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Remember all the way back to December 2020. Where were you? What were your plans? What did you expect and hope the new year would bring? I suspect I’m not alone in feeling like I’ve spent much of the past year on a hamster wheel, with better days…

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Remember all the way back to December 2020. Where were you? What were your plans? What did you expect and hope the new year would bring? I suspect I’m not alone in feeling like I’ve spent much of the past year on a hamster wheel, with better days just over the horizon. Truth is, few of us reasonably expected the pandemic to stretch on for this long. And our expectations of “normal” have adjusted accordingly.

As we reflect on how the last year has played out for robotics — and the way things look, going forward — the pandemic is, once again, the primary force guiding practically every facet of the industry. As I mentioned last week, we’re going to spend these next few weeks wrapping up the year here on Actuator. This week, I want to talk about delivery robotics, a category that’s seen some of the biggest investment this past year.

But first, we’ll be asking some of the industry’s leading names to reflect on the year that was — and help us forecast how 2022 might look for robotics and automation.

Image Credits: CMU/Boston Dynamics

First up is Matthew Johnson-Roberson, who recently became the director of CMU’s Robotics’ Institute. Johnson-Roberson served as co-director for the University of Michigan’s Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicles and co-founder of Refraction AI — which is to say, it’s not surprising that he offers some insight into how things will look for the autonomous driving industry.

What was the defining robotics/AI/automation trend of 2021? I’m seeing increasing trends in application-specific AI companies (computer vision tasks, robotics devices to solve a problem, chat bots for x, etc.). Those seem poised to continue as the market looks for good fits for increasingly powerful algorithms.

What will 2022 bring for these categories? In the coming year, I expect more of the large self-driving companies to continue their consolidation and more to go public as they prepare to burn capital attempting to expand and serve customers.

This week we also spoke to Rob Playter, the longtime Boston Dynamics executive who was appointed CEO early last year.

What was the defining robotics/AI/automation trend of 2021? Legged robots coming of age. 2021 saw the introduction of multiple legged robots to the market. Quadrupeds are leaving the lab and entering the workplace, and the ongoing labor shortages plaguing many industries has only intensified the need. We’ve seen strong interest for Spot around industrial use cases where mobile robots can navigate worksites that include stairs, doors and other obstacles that would foil wheeled or tracked robots. Our customers are using Spot as a dynamic sensing platform to collect reliable, repeatable data around their sites for tasks like thermal anomaly detection in industrial manufacturing, radiation mapping in nuclear facilities and digital twin modeling on construction sites. Products like Spot are proving they can add real value in the real world.

What will 2022 bring for these categories? Operational adoption. In 2022 customers will begin deploying mobile robots like Spot at greater scale across their enterprises. We’ve seen tremendous uptake by industrial innovation teams exploring mobile robots for a wide variety of applications, and next year we expect to see customers integrating more robots into their asset management programs and day-to-day operations. But for industrial mobile robots to expand rapidly at enterprise scale, we also need to see greater reliability from the industry as a whole. We’ve seen a lot of products announced that are conceptual-only or that have only been deployed in small proof-of-concept exercises. As more and more businesses look to invest in real-world technology, the most reliable, robust and accessible products will prevail.

Nuro-Las Vegas fundraising round

Image Credits: Nuro

Few segments of this industry gained more traction over these past two years than delivery. Prior to the pandemic, much of the conversation around autonomous delivery centered around regulation and questions of demand. After the first several months of the pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill, leaving many afraid to venture outside the safety of their own homes, delivery services like Seamless and Uber Eats saw a sharp uptick in usage.

While stay-at-home orders have loosened in much of the world throughout 2021, myriad issues have continued to plague industries, leaving sharp demand for automation. These include widespread staffing shortages for food service and other blue-collar jobs, as well as global supply chain and shipping issues. That is to say that delivery issues aren’t just a matter of last- or middle-mile — it’s every segment here.

