like piloting an F-15 into aerial battle thanks to AR technology … or think of Pokémon Go with wings.

2. Medicine

Last year, Rwanda launched the world’s first national drone delivery service to transport much-needed blood supplies to hard-to-reach rural areas. But that is just the beginning.

While drug and blood delivery between medical facilities can make a huge difference in peoples’ lives, drones can also be used as instantaneous delivery mechanisms within hospitals to deliver life-saving medical materials faster and more efficiently than is otherwise possible. One operator can control up to 20 drones, in theory making 20 life-saving on-campus deliveries simultaneously.

3. Search and rescue

You may have heard about drones aiding in search and rescue missions in perilous terrain where helicopters don’t dare to fly, but drones have also been outfitted to help in firefighting. The New York City Fire Department is experimenting with a UAV that can beam both video and infrared images back to command and control, giving chiefs much more real time information that can help with immediate response, saving firefighters’ lives.

At the beach, with the help of advanced image recognition, drone surveillance capabilities can be much more effective than the human eye, scanning much larger swaths of water to pick out those floundering at sea, and deliver rescue flotation devices much quicker than their beefy Baywatch counterparts (though they can’t administer CPR … yet).

4. Police and defense

There have been many serious concerns about drones of late, including how to monitor recreational drone use and prevent spying, illegal video recording, and dangerous terror attacks. Some startups are developing means to fight fire with fire, using drones to police the skies and catch suspicious or illegally flying UAVs.

In the military, drones will be able to act as remote communications hotspots for military forces operating in remote areas, ensuring all forces stay “on the radar.” Similar civilian uses will extend coverage and bandwidth at large-scale temporarily-populated events, such as concerts, marches, or disaster scenes.

5. Arts and entertainment

Hundreds of millions of people caught a preview of what drones can do on the entertainment front during Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance, where the drones themselves served as a thousand points of light in a breathtaking feat of UAV pyrotechnics. Look for similar performances as drones find their way into artistic expressions, including dance and other art forms.

6. Logistics

Instantaneous drone delivery may be sexy, but the work drones can do behind the scenes may be equally important to retailers and shippers. Drones provide the unique ability to survey and scan factory shelving, products, and containers efficiently and inexpensively. So while manufacturers are scrambling to fully automate warehouses with robotics – which could be years away – the truth is, we’re much closer to seeing drones glide into the supply chain, scanning the grounds and taking stock.

The sky’s the limit

Look for the above industries to soar to new heights in 2017 thanks to drone technology. As drone technology improves and regulatory hurdles are overcome, drones will prove more efficient, reliable, and safe than legacy technologies in industries we never even imagined.

Yariv Bash is CEO and cofounder of Flytrex.

Connecticut may become first U.S. state to allow deadly police drones

March 31, 2017 - 6:12pm

NEW YORK (By Barbara Goldberg, Reuters) – Connecticut would become the first U.S. state to allow law enforcement agencies to use drones equipped with deadly weapons if a bill opposed by civil libertarians becomes law.

The legislation, approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature’s judiciary committee on Wednesday, would ban so-called weaponized drones in the state but exempts agencies involved in law enforcement. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The legislation was introduced as a complete ban on weaponized drones but just before the committee vote it was amended to exclude police from the restriction.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, was reviewing the proposal, “however in previous years he has not supported this concept,” spokesman Chris Collibee wrote in an email.

Civil libertarians and civil rights activists are lobbying to restore the bill to its original language before the full House vote.

“Data shows police force is disproportionately used on minority communities, and we believe that armed drones would be used in urban centers and on minority communities,” said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut.

“That’s not the kind of precedent we want to set here,” McGuire said of the prospect that Connecticut would become the first state to allow police to use lethally armed drones.

In 2015, North Dakota became the first state to permit law enforcement agencies to use armed drones but limited them to “less than lethal” weapons such as tear gas and pepper spray.

So far, 36 states have enacted laws restricting drones and an additional four states have adopted drone limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

If Connecticut’s Democratic-controlled House passes the bill it will move to the Senate, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Representative William Tong, a Democrat from Stamford, nor Senator John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield, who are co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, were not immediately available for comment.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and James Dalgleish)

Domino’s taps Starship Technologies to deliver pizzas with autonomous ground drones

March 29, 2017 - 3:39am

Pizza giant Domino’s is the latest company to jump on the drone-delivery bandwagon with the news that it has signed a deal with Starship Technologies, the robotics startup created by Skype’s founders.

Starship Technologies has been testing its robots across U.S. and European cities since late 2015, and it has already been trialing them with consumer companies, such as food-delivery firm Just Eat, which has been dispatching food to some customers in London for a few months.

