Robot Investments Weekly: Healthcare AI and Robotics Systems Shine

With all of the ProMat and Automate coverage over the past few weeks, we’ve been pretty busy around here, so we’ve slipped a bit on covering the transactions in the robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence space. Fortunately, we’re caught up enough to give you an overview of some of the more interesting transactions recently.

This week we’re highlighting 13 recent transactions covering the robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence space. If you’ve missed some transactions over the past few months, you can track them through the RBR Transactions Database. This regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type.
Robotics, AI in healthcare space
A cluster of investments have been made in robotics and AI companies using technology to better diagnose diseases and perform surgery in recent weeks.

HistoSonics, which develops a non-invasive robotics platform and novel beam therapy, closed a $54 million Series C financing round earlier this month. The company’s Robotically Assisted Sonic Therapy (RAST) combines robotics and imaging with proprietary sensing technology “to deliver personalized treatments with unparalleled precision and control,” the company said. The system uses histotripsy and focused sound energy “to generate pressures strong enough to liquefy and completely destroy targeted tissues at sub-cellular levels,” it continued.

 

Enlitic’s AI platform can help radiologists discover abnormalities for radiologists. Source: Enlitic

Enlitic, which develops AI to streamline medical imaging workflows for radiologists, closed $15 million in Series B funding earlier this month. The company’s platform uses deep learning and other AI forms to develop algorithms that identify and analyze suspicious findings in medical images. “Working closely with hospitals and radiology providers around the world, the company has developed a comprehensive platform enabling the development, validation, and seamless integration of clinical AI at scale,” the company said. It added that early applications of the technology were able to speed up radiologists’ interpretation by more than 20%, while also improving true positive rates and reducing false positive rates by more than 10%.

The company’s first product interprets chest x-rays, triaging normal from abnormal scans, and detecting and characterizing more than 40 distinct abnormalities, the company said. Enlitic said it is working with partners around the world for approvals to deploy the product in several countries.

Another company helping radiologists is Aidoc, which raised $27 million to expand its own AI solutions. The Israel-based company said it will use the funding to grow its technology and go-to-market team to support demand for its products. The company also announced it analyzed its 1 millionth CT scan in real-time, “the largest number of images analyzed by an AI tool and a landmark in the radiology AI ecosystem.” The company’s solutions are able to flag acute anomalies in real-time for radiologists.

On the pathology side, Deep Lens announced closing a $14 million Series A financing round for its AI-driven digital pathology platform. The company said it plans to use the funding to expand its product development, scale its services, sales, and marketing organizations. The company’s Virtual Imaging for Pathology Education and Research (VIPER) technology combines AI with advanced pathology workflows “while also facilitating peer-to-peer collaboration and patient identification for clinical trials. The company said its goal is to provide users with fast and accurate information for better patient care and advanced clinical research.

Another company in the pathology space, Boston-based PathAI announced raising $60 million in Series B funding. The company said it plans to use the new funds to “enhance offerings to existing partners, drive continuous improvement of its flagship pathology research platform, meet market demands, and fuel research and development into new tools and medical devices.” The company develops AI-powered research tools and services for pathology, helping to improve the accuracy and diagnosis and the efficacy of treatment for diseases like cancer, “leveraging modern approaches in machine and deep learning.”

Finally, startup Theator announced raising $3 million in seed round funding to develop its AI-based surgical platform. The platform helps “surgeons enhance capabilities and reduce medical errors by leveraging machine learning and computer-vision to identify, optimize and scale dissemination of best practices,” the company said. While other companies focus on static images such as x-rays and CT scans for diagnostics, Theator said it is working to leverage video footage. The company’s Minutes platform provides intelligently edited versions of surgical procedures that cover steps and outcome-critical components. “Hours-long procedures can be reviewed in minutes, helping surgeons prepare and review procedures,” the company said. In addition, AI-powered algorithms and analytics can inform surgeons on their performance, with videos stored for upcoming procedures or to debrief during post-operative processes.
Amazon buys Canvas, OnRobot buys Blue Workforce
A couple of interesting acquisitions of note:

Amazon announced it would acquire Canvas Technology, which develops autonomous carts that can move items around warehouses, for an undisclosed amount.
OnRobot, which develops end-of-arm tools and grippers for cobots, announced it would acquire the assets of Blue Workforce, which developed the robot called RAGNAR. Denmark-based Blue Workforce had recently filed for bankruptcy, and OnRobot said it would also hire 12 robot developers from the company.
While not an acquisition, FLIR Systems did announce it made a strategic investment in DroneBase, a drone operations company that provides businesses access to one of the largest unmanned aerial surveillance (UAS) pilot networks. The investment would make FLIR the exclusive provider of thermal product solutions and thermal image training provider for DroneBase’s pilot network. Terms of the investment were undisclosed.

Automotive-related investments for AI, teleoperation
While not completely related to the self-driving car space, there were a couple of interesting announcements that could make us better drivers.