For those reasons (for starters, at least), it’s unsurprising that so much of this has been met with a massive uptick in investments across the board. As with so much of robotics, problems analysts expected companies would be tackling five or 10 years down the road are suddenly impossible to ignore.

Nuro led the way with one of the biggest robotics raises in recent memory, led by (who else?) Tiger Global. The $600 million Series D, announced early last month, increased the company’s valuation north of 70%, to $8.6 billion. Integral to the deal is a new partnership with Google Cloud, which finds both parties pushing the service toward commercialization, as they “explore opportunities together to strengthen and transform local commerce.”

If you’ve spent any time near college campuses, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen delivery robots like Kiwibot out in the world. And while funding — and, in Nuro’s case, production — is ramping up, you’re almost certainly getting a majority of packages delivered to you by human beings at this point.

The Coco One sidewalk delivery robot powered by Segway on the Palisades

Image Credits: Coco

Speaking of campuses, UCLA spinout Coco saw a decent size round early this year with a $36 million raise, bringing the company’s funding up to $43 million. Co-founder and CEO Zach Rash insisted that the time is now for such delivery technologies, noting in a release, “I strongly believe the delivery service industry in its current state is massively under-serving merchants. We have an enormous opportunity to create a better experience for hundreds of thousands of merchants and their customers, today. This is not a research program experimenting with technology to be productized at some unknown point in the future.”

The firm, formerly known as Cyan Robotics, doesn’t have a high-profile partner like Nuro’s Domino’s deal, thought it does list 18 partners, largely in the Los Angeles area. It’s currently operating deliveries in Santa Monica and five other LA areas. So, while it’s true that robotic deliveries are currently more the exception than the rule, if you order food in the right place at the right time, it just might be a robot on the other end.

This week, the company also announced a manufacturing deal with Segway. The latter’s VP of global business development, Tony Ho, tells TechCrunch:

This is just the beginning of our partnership. We will stay on the product side of things, and Coco will be the operators. So it’s a bit similar to the micromobility space where we provide the vehicles and hardware and they provide the relationship with the city and the staff and the whole operation behind it. Right now, we’re seeing this almost like it was with scooters in 2017, where the whole industry is booming. It’s a land grab.

Starship delivery robots

Starship delivery robots at UCLA campus on January 15th, 2021. Image Credits: Starship/Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA

Starship, meanwhile, kicked off the year with a healthy $17 million raise. The company is among those robotic delivery services focused on getting food to campuses, announcing plans to expand from 15 universities to 100.

Autonomous trucking had a great year, as well, citing similar concerns around staffing shortages. Kodiak Robotics raised a $125 million Series B, with plans to double its headcount, while Swedish firm Einride drummed up $110 million, with plans to expand into the U.S.

Serve Robotics Uber Postmates

Image Credits: Serve Robotics

And as we transition into the robotics news of the week, here’s yet another delivery raise. The $13 million Series A comes courtesy of Serve Robotics, which spun out from Uber’s Postmates earlier this year. “Our goal is to put robots in every major U.S. city in the next two to three years,” co-founder Ali Kashani said of the company’s grand ambitions.

7-Eleven’s investment wing, 7-Ventures, was involved in the round. The convenience store giant is especially bullish about robotics deliveries these days, having piloted with Nuro, among others. Delivery Hero, which also participated in the round, has worked with Starship previously.

Image Credits: Petra

Next, we move underground, as Petra emerges from stealth to announce a $30 million Series A. The company uses thermal technology to bore tunnels into some of the strongest rock on Earth. To demonstrate this feat, the startup also announced that its robot, Swifty, successfully bored a 20-foot tunnel through Sioux Quartzite at a rate of one-inch-per-minute.

Co-founder and CEO Kim Abrams says:

We’ve invented a completely new way to excavate rock and this will have profound implications on the future of tunneling. By delivering a boring solution that affordably undergrounds utilities through high-grade rock, we can finally protect communities from exposure to wildfires and ensure the safety of critical infrastructure in disaster-prone areas, especially in places like the Sierra Nevada mountains, Rocky Mountains, and coastal regions.