Now, Domino’s has announced a pilot program in a handful of German and Dutch cities, where customers within a 1-mile radius of certain Domino’s stores will be greeted with a non-humanoid robot rather than a person on a bike.

The mini six-wheeled robot drives completely autonomously and sports 9 cameras, ultrasonic sensors with a 360-degree field of vision, and a 30cm braking distance. Should things go wrong, there are human operators monitoring things remotely who can step in.

This latest pilot follows a number of additional partnerships across North America and Europe, where Starship Technologies is also working with the likes of Postmates and DoorDash.

Today’s news comes just a few months after London-headquartered Starship Technologies, which was founded in 2014, raised its first notable outside funding — it grabbed $17.2 million from automotive giant Daimler, among a number of other VCs.

Sci-fi to real world

Robots are increasingly moving from science fiction into the real world. According to a World Economic Forum report from January, millions of jobs could be lost to robots and automation by the year 2020 as part of the “fourth industrial revolution,” and it’s looking increasingly likely that delivery drivers could be high on the target list.

This could also extend into the kitchen, where automation is starting to gain a foothold. In Silicon Valley, Zume Pizza is already operating a commercial kitchen where two robots apply the sauce to the dough while another spreads it, and a robotic arm then places the pizza in the oven. And just a few weeks back, “robots for restaurants” startup Chowbotics raised $5 million to help automate food prep.

The new pilot project is being operated by one of Domino’s biggest franchisee’s — Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, which runs 2,000 stores across seven markets — with specific oversight falling on its in-house Domino’s Robotic Unit (DRU).

“We are a global company and we are eager to progress innovative technology in all of the countries in which we operate –– we are very excited to be partnering with Starship as it brings regular deliveries by robot one step closer to commercial operations,” said Don Meij, Domino’s group CEO and managing director. “With our growth plans over the next five to 10 years, we simply won’t have enough delivery drivers if we do not look to add to our fleet through initiatives such as this.”

It is hard to believe that worker shortage is a genuine problem for Domino’s industry — if there is one thing major cities around the world don’t have, it’s a shortage of is people seeking part-time delivery work.

Drone-hunting machines aim to counter aerial threats

March 21, 2017 - 9:33pm
A simulated explosive from a modified commercially available drone falls toward its target during a demonstration of the  Airspace Systems Interceptor autonomous aerial drone in Castro Valley, California March 6, 2017.

(Reuters) – The enemy drone whined in the distance. The Interceptor, a drone-hunting machine from Silicon Valley startup Airspace Systems, slinked off its launch pad and dashed away in hot pursuit.

The hunter twisted through the air to avoid trees, homed in on its target, fired a Kevlar net to capture it, and then carried the rogue drone back to its base like a bald eagle with a kill.

Airspace is among some 70 companies working on counter-drone systems as small consumer and commercial drones proliferate. But unlike others, it aims to catch drones instead of disabling them or shooting them down.

A demonstration at Airspace headquarters in San Leandro, California, showed a compact aircraft just a few feet wide, yet capable of sophisticated, autonomous navigation and accurate targeting of a drone in motion.

It is still early days in the drone-defense business. Security professionals both public and private worry about dangerous drones at military sites, airports, data centers, and public venues like baseball stadiums. But counter-measures carry risk, too.

For example, the U.S. Air Force recently tested experimental shotgun shells for shooting down drones. But if the drone carries a payload like a bomb or chemical weapon, it could still fall on its target.

Jamming the radio signals to the drone does not always work, either. Drones differ from “remote-controlled” aircraft because they can fly to pre-set coordinates autonomously. The fastest drones can reach 150 miles per hour (240 km), too quick for human pilots flying another drone to catch.

The technical challenge of safely stopping a dangerous drone appealed to Guy Bar-Nahum, one of the inventors of the Apple iPod and the engineering brains behind Airspace Systems.

“We are creating a very primitive brain of an insect, a dragonfly,” Bar-Nahum said. “It wakes up, sees the world and doesn’t really know where it is. But it has goals to capture the other drone, and it’s planning a path in the world and knows how to move through the world.”

The Interceptor must pack computing power and sophisticated software into that tiny drone brain. Unlike the emerging driverless car, it has to understand its environment without the benefit of an internet connection to a massive mapping database.

“My background is in physics, and it’s all about modeling the world” with math, Bar-Nahum said. “What we do in this lowly startup that looks to be a normal, military ‘take ‘em down’ kind of company is build machines that can model the world.”

The business model is challenging too. Currently, only law enforcement officials have the authority to interfere with another drone’s flight. Regulations also require a certified pilot to stand ready to intervene in any commercial drone flight and keep a line-of-sight view of the aircraft.