Affectiva, which develops an Emotion AI and human perception platform, announced closing $26 million in funding. The company’s technology helps autonomous vehicles and other vehicles to understand drivers’ and passengers’ states and moods, providing alerts when drivers are distracted, etc.
Phantom Auto, which develops remote teleoperation of autonomous vehicles, said it raised about $19 million in Series A financing. The company’s systems allow for a remote teleoperator, who sits in a cockpit with a steering wheel watching images from cameras in the car, to take over control when the car faces “tricky situations.”


Wrapping up the rest
I’m getting anxious about a giant bunny coming to the house to deliver some candy to my kids this weekend, so I’m going to wrap up the rest of the recent transactions. Click the links to learn more:

Slingshot Aerospace raised $5 million for its AI-based orbital analytics platform.
KeyMe earned $50 million to expand its key duplication robotics platform, which can automatically make keys at a kiosk.

Happy Easter, everyone!
Robot Investments Weekly: Healthcare AI and Robotics Systems Shine

Under the Sea: Drone Startup Boxfish Helps Antarctic Researchers

Robots and drones have long tackled tasks that are dangerous for humans, and now they can add another item to the list – exploring the waters under the ice shelf in Antarctica.

A team from New Zealand startup Boxfish Research completed a five-week stay in Antarctica, assisting Dr. Regina Eisert and a research team from the University of Canterbury. The research team was participating in the Antarctic Top Predator program, with the goal of studying and capturing footage of the Orca and Minke whales as they congregated in the ice channel that resupplies the McMurdo research station.

Ben King, Boxfish Research

Boxfish Research Co-founder Ben King and his team supplied the scientists with the Boxfish ROV and Boxfish 360 underwater vision systems, designed to handle extreme weather conditions.

Robotics Business Review recently spoke with King about the journey to Antarctica and the lessons learned for using underwater drones in harsh conditions.
Origins of the project
Q: Give us a quick background on how this all started and how Boxfish Research got involved in the project.

King: Boxfish Research is a premium mini-RV manufacturer located in New Zealand. We make an ultra-maneuverable underwater drone that is specifically designed for working in tough conditions and capturing ultra-high-definition video, with cinema quality. One of the scientific researchers, Dr. Regina Eisert got in touch with us about how she could get some of our equipment down there. We came to an arrangement to collaborate on the project so I could join the team and be on the ground down there in Antarctica.

Q: What were they hoping to get out of the project from using the drone? Was it just video, or other types of data?

King: At this stage, their research focuses on the top predators in Antarctica, primarily Type C killer whales and Minke whales, and they’re particularly interested in feeding behavior, social behavior and range. This is done in order to better understand the overall fishery and biomass in the Ross Sea region as part of the marine protected area. Having eyes under the water is an amazing way to get a better understanding of the social behavior of the animals, and ideally the feeding behavior as well.

Whales spotted in Antarctica. Source: Ben King, Boxfish Research

Q: Did they have any sensors that they wanted to use on your equipment to measure water data, temperature, things like that?

King: No, because this project came together rather quickly. We didn’t have time to integrate anything additional, but certainly for future years there’s discussions already in place about returning next summer for hydrophone recordings and other aspects of research down there, like studying the bottom around Scott which would benefit from USBL [ultra-short baseline underwater acoustic positioning] and other navigation systems to have a better geo-reference for all the footage.
Getting to Antarctica
Q: How long did it take do get the project rolling? Were there a lot of hoops to jump through in order to get to Antarctica?

King: We thought that it would, but it all happened remarkably quickly, and that’s why we didn’t have a chance to integrate any additional equipment. The first mention of us doing this was in late August, and we had to ship the gear in November down to the ice. We’re a small company, so we just did everything we could to get the gear we had ready to go down to the ice.

Q: How long did it take for you to get to Antarctica from New Zealand?

King: I flew to Christchurch, got kitted out with all my cold weather gear for Antarctica, and then stayed overnight and we left the next day. But one of the team members got bumped off the flight and ended up taking five days before he got there because of the weather conditions. Getting to and from Antarctica is the real challenge – some people can be delayed up t o a week or more in some extreme cases.

Q: Did you have to do any other kind of special training to be ready for those weather conditions?

King: Everyone that goes to Antarctica with the New Zealand Antarctic program is given filed training, it’s basically a 24-hour course on the ice, camping out, eating dehydrated food and learning how to survive basically in case you get stuck out there for whatever reason. It was good fun.

I have a lot of outdoor experience myself. It was a fairly comfortable environment, but that’s not the case for all.  The staff down there did a fantastic job of really making sure that everybody had the skills and the equipment and the support they needed to operate safely.

Q: Once you got there, how long were you there with the research team?

King: About five weeks in total. We were working with night operations. We traveled each night from the base to McMurdo Station, where the helicopter pad is, and the New Zealand Helicopter, and we flew out to the ice at about 10 p.m. each night and were back at the base at about 9:30 a.m.

The research team traveled by helicopter to reach its location for the dives. Source: Ben King, Boxfish Research

Q: Was there a particular reason why you were conducting the research at night? Was it because that’s when the whales were likely going to be in the area?