Image Credits: MIT CSAIL

A fun bit of research from MIT CSAIL to close us out this week. The lab unveiled “Evolution Gym,” a testing simulator for soft robotic designs. It’s still a simulation, of course, but it offers some interesting insights into how compliant robots can adapt to different environmental challenges.

CSAIL notes, “The result looks like a little robot Olympics. In addition to standard tasks like walking and jumping, the researchers also included some unique tasks, like climbing, flipping, balancing, and stair-climbing.”

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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Nonprofit Blood Donation Service Starts Matching Unvaccinated Patients With Donors

Nonprofit Blood Donation Service Starts Matching Unvaccinated Patients With Donors

Authored by Allan Stein via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Swiss…

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Nonprofit Blood Donation Service Starts Matching Unvaccinated Patients With Donors

Authored by Allan Stein via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Swiss naturopathic physician George Della Pietra believes people worldwide should be free to choose whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine injection or not.

He believes the same should hold for those receiving transfusions with “vaccinated” blood.

“The problem is right now we have no choice,” said Della Pietra, founder of the nonprofit Safe Blood Donation service in 2021, matching unvaccinated blood recipients with donors in 65 countries.

“It was very clear from the beginning that the COVID hype was way out of control,” Della Pietra said. “It was not as dangerous as they say it was.

“As a naturopath, I can make no sense of this pandemic, which was never really a pandemic. It leaves space for so many explanations.”

Della Pietra believes that an mRNA injection is more dangerous than the pharmaceutical companies are willing to admit. He said the growing numbers of adverse reactions are reason to question their safety and effectiveness.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that vaccinated and boosted people made up 58.6 percent (6,512) of the COVID-19 deaths in August—up from 41 percent in January.

We can no longer say this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Cynthia Cox, the Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation told The Washington Post in an article on Nov. 23.

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s 8 billion people have received at least one mRNA injection for COVID-19 since the vaccines began rolling out in 2021 at the height of the virus’s spread.

Each of the three primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccines contains COVID-19 “spike protein” fragments, which bind at the cellular level to stimulate an immune response to the virus.

Della Pietra believes these spike proteins produce “classic symptoms”—namely blood clots—that “horrified” him.

“I’ve never seen anything similar—and I’m not talking only about spike proteins,” Della Pietra told The Epoch Times in a phone interview.

It’s unbelievable because we never had this problem before. It’s been only two years. They want to keep the narrative [that an mRNA vaccine] is not dangerous.”

A man looks at his phone while donating blood at Vitalant blood donation center in San Francisco on Jan. 11, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Although donated blood and plasma must undergo a cleansing process before transfusion, Safe Blood Donation says this is not enough to remove all mRNA ingredients.

“I’m talking about graphene oxide and non-declared inorganic components in the vaccine, which we can see in the blood. When I see them, I have no idea how we can get rid of them again,” Della Pietra said.

Looking at the abnormalities in vaccinated blood, he said, “OK, we have a problem.” People are receiving the vaccine “more or less through the back door.”

“You can not avoid it anymore.”

In the United States alone, there are approximately 16 million units of donated blood annually. Of those units, about 643,000 are “autologous”—self-donated—and the number is increasing yearly, according to BloodBook.com.

Della Pietra said that, to his knowledge, Safe Blood Donation, based in Switzerland, is the first unvaccinated blood donation service of its kind.

“So, there is no blood bank with mRNA-free blood yet, not even with us,” Safe Blood Donation states on its website.

“And, although we have already asked hundreds of clinics, at the moment—at least in Europe—all of them still refuse to allow the human right of free blood choice with them—or at least do not want to be mentioned because otherwise, they fear reprisals.”