Thus Airspace Systems will not be selling its aircraft, but rather leasing a system, complete with operators and a mobile command center, to customers.

The New York Mets have an interest in using the system to protect Citi Field in New York City, according to Sterling VC, the venture capital arm of Sterling Equities, which owns the stadium and also invested in Airspace.

Detection and destruction

The danger from hostile drones became more clear in the last few months when the U.S. military said Islamic State fighters were using them to attack Iraqi troops in the battle over Mosul. The military news site Defense One reported ISIS was using an array of consumer-style drones, including an agile quadcopter version for dropping explosives.

At least 70 companies worldwide are working on various types of counter-drone systems, said Mike Blades, aerospace and defense analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

San Francisco-based Dedrone, for example, has raised $28 million in venture capital and is focused on detecting drone incursions. It now has about 200 customers, according to CEO and co-founder Joerg Lamprecht. Some are car companies looking to protect new designs from the automotive press and others are data center owners looking to keep drones from damaging critical rooftop cooling systems.

“Most of the market is going to be detection, something like a burglar alarm,” Lamprecht said.

DroneShield, an Australian company, also makes a detection system and has developed a prototype electronic jamming gun to ground a drone.

Airspace, backed by $5 million from Shasta Ventures and Sterling VC, hopes to bring its drone-capture system to market as early as this summer.

But Airspace’s approach has limitations. Chief among them: the Interceptor catches one drone at a time. To defend against multiple drones, Airspace must launch multiple machines.

“The swarm of drones is going to be the threat,” said Blades.

Beyond that, catching drones incurs expense and complication when simpler measures might do. Dedrone’s Lamprecht gives an example from a German customer that makes cars.

At its test track, the customer wanted to protect new car designs from drones’ prying eyes. When Dedrone detects an intrusion, the car’s driver hits a dashboard button to fire a fog bomb to obscure the car.

But James Bond-style diversions, or even forcing a drone down, may prove insufficient if a craft is hovering above a crowd with something dangerous, like an explosive or poison. In such a situation, capturing and carrying away the enemy drone may be the best option, even if it is complex and expensive.

For Airspace, perfecting a drone-hunting machine than can see – and chase – on its own is not as crazy as it may seem.

“This is an old ambition. You can read about it in Jules Verne or Aldous Huxley,” said Bar-Nahum. “That’s why autonomous movement is the next decade for me.”

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Mary Milliken)

Nvidia’s Jetson platform can power drones with good artificial intelligence

March 7, 2017 - 6:00pm
Deepa Talla at Nvidia's Jetson event in San Francisco.

Nvidia unveiled its Jetson TX2 platform to power drones with good artificial intelligence.

The platform includes the Jetson TX2 “embedded AI supercomputer,” a chip and its surrounding hardware that can power 4K video drones that consume only about 7.5 watts of power. Drones with the TX2 solution can operate two cameras simultaneously.

The Jetson 3.0 platform was designed for AI “at the edge” of the network, rather than in the cloud or an internet-connected data center. The challenge is that drones with cameras can capture a huge amount of data.

This means Jetson has to handle a lot of the processing of data at the edge, in the device itself, rather than transferring all of that data to the cloud, said Deepu Talla, vice president and general manager of Nvidia’s Tegra business unit, at a press event in San Francisco.

“Pretty much every industry we know is being transformed by AI,” he said. “We’ve seen an AI version of GO beat the world’s best human.”

Services are AI-powered too, with things like Amazon Alexa and OK, Google.

“All are adopting the Nvidia computing ecosystem,” Talla said.

Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said the new platform uses Nvidia’s latest Parker-based Tegra chips and can deliver about double the performance of the previous generation of drone chips without increasing the amount of power used.

Teal's Jetson-based drone.

Above: Teal’s Jetson-based drone.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

“Like a car, there are many applications that require a lot of compute power at the edge for machine learning and artificial intelligence,” Moorhead said. “Based on the quality of their partners, it shows Nvidia has a really good offering.”

That’s surprising, since most of Nvidia’s success has been in things like self-driving cars, he said.

GPU-based deep learning can crunch all of this data much faster than before. Nvidia’s GPU enhancements and software frameworks have helped improve AI by two orders of magnitude. Deep learning training used to take months. Now it takes days or hours.

Deploying neural networks usually happens in the cloud, going from a smartphone to a cloud. Nvidia’s Tesla can do AI inferencing in the data center.

But with Jetson, Nvidia is migrating AI to edge devices, like drones, that often have limited bandwidth, high latency, and a lack of wireless reception.