King: There were a number of reasons. We were able to have close support from the helicopters so they could stick with us for the entire evening, because there’s very little going on at night, so we had our own pilot. The light is better for doing photo identification above the water because the sun is a bit lower. And the whales do seem to be most active around then – they talked about ‘whale o’clock’, between 10:30 p.m. and 12 a.m. – we’d often see a lot of whales where they’d become very active.
Extreme weather, rugged conditions
Q: From your company’s standpoint, what were some of the goals you were hoping to attain? Was it to see whether the equipment could withstand these temperatures and weather extremes? Was it to see if you could achieve high quality video?

King: Our goal was basically to get the ROV out in the field and use it as much as possible and capture the most stunning footage we possibly could. In addition, we wanted to get field experience in such an extreme environment with our equipment.

We exceeded all expectations on all fronts. The equipment performed exceptionally well. We had no loss of dive time because of equipment failure at all. We had 100% uptime, which was amazing. We did 15 dives with 21 hours under the water, down to 210 meters (about 700 feet).

We also spooled our entire tether out – we had 440 meters of tether that we maxed out – we pushed everything. The ROV was handled about 10 times a day in and out of vehicles, and into helicopters and out of helicopters and across the ice and back. It stood up to that really, really well.

The cold weather didn’t affect the performance, and we were able to stay underwater longer than what the humans could endure above the water.

Minke whale cruising the Ross Sea from Boxfish Research on Vimeo.
We were also able to do a world’s first – we did a live dive in the bar at Scott Base. We convinced the telecom tech to loan us 500 meters of fiber optic cable that we rolled it out across the ice to the hole where we were diving, when we couldn’t get out to the ice edge with the helicopter. I was able to pilot the ROV from inside the bar, so that was pretty cool.

One of the bonuses of the trip was that when we weren’t out with the whales, we had this hole so we could just go out there and dive. It was about 66 meters deep at the hole, and about 100 meters offshore. From there we could explore the sea floor, which was just teeming with life – creatures and critters and fish and octopus and sponges – all manner of life.

Q: Did any issues or challenges pop up where you needed to adapt quickly, being in Antarctica without having to drive to a store to get gear?

King: Probably the most annoying thing was when we did the first dive, we found the friction increased slightly, and the tether rail made it a little bit challenging to wind in on the snow. So I got the carpenter to help me make a plywood base plate that we strapped the tether reel to, and then we just screwed it down to the ice each day with ice screws, and that completely solved the problem. It was a really minor thing, but a very simple solution and we were good to go.
How robots can help researchers
Q: What message do you want to bring to customers that might be thinking about deploying these types of systems?

King: What we really proved – and I even proved to myself – was just how incredible the propulsion system is that we have on our ROV, coupled with the really high-end video. The eight-vectored thruster propulsion system really gives you full freedom to capture the footage.

More on research robotics:

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6 Experimental Uses for Robotics in 2019

The perfect example was outside Scott Base. There was always a reasonably strong current, and it didn’t affect operations because I was able to maneuver the ROV as if there wasn’t any current, simply because we can direct that thrust in any direction. So I could pan around an object simply by compensating for the current as I moved, which was very easy to do. I just really saw the power of that.

Additionally, the fact that the sea floor was sloping at about a 40-degree angle and that I could just pitch the entire vehicle down to look at the sea floor – made it really amazing to be able to just move around under there with total freedom.

Q: Have you been able to step back and really appreciate the type of opportunity you had in visiting Antarctica?

King: Oh, absolutely. I’ve been looking through the footage, and we have been slowly releasing it – it’s just incredible. At first everyone was telling us that you don’t achieve any results in your first season – it’s always treated as a pilot. We obviously didn’t go into it with that mindset, but what I discovered is that it’s a common way of looking at it – the scientists have that kind of attitude, which was a bit surprising. But we certainly didn’t come home feeling like we needed to think that way.

Q: But on the other hand, you want to go back, correct?

King: Absolutely. There’s always more to capture. We got some stunning footage of penguins swimming through the water, and we also want to work with other scientists. Antarctica specifically, there’s so much we could have done – exploring the ice sheet, there’s people looking at ice. We can put a manipulator on the ROV to grab samples – we could do gas samples from some of the volcanic vents. We’re talking to a guy about sponges to take core samples of the sponges. We could do push cores in the sediment – there’s all kinds of things we could do over and above capturing the fantastic video.

Q: So how cold did it get?

King: In the water it was -2 C (28.4 F). The lowest temperature before we put the ROV in the water was –6 C (21.2 F) from it sitting out in the cold. And the air temperature, the coldest we had was -14 or -15 (about 5 F), and with the wind chill it was well below -20 C (-4 F).
Under the Sea: Drone Startup Boxfish Helps Antarctic Researchers

Analysis: 5 Key Robotics Trends from ProMat and Automate 2019

CHICAGO – After three-plus days of seeing robots at last week’s ProMat and Automate trade show event — large, small, static, and mobile — it’s become clear that robotics and automation is more than just a “kick the tires” technology for many companies. Now that I’ve had some time to step back, check my notes, and reflect on news announcements and meetings with top robotics leaders, I’ve come away with five key robotics trends on the state of the industry in 2019 so far.
Trend #1: Collaboration that focuses on applications
At both shows, robotics companies weren’t just showing off their robots and telling customers, “Just buy this and everything will be fine.” Instead, they were displaying how their robots could perform certain tasks or how a complete system could solve a particular problem for a manufacturer. In other words, they were offering robotic applications instead of just robots or robot parts.