A nurse works as employees donate blood during a blood drive held in a bloodmobile in Los Angeles on March 19, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Della Pietra said the main goal of Safe Blood Donation is not to start an mRNA-free blood bank. Rather, it is to make it possible to match unvaccinated blood donors and unvaccinated recipients, “which we bring together in a clinic (medical partner) that allows the choice of blood donor.”

Medical website Seed Scientific said that blood banks and biotech companies will offer as much as $1,000 monthly for blood donations.

While Della Pietra said there are no unvaccinated blood banks, he sees the demand for unvaccinated blood rising.

This is why I decided to do [SafeBlood Donation]. I wanted to make a network for unvaccinated people looking for a blood donor because they need it—whether they have scheduled surgery or an emergency,” he said.

Safe Blood Donation began working in the United States about a month ago, building an infrastructure of medical partners.

However, in the current medical environment, central blood banks such as the Red Cross do not segregate their blood donations based on their vaccinated or unvaccinated status.

Rendering of SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins binding to ACE2 receptors. (Shutterstock)

“The American Red Cross does not facilitate designated donations for standard blood needs, as this process often takes longer and is more resource intensive than obtaining a blood product through our normal process,” the Red Cross told The Epoch Times in an email.

In a small number of situations, there is an exception for rare blood types where compatible blood types are extremely difficult to find. A rare blood type is defined as one that is present in less than 1/1000 people.

“We want to emphasize that the Red Cross adheres to all donor and product requirements as determined by the FDA to ensure the safety of the blood supply and is committed to continuing to provide life-saving blood products for patients across the country.”

The National Library of Medicine said that “across study sites, the average hospital cost per unit transfused was $155 and the average charge per patient was $219.”

Still, the Red Cross, which provides 40 percent of the nation’s blood donations, said “no studies” demonstrate adverse outcomes from transfusions of blood products collected from vaccinated donors.

Read more here...

Tyler Durden Sun, 12/04/2022 - 20:55

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Pedestrians choose healthy obstacles over boring pavements, study finds

Up to 78% of walkers would take a more challenging route featuring obstacles such as balancing beams, steppingstones and high steps, research has found….

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Up to 78% of walkers would take a more challenging route featuring obstacles such as balancing beams, steppingstones and high steps, research has found. The findings suggest that providing ‘Active Landscape’ routes in urban areas could help tackle an “inactivity pandemic” and improve health outcomes.

Credit: Anna Boldina

Up to 78% of walkers would take a more challenging route featuring obstacles such as balancing beams, steppingstones and high steps, research has found. The findings suggest that providing ‘Active Landscape’ routes in urban areas could help tackle an “inactivity pandemic” and improve health outcomes.

[A copy of the paper and images can be downloaded here]

Millions of people in the UK are failing to meet recommended targets for physical activity. Exercising “on the go” is key to changing this but while walking along a pavement is better than nothing it causes no significant increase in heart rate so only qualifies as mild exercise. Walking also fails to significantly improve balance or bone density, unless it includes jumping, balancing, and stepping down.

But would adults opt for such ‘fun’ routes if given the choice? A University of Cambridge-led study published today in the journal Landscape Research suggests that with the right design, most would.

Previous research on ‘healthy route choices’ has focused on people’s likelihood of walking instead of using transport. But this study examined how likely people are to pick a more challenging route over a conventional one and which design characteristics influenced their choices.

Lead author, Anna Boldina, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Architecture, said: “Even when the increase in level and extent of activity level is modest, when millions of people are using cityscapes every day, those differences can have a major positive impact on public health.”

“Our findings show that pedestrians can be nudged into a wider range of physical activities through minor changes to the urban landscape. We want to help policy makers and designers to make modifications that will improve physical health and wellbeing.”

Boldina began this research after moving from Coimbra in Portugal – where she found herself climbing hills and ancient walls – to London, which she found far less physically challenging.

Working with Dr Paul Hanel from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, and Prof. Koen Steemers from Cambridge, Boldina invited almost 600 UK residents to compare photorealistic images of challenging routes – variously incorporating steppingstones, balancing beams, and high steps – with conventional pavements.