“For confidentially reasons, you don’t want to store a lot of data in the cloud,” Talla said.

Nvidia has partners such as Fanuc, Toyota, Starship, Cisco, and others. Nvidia makes it easy for them to adopt the tech with its Jetson software development kit, which sits on top of the Linux and the Tegra processors that Nvidia makes.

Cisco showed the Jetson platform working in a video conferencing display dubbed Spark. It allows for much more processing in the display before it sends the data across the internet to another video conferencing display in another location.

Teal, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based startup, showed a drone with the Jetson platform in it. The drone, also called Teal, uses deep learning software from a startup called Ziff to recognize images, such as people. It could be used in a search and rescue operation, flying over a wide territory and reporting back only when it identifies a possible human in a remote area. The drone will cost about $1,200.

Lowes is also using a Jetson-based robot from a company called Navii. The robot is used in stores to scan shelves to see what inventory needs to be replaced. It can also guide shoppers around to different products in the store, using voice recognition.

Nvidia launched its first Jetson platform about 18 months ago. Now the company is adding more AI capabilities on top of Jetson. The Jetson TX1 hardware can deliver 4K video decoding and other high-performance parallel computing tasks. But the Jetson TX2 hardware can double down on these tech capabilities.

The TX2 developer kit costs $600 at retail and $300 for education applications. It is available for preorder now in the U.S. and Europe and will ship in those territories on March 14. In April it will ship in Asia and other regions.

Rivals include Intel, which makes both chips and drones. Kevin Krewell, analyst at Tirias Research, said that Nvidia’s solution has wider flexibility and is likely targeted at more high-end solutions, while Intel targets both mid-range and high-end drones.

Talla said that there’s a good market opportunity at the high end of the market, where Nvidia plays. He added that while you pay more for solutions at the edge, you save on a lot on the data processing that happens in the data center because you are sending pre-processed information rather than raw data.

Airbus unveils Pop.Up: An autonomous transportation concept that uses drones to carry cars

March 7, 2017 - 5:44am
 the Pop.Up.

Airbus has proposed a new modular transportation idea mixing air and ground travel that will make you feel that the future cannot get here fast enough.

Unveiled today at the Geneva International Motor show, the system, dubbed “Pop.Up,” would start with a capsule that sits in the frame of an autonomous car. When traffic gets heavy, you just call a drone using your smartphone and lift the capsule up into the air and over the heads of those poor suckers stuck in traffic sucking on exhaust fumes.

The company says a new artificial intelligence platform will help manage the Pop.Up system, letting passengers optimize the mix of modalities for their trip.

The Pop.Up from Airbus and Italdesign.

Above: The Pop.Up from Airbus and Italdesign.

Image Credit: Airbus and Italdesign

“Adding the third dimension to seamless multi-modal transportation networks will without a doubt improve the way we live and how we get from A to B,” said Mathias Thomsen, general manager for Urban Air Mobility at Airbus, in a statement. “Successfully designing and implementing solutions that will work both in the air and on the ground requires a joint reflection on the part of both aerospace and automotive sectors, alongside collaboration with local government bodies for infrastructure and regulatory frameworks.”

Airbus designed the system in partnership with Italdesign, an Italian firm. Airbus executives had said earlier that they were working on some kind of flying car concept that would be unveiled this year. In general, there has been a surge of investment and pilot programs involving flying cars over the past year.

Airbus noted that the capsule was designed to work not just with the flying options, but with other public transport systems, including potentially a Hyperloop system.

According to the press release, the system would work like this:

Passengers plan their journey and book their trip via an easy-to-use app. The system automatically suggests the best transport solution — according to user knowledge, timing, traffic congestion, costs, ridesharing demands — joining either the air or ground module or other means of transportation to the passenger capsule, and following passengers’ preferences and needs.

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The capsule is made of a monocoque carbon-fibre cocoon and measures 2.6 meters long, 1.4 meters high, and 1.5 meters wide. The ground module is a carbon-fibre chassis and is battery-powered.

In the air, the capsule would be carried using a 5-meter by 4.4-meter air module propelled by eight counter-rotating rotors. After dropping off passengers, all these vehicles would automatically return to charging stations.

There was no specific timetable given on the project.

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“Today, automobiles are part of a much wider eco-system: If you want to design the urban vehicle of the future, the traditional car cannot alone be the solution for megacities, you also have to think about sustainable and intelligent infrastructure, apps, integration, power systems, urban planning, social aspects, and so on,” said Italdesign CEO Jörg Astalosch in a statement. “In the next years ground transportation will move to the next level and from being shared, connected and autonomous it will also go multimodal and moving into the third dimension.”

Infographics-PopUp