RightHand Robotics, for example, didn’t just display their very cool robot tool that combines a three-finger gripper with a vacuum gripper, which is impressive enough. Instead, they created the RightPick2 system, which shows off the gripper, the cobot arm (usually a Universal Robots cobot), the vision system (utilizing Intel RealSense cameras), and talking about the software and processors inside the RightPick2. Going beyond that, however, the company has done an outstanding job of also showing how the system can work with other partners, including Tompkins Robotics and Vecna Robotics, to name a few.

Universal Robots, as well, used the show to create zones of applications that the cobot arms could perform, including machine tending, packaging, assembly, and processing. The company did this to not only show that these processes could be handled by a cobot, but also to showcase partners, especially within its very large UR+ ecosystem of partners.

Jurgen von Hollen, Universal Robots

“If you’re only focused on the cobot and not on the complete application, you may believe you’re adding a lot of value to your customer,” Universal Robots President Jürgen von Hollen told me at the show. “But you actually don’t know. It might be some other part of the application that’s got nothing to do with a cobot that’s actually more of a problem. That’s why it was very critical for me, last year, that we started our applications team to really start understanding what does driving applications actually mean for the customer.”

It feels like more of the cobot and gripper/end-of-arm tool companies at Automate were doing the collaboration piece than those mobile robot companies that were displaying at ProMat, but several companies I spoke with are also seeing the value of automating more of the process beyond just having robots “move materials from Point A to Point B.”

For example, startup ROEQ was showing off its top roller mobile systems, which take materials to Point B and then moves it to a fixed conveyor system – Point C, D, etc. The top rollers that work with mobile robots from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) are also part of a similar ecosystem that MiR is setting up, replicating the UR+ model. This makes sense, since MiR and UR are both part of the Denmark robotics cluster, as well as both owned by Teradyne.
Trend #2: Adding pieces to the robot puzzle
On the ProMat side, I saw several cases where companies that launched with a single robot a few years ago are now adding additional pieces to create or extend a particular process or task. Not only does this give the company additional potential revenue on the hardware side, but it also creates more opportunities for them to create more automated processes or additional links in the supply chain.

For example, 6 River Systems talked about its new Mobile Sort system, which enables warehouse operators to fill batched orders with its existing 6 River mobile robots (aka “Chucks”).

The new Bolt robot from IAM Robotics. Source: Robotics Business Review

At the IAM Robotics booth, company officials were showing off Bolt, a new mobile robot that can take bins picked by its Swift mobile manipulator robot and then deliver the goods to an existing conveyor system.

GreyOrange, which has a fleet of its Butler mobile robots delivering in goods-to-person scenarios, was showing its Flexo mobile robots designed for modular sortation purposes.

Meanwhile, the folks at Brain Corp used the show to highlight its new concept robot for the grocery and in-store shelving market, to demonstrate how its BrainOS software could give autonomy to existing mobile carts and other devices beyond the commercial floor cleaning systems.

Whether these companies are creating new systems to generate more revenue on the hardware side, or to tell customers that they can create larger processes beyond the “move from A to B” basics, it’s clear they want to offer more options for customers.
Trend #3: Keeping it simple, stupid!
By most accounts, teaching or programming a robot how to perform a particular task is a complicated and difficult process. At the Yaskawa booth, for example, they had a “robotic bartender” pouring draft beer for attendees. One of the engineers at the booth told me it took a few weeks of programming to get the robot to accurately grab the cup and move it to the correct beer pouring spot (attendees could choose from at least two beer options).

Most companies showcasing robot arms touted either simpler software from existing options (such as improved interfaces for teaching pendants), or they touted new methods that enabled gesture-based approaches on teaching a cobot how to perform a simple task. At the Productive Robotics booth, for example, it didn’t take me (yes, me!) long to teach one of their OB7 cobots to pick up an object and move it to another location. Thankfully, the Productive Robotics team then also showed me other ways to expand beyond pick-and-place, such as opening a CNC machine door, or how it could see specific objects to grab in case the object was in the wrong location (or if a different object was on the table).

At the Ready Robotics booth, the company was showing its Forge suite of products, which aim to unify cross-robotic programming and control. The Forge suite includes a hardware controller called Forge/Ctrl running the Forge/OS software, which then “empowers anyone to intuitively control industrial and collaborative robots.” The Forge suite utilizes one interface across multiple robot brands, “creating a programming experience so far beyond easy it feels intuitive with no previous robotic experience required,” said Ready Robotics.

The company’s booth included 11 different robots and eight live robotic demonstrations that showcased its software – including having a UR-10e cobot putt a golf ball into a hole, or bowl a strike with a CR-15iA cobot from FANUC.