Participants were shown images of challenging and conventional tarmac routes and asked which route they would choose. The researchers tested out a range of encouraging / discouraging parameters in different scenarios, including crossing water, shortcuts, unusual sculptures and the presence / absence of a handrail and other people. Participants were asked to score how challenging they thought the route would be from 1 (as easy as walking on level tarmac) to 7 (I would not be able to do it).

Eighty per cent of the study’s participants opted for a challenging route in at least one of the scenarios, depending on perceived level of difficulty and design characteristics. Where a challenging option was shorter than a conventional route, this increased the likelihood of being chosen by 10%. The presence of handrails achieved a 12% rise.

Importance for health

The WHO and NHS recommend at least 150 minutes of ‘moderate’ or 75 minutes of ‘vigorous’ activity spread over a week, including a variety of activities aimed at enhancing bones, muscles, and agility to stay healthy. In addition, adults over 65 are advised to perform strength, flexibility, and balance exercises.

Boldina said: “The human body is a very complex machine that needs a lot of things to keep working effectively. Cycling and swimming are great for your heart and for your leg muscles but do very little for your bone density.”

“To improve cardiovascular health, bone density and balance all at once, we need to add a wider range of exercises into our routine daily walks.”

Psychology of choice

Co-author Dr Paul Hanel said: “Children don’t need much encouragement to try out a balance beam but we wanted to see how adults would respond, and then identify design modifications which made them more likely to choose a challenging route.”

“We found that while embarrassment, anxiety, caution and peer pressure can put some adults off, the vast majority of people can be persuaded to take a more challenging route by paying careful attention to design, safety, difficulty level, location and signage.”

The proportion of participants who were willing to pick a more challenging route varied from 14% for a particular balance beam route to 78% for a route involving wide, low stepping stones and a log with a handrail. The least intimidating routes were found to be those with wide, steady-looking balancing beams and wide steppingstones, especially with the presence of handrails.

The researchers suggest that routes that incorporate more difficult challenges, such as obstacle courses and narrow balancing beams, should be placed in areas more likely to be frequented by younger users.

The participants expressed a range of reasons for picking challenging routes. Unsurprisingly, the study found that challenging routes which also acted as short cuts appealed. Up to 55% of participants chose such routes. The researchers also found that the design of pavements, lighting and flowerbeds, as well as signage helped to nudge participants to choose more challenging routes. Many participants (40%) said the sight of other people taking a challenging route encouraged them to do the same.

The participants who picked conventional routes often had concerns about safety but the introduction of safety measures, such as handrails, increased uptake of some routes. Handrails next to one steppingstones route increased uptake by 12%.

To test whether tendency to choose challenging routes was linked to demographic and personality factors, participants were asked to answer questions about their age, gender, habits, health, occupation, and personality traits (such as sensation seeking or general anxiety).

The researchers found that people of all levels of activity are equally likely to pick a challenging route. But for the most difficult routes, participants who regularly engaged in strength and balancing exercises were more likely to choose them.

Older participants were as supportive of the concept as younger ones but were less likely to opt for the more challenging routes for themselves. Nevertheless, across all age groups, only a small percentage of participants said they would avoid adventurous options completely.

The study applies the idea of “Choice Architecture” (making good choices easier and less beneficial choices harder) plus “Fun theory”, a strategy whereby physical activity is made more exciting; as well as some of the key principles of persuasion: social proof, liking, authority, and consistency.

Future work

The researchers hope to run experiments in physical test sites to see how intentions convert into behaviour, and to measure how changes in habits improve health. In the meantime, Dr Boldina continues to present her findings to policy makers.

Critics might question the affordability and cost effectiveness of introducing ‘Active landscape routes’ in the current economic environment.

In response, the researchers argue that installing stepping stones in a turfed area can be cheaper than laying and maintaining conventional tarmac pavements. They also point out that these measures could save governments far greater sums by reducing demand for health care related to lack of exercise.