As more companies begin to deploy robots in their operations, especially as small and midsize companies buy or lease them, making sure the robots can be easily programmed will be key. Fortunately, most of the companies on the Automate and ProMat floors understood this.
Trend #4: Larger loads, bigger markets
While large industrial robots have been able to pick up large loads before, on the mobile side there have been limitations on the payloads. At this year’s show, those payloads are getting larger.

The MAV3K robot from Waypoint Robotics can support heavier loads for manufacturing environments. Source: Waypoint Robotics

MiR introduced its new MiR1000 that can move around goods that weigh up to 1 ton, and Waypoint Robotics showed off its MAV3K (pronounced “May-Vick”) mobile platform with a 3-ton capacity. Whoah.

For those mobile robot companies aiming their products at the manufacturing space, these payload numbers will matter more for larger parts or larger bundles, or for boxes/pallets that require these weights. Even on the robotic lift truck side of things, I saw larger vehicles with autonomous capabilities. The new robotic lift truck from Yale Materials Handling, for example, was loading and unloading pallets onto shelves three levels high and two pallets deep. Robotic lift truck veterans Seegrid and Vecna also displayed their latest autonomous vehicles for carrying heavier loads.

More on Automate, ProMat 2019:

At Automate 2019, Robot Vendors Tout Simplicity Across Products
ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!
ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019

For these companies, this opens up new markets and opportunities that they might not have had in the past – and companies that need those loads moved around the factory floor can now look at autonomous mobile robots as an option.
Trend #5: Deployments show robotics maturity
Even before the show began, I was noticing a general maturity in the mobile robotics space – company announcements about new partnerships, customers, and deployments all showed that companies within the supply chain space are going beyond the pilot phase into real-world usage (check out our free download titled “Mobile Robots Grow Up” for more details).

At the show, companies also announced further deployments and partnerships, including Brain Corp announcing that it would provide an additional 1,500 robotic floor cleaners to Walmart nationwide by the end of the year. Previously, the company had announced 360 robotic floor cleaners powered by the company’s BrainOS were working at the world’s largest retailer.

6 River Systems showcased its partnership with Office Depot and other companies, and also announced a new partnership with Sport Chek, Canada’s largest retailer of sports clothing and equipment. Locus Robotics also highlighted key partnerships and customers as well.

For newer robotics companies, proving that customers are finding value from their offerings is a key difference-maker for end users thinking about deploying robotics at their own locations. I would expect to see additional customer announcements and partnerships in this space as the year continues.
But wait, there’s more!
We’re not quite done yet with our ProMat and Automate coverage here at Robotics Business Review. In addition to some additional company news, we plan on publishing some Q&A interviews with key robotics leaders and showing off some videos we made while we were at the event. As always, stay tuned!
Analysis: 5 Key Robotics Trends from ProMat and Automate 2019

ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!

CHICAGO – Observers of these “news and notes” updates may notice a not-so-subtle casualness to the write-ups as the length of time increases while at a trade show. ProMat and Automate are no different, as we continue to see more robots (the R2-D2 model squealing a few rows over from our video booth was fun!) and meet with companies in the automation space.

Speaking of R2-D2, I discovered during Day 3 that the Star Wars Celebration event is being held right after this show, in fact with a day of overlap (April 11). The Star Wars folks will be at the other part of the McCormick Place convention center – in the West Hall area, while ProMat and Automate takes up the North and South Halls. I saw a few people wandering around carrying light sabers, in addition to the R2-D2 robot – I figure that’s going right over to that event on Friday through the weekend.
Waypoint goes big with MAV3K
At the Waypoint Robotics booth, visitors could check out MAV3K (pronounced “May-Vick”), the latest member of the company’s industrial-grade autonomous mobile robot family. MAV3K can carry items up to 3,000 pounds, with omnidirectional mobility for “smooth and nimble movement of your heaviest materials,” the company said.

Like its Vector robot, MAV3K includes support from Waypoint’s Dispatcher software, which lets companies set up the robot and have it operate autonomously in under 15 minutes. The MAV3K’s batteries also keep it moving throughout the workday, but it can also recharge by connecting to the Waypoint EnZone wireless charging system. MAV3K also includes dual-safety rated lidar sensors, a three-stage safety system and autonomous navigation are designed to have MAV3K safely find its way around a manufacturing or warehouse floor safety.

“We are thrilled to offer the workforce a better tool to move large, heavy materials,” said Jason Walker, CEO of Waypoint Robotics. “We’ve architected our products from Day 1 with the philosophy of ‘Bobby first.’ Bobby is the worker who’s been there for years and knows the job better than anyone. We’ve designed MAV3K so Bobby and workers like him can send it on missions to move the heaviest materials in his factory.”
Inspekto aims to disrupt inspection process
I had a very quick but great meeting with the leaders of Inspekto, which was honored at the Automate show with a Gold Award in the vision systems category of the Vision Systems Design Innovators Awards. After spending a few minutes talking with them, I can understand why they were honored.

The Inspekto S70 system.

Launched in November 2018, the Inspekto S70 is an “autonomous vision system” that combines a camera, light, lens and mounting aimed at industrial inspection processes. “Capable of inspecting any product, on any line, using any handling method, the system is a major tool for profitability per line for industrial plants, regardless of industry or geography,” the company said. With the company’s Plug and Inspect technology, Inspekto says the system can be installed in 30 to 60 minutes, with a price tag of just over $11,000 (€10,000).

The company said it plans on launching a new suite of applications for the platform next month at the Control trade fair for quality assurance professionals, held in Stuttgart, Germany.

“Installing the INSPEKTO S70 means that valuable staff can be moved from monotonous QA tasks to more productive roles and traditional tedious solutions replaced by simple to use and very affordable systems,” said Harel Boren, CEO and co-founder of Inspekto. “Over time, a €10,000 investment in an off-the-shelf product will save a plant hundreds of thousands and drastically improve productivity.

Yonatan Hyatt (left) and Harel Boren (right) from Inspekto.

“In fact, one of our customers, a world leading automotive plant, recently reported direct savings of €468,336 per year from just one location using an INSPEKTO S70 system. When you think about installing multiple systems to achieve Total QA, the impact on customer profits is extraordinary.”

The company said the S70 system has already been deployed in manufacturing plants across several industries, less than six months after launching. It claims a commercial footprint of more than 2,500 industrial plants worldwide, and the company said it plans to expand into the U.S. market as well. For more details, head to the company’s website.
Final bits and pieces
I spent most of the day conducting some video interviews with robotics leaders, including Melonee Wise from Fetch Robotics, Daniel Theobald from Vecna Robotics, Matt Yearling from PINC, and Joel Reed from IAM Robotics, among others. We plan to have those videos up soon for readers to enjoy – thanks to everyone who helped us out on that project.

Stay tuned next week for even more updates, posts, and analysis from the show, and if you’re sticking around Chicago for the Star Wars Celebration, May the Force Be With You!

Additional ProMat / Automate coverage:

ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019
ProMat and Automate Day 3 News and Notes: R2-D2 and 3 Tons of Fun!

ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts

CHICAGO – Wow, there are a lot of robots here at the ProMat 2019 and Automate 2019 shows. Of course, there are lots of other things, like conveyor systems, pallets, racks, and forklifts (or, as those in the industry like to say, lift trucks). Continuing our coverage of the shows, here are some additional product announcements from companies that I met with.
Humatics, Vecna team up to improve navigation
Microlocation provider Humatics announced a partnership with Vecna Robotics at the show. The agreement will integrate Humatics’ KinetIQ 300 microlocation system into Vecna’s fleet of self-driving vehicles, allowing them to navigate outdoor environments and access areas of a warehouse that previously was difficult, such as loading docks.

Examples of how the microlocation platform will help self-driving vehicles in the warehouse space include:

Navigation down to the centimeter in unstructured and dynamic environments. For example, a worker using a pallet jack to move boxes in and out of a loading dock can slow robots only equipped with lidar or fiducial stickers for navigation, Humatics said. The KinetIQ 300 system can recognize these changes without confusion, with 2-cm repeatability from up to 500 meters away.
Operation indoors and outdoors and in all weather conditions. This will allow Vecna vehicles to move pallets from an outdoor loading dock to an indoor warehouse storage area, or move goods between different buildings.
Increased operational efficiency in facilities that have more than 20 automated vehicles.

“Navigation for autonomous mobile robots in the warehouse has hit limitations that can only be remedied with more precise microlocation,” said David Mindell, CEO and co-founder of Humatics. “Humatics created the KinetIQ 300 to give mobile robots of all shapes and sizes a reliable way to move freely between indoor and outdoor warehouse environments, dynamically adapting to people and things in constantly shifting spaces.”

Dan Patt, CEO of Vecna Robotics, said their vehicles already have high confidence in self-driving, but the company is always looking to innovate and improve those features. “To facilitate this, we seek to collaborate with industry experts, such as Humatics,” he said. “As we continue to grow, we look forward to working with them to ensure our self-driving vehicles work in all environments, including indoor/outdoor spaces.”
New mobile robot features from Locus
Locus Robotics announced its Spring 2019 software and hardware updates for its autonomous mobile robots at the show. New features include omnichannel support, the ability for associates to handle putaway (replenishment) duties simultaneously with picking functions, multi-order and multi-tote picking, and an accessory power port for the robot that lets users place peripherals such as a label printer onto the LocusBot.

Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics

“We’re especially excited to introduce the industry’s first, full omnichannel support that seamlessly handles all aspects of fulfillment for retail, wholesale, and e-commerce channels,” said Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. “Together, these new features enable us to deliver even greater levels of optimization and productivity gains to our customers and continue our goal of consistently delivering results and innovation across the entire spectrum of order fulfillment.”

The omnichannel support gives companies the ability for efficient picking of complex retail shipments, while simultaneously picking orders for retail store replenishment, wholesale, and e-commerce orders on a single robot.