Reference

A. Boldina et al., ‘Active Landscape and Choice Architecture: Encouraging the use of challenging city routes for fitness’, Landscape Research (2022). DOI: 10.1080/01426397.2022.2142204

Media contact

Tom Almeroth-Williams, Communications Manager (Research), University of Cambridge: researchcommunications@admin.cam.ac.uk / tel: +44 (0) 7540 139 444


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Apple Accelerates Plans To Shift Production Out Of China

Apple Accelerates Plans To Shift Production Out Of China

Apple has accelerated plans to shift some of its production outside of China, the…

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Apple Accelerates Plans To Shift Production Out Of China

Apple has accelerated plans to shift some of its production outside of China, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing insiders.

The company has been reportedly telling suppliers to 'actively' plan on assembling Apple products elsewhere in Asia - primarily India and Vietnam, as the company looks to reduce dependence on Taiwanese assemblers spearheaded by Foxconn.

The company's goal is to ship 40-45% of iPhones from India, vs the current single-digit percentage, according to TF International Securities analyst, Ming-chi Kuo. Vietnam is also expected to shoulder more of the manufacturing of other Apple products, such as AirPods, smartwatches and laptops.

A worker is shown disinfecting equipment.

The decision was sparked by turmoil at "iPhone City" inside Zhengzhou (a 'city-within-a-city'), where as many as 300,000 workers assemble iPhones and other Apple products as a Foxconn-run factory, which produces roughly 85% of the iPhone Pro lineup, according to Counterpoint Research.

In November, violent protests hit the Zhengzhou factory - as workers upset over wages and Covid-19 restrictions began rioting and throwing things at the police. All of this poses a risk to Apple, which has relied on the factory as a stable manufacturing center.

Zhengzhou is home to a giant Foxconn facility known as iPhone City, where a worker is shown at right disinfecting equipment. (Shang Ji/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

"Apple no longer feels comfortable having so much of its business tied up in one place," according to the report.

So no, Apple isn't moving production out of concerns over human rights abuses, censorship, or other types of oppression.

"In the past, people didn’t pay attention to concentration risks," said former US-based Foxconn executive, Alan Yeung. "Free trade was the norm and things were very predictable. Now we’ve entered a new world."

One response, say the people involved in Apple’s supply chain, is to draw from a bigger pool of assemblers—even if those companies are themselves based in China. Two Chinese companies that are in line to get more Apple business, they say, are Luxshare Precision Industry Co. and Wingtech Technology Co. 

On calls with investors earlier this year, Luxshare executives said some consumer-electronics clients, which they didn’t name, were worried about Chinese supply-chain snafus caused by Covid-19 prevention measures, power shortages and other issues. They said these clients wanted Luxshare to help them do more work outside China. -WSJ

The concerns over production revolve around new product introduction (NPI), which requires teams to work with contractors to translate blueprints and prototypes into a detailed manufacturing plan. According to the report, Apple has put its manufacturing partners on notice to start trying to do more of this outside of China.

That said, unless places like Vietnam and India can excel at NPI as well, they will 'remain stuck playing second fiddle' according to supply chain specialists.

For now, consumers doing Christmas shopping are stuck with some of the longest wait times for high-end iPhones in the product’s 15-year history, stretching until after Christmas. Apple issued a rare midquarter warning in November that shipments of the Pro models would be hurt by Covid-19 restrictions at the Zhengzhou facility. -WSJ

The shift marks a massive change in the relationship between Apple and China - which for decades have been engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship.

According to Kup, the supply-chain analyst, iPhone shipments in the fourth quarter of this year were likely to reach between 70 and 75 million units - around 10 million fewer than market projections before the Zhengzhou riots.

"Apple is going to have to find multiple places to replace iPhone City," said Dan Panzica, a former Foxconn executive who now advises companies on supply-chain issues. "They’re going to have to spread it around and make more villages instead of big cities."

Tyler Durden Sun, 12/04/2022 - 13:55

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