Other updates in the spring software release include bulk item picking, which lets associates pick larger quantities of goods for later sorting at a sortation station, real-time traffic flow management to improve picking velocity and productivity, and custom robot branding options for the robots.

In addition, the company has added gamification features to its software, allowing customers to create “fun and engaging internal competitions to motivate and reward warehouse workers for achieving high order fulfillment levels” as a way to improve the working experience for employees. The company said this feature can be valuable for companies that integrate pay-for-performance programs to help incentivize warehouse workers.
Yale shows off robotic reach lift truck
Labor shortages for forklift drivers have many warehouses looking for resources to handle storage and retrieval tasks, including robotics automation. Yale Materials Handling showed off its new Yale robotic reach truck, a dual-mode pantograph robotic lift truck that can autonomously deposit and retrieve loads from locations as high as 30 feet, and reach into double-deep storage areas.

The new Yale Materials Handling robotic reach truck.

The company said the high-lifting capability of the reach truck makes it ideal for distribution centers facing a shrinking labor pool and pressure to maximize vertical storage space due to pressures from e-commerce demand.

Through a partnership with JBT, the robotic reach truck uses a combination of sensors and 3D cameras to achieve its precision and effectiveness at higher-level storage locations, “capable of exceeding the productivity of operator-driven trucks,” Yale said.

“The robotic reach truck’s ability to go as high as 30 feet opens up a wide range of new tasks for automation, enabling operations to maximize utilization of robotic solutions and achieve return on investment faster than ever,” said Mick McCormick, vice president of robotics and automation at Yale Materials Handling.

The robotic reach truck is the first model to commercialize through Yale’s collaboration with JBT, and is now available in North America. The dual-mode feature allows human drivers to take over tasks and operate the reach truck as a regular truck lift. Other robotic lift trucks from Yale include a robotic tow tractor, end rider, and counterbalanced stacker models.
More to come!
Keep checking back on Robotics Business Review for more ProMat and Automate updates, analysis, videos, and more. For additional multimedia updates, be sure to watch our Twitter feed.

Additional ProMat / Automate coverage:

News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019
MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019
ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts

News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019

CHICAGO – Plenty of robots and robotics solutions were on display for the opening day festivities at the ProMat and Automate shows, as attendees from the supply chain, logistics, and manufacturing industries aimed to learn more about how robots can help improve their businesses.

We’ve already highlighted some of the news announcements that have come out at the show, here are some additional company announcements we learned while meeting with companies:
Productive Robots show teachable cobots
Productive Robots (booth N6957) unveiled its full line of next-generation teachable collaborative robots at the event. Based in Santa Barbara, Calif., Productive has added “an enhanced human sense of vision to its teach-and-learn platform” which gives customers an additional offering for end users.

“The Productive Robotics design and engineering team started building robots for movie special effects in the 1980s,” said Zac Bogart, president and CEO of Productive Robotics. “We’ve combined that level of expertise with the latest technology to offer customers the simplest, most flexible, innovative and cost-effective lineup of next-generation collaborative robots in the market.”

The OB7 model from Productive Robotics is a 7-axis model that can provide more flexibility for cobot applications. Source: Productive Robotics

The company was showing its 7-axis OB7-Max 8 and OB7-Max 12 at the show, rounding out its line based on the success of its original OB7 cobot. The OB7-Max 8 has a payload up to 8 kg and a 1,700 mm reach, while the OB7-Max 12 can handle payloads up to 12 kg with up to 1,300 mm reach.

Productive Robotics said the OB7 models can automatically learn to recognize and pick up objects with a single push, and that by the end of the year, it will be equipped with an improved sense of touch. The additional axis gives OB7 “the flexibility and dexterity to reach around objects or obstacles where other’s can’t,” as each of the joints can rotate 360 degrees in both directions.
ROEQ debuts top roller module for MiR1000
Just minutes after MiR announced its MiR1000 mobile robot that can handle loads up to 1,000 kg (slightly more than 1 ton), ROEQ (short for “Robotic Equipment) announced its TR1000 Top Roller, a conveyor solution that can connect the MiR Robots to other conveyor systems.

The TR1000 from ROEQ provides conveyor connectivity for the MiR1000 mobile robot. Source: ROEQ.

Working in tandem with the MiR1000, the TR1000 Top Roller can support heavy internal logstics within industrial facilities by automating the load and unload operations of the MiR1000. Think of it this way – while mobile robots like the MiR1000 can move materials from Point A to Point B, once it gets to Point B, the Top Roller system can raise to the level of an existing conveyor system and then automatically transfer the materials to the belt or other location, saving humans from the lifting part of the load or unload process.

“A mobile robot without a conveyor or top module is like a robot arm without a gripper,” said Peder Grejsen, technical sales manager for ROEQ. “Production throughput can be greatly improved when mobile robots are outfitted with intelligent top modules that self-load and unload.”

The TR1000 accommodates U.S. pallets and can be delivered with a fully automated lifter functionality for pick-up and delivery of goods in heights ranging from 23.6 inches (600mm) to 29.5 inches (750mm). The Top Roller integrates seamlessly in MiR’s own user interface where all control functions are embedded; when the robot is called to deliver or pick up goods, the conveyor communicates with the pick-up and delivery stations and will automatically activate the loading or unloading upon arrival.

“By targeting the loading and unloading of mobile robots, we are addressing that missing link in the automated logistics cycle that today is handled either by fork or pallet lifters or manually by employees,” said Grejsen. “Adding the conveyor capability strengthens the employees’ work environment by taking over ergonomically unfavorable tasks or by reducing truck traffic and noise.”
Staubli shows multiple robot collaboration application
At the Stäubli booth (#7150), the company was showing its new TS2 four-axis robots to the North American market, but also showed a scenario where multiple robots worked together, along with human workers, to accomplish tasks. In addition to the SCARA robots, the company showed

“This new series of SCARA robots has been reimagined, incorporating our JCS drive technology that has greatly improved the performance and versatility of our six-axis machines,” said Sebastien Schmitt, Robotics Division Manager, Stäubli North America. “This allows for ultra-short cycle times and enormous performance gains for the new four-axis TS2.”

The new line consists of four models, the TS2-40, TS2-60, TS2-80 and TS2-100 to provide a solution for a wide range of manufacturing scenarios. With the four-axis TS2-100, Stäubli has extended the working radius of the TS series (400 to 800 millimeters) up to 1,000 millimeters.

The Staubli HelMo mobile robot provides collaborative capabilities with human workers. Source: Staubli

The company also showed its HelMo mobile robot system, designed to bring flexibility to an electrical connector assembly line. The HelMo can navigate autonomously by monitoring its environment with three integrated laser scanners, and can perform tasks either fully automatically or in collaboration with humans. “Once trained, HelMo can handle almost any manual job on a variety of assembly lines,” Stäubli said. The system can navigate to its own workspace, decelerating or stopping when humans come too close, and then continue its process when humans are farther away. Built around a six-axis standard TX2-90L robot with a payload of 15 kg and reach of 1,200 mm, the system comes with a safety package that meets the requirements of SIL3/PLe, Stäubli said.
More coverage to come!
Stay tuned for additional updates, posts and other articles from the ProMat and Automate show. For the latest updates, photos, and videos, make sure to monitor the Robotics Business Review Twitter feed. If you’re at the show, make sure you stop by the CRO Summit at ProMat (located in the North Hall near the RBR booth #6360) to hear strategies around deploying robotics at your company.

Additional ProMat / Automate coverage:

MiR Launches MiR1000 for Autonomous Transport of up to 1 Ton Loads
Robotiq Unveils New Vacuum Grippers, Sanding Kit
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System
IAM Robotics Redesigns, Expands Swift System for Mobile Fulfillment
Download: Mobile Robots Move Beyond Pilot Projects
ProMat and Automate Show Guide: Robot Company Showcase
Brain Corp Launches Autonomous Delivery Robot Concept
6 River to Launch Mobile Sort System at ProMat 2019
News and Notes from Day 1 at ProMat/Automate 2019

Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System

Epson Robots today announced a series of new robotics products aimed at manufacturers looking to solve problems with existing processes or those looking for a lower-cost option for other applications. The company plans to showcase its new offerings this week at booth #7566 at the Automate 2019 event in Chicago.

Epson made the following three announcements for the show:

The new VT6L All-in-One 6-Axis robot, a new entry-level offering to its line of 6-axis robots.
The debut of its IntelliFlex Feeding System, designed as an alternative to manufacturing feeding systems to eliminate costly and time-consuming retooling.
The expansion of its LS series in the SCARA robot category, offering the LS3-B, LS6-B, LS10-B and LS20-B models.

The new products help address customers in two areas, said Rick Brookshire, product manager at Epson Robots. “We’re very focused on continuous improvement of existing products based on feedback, and the LSB series does that,” said Brookshire. “At the same time, we’re looking at problems that customers are having in the field with applications that either can’t do something, are too expensive to solve, or that they’re struggling with. That’s where the VT6L and IntelliFlex fall into.”
About the VT6L
The VT6L is the new entry-level 6-axis robot by Epson Robots.

The VT6L, offered at the cost of $13,900, is a compact 6-axis robot that includes the next generation of technology from Epson, the company said. It is aimed at simple parts transfer applications such as machine-tool and injection molding load/unload, pick-and-place, dispensing and simple assembly projects. Like the T-Series All-in-One that Epson launched last year, the VT6L is designed with a built-in controller to save on space, while its SlimLine structure includes a compact wrist pitch to enable access to hard-to-reach areas in confined spaces, the company said.

The VT6L includes integration tools such as vision guidance, and has a reach up to 900mm and payloads up to 6 kg. The hollow end-of-arm design gives users simplified cabling options and more versatile tooling choices, the company added. Power options include 110 V and 220 V, and there is no battery required for the encoder.

“As customers were using the T-Series, they would tell us, ‘Oh, I’ve got this other application, but it really needs a 6-axis robot – it’s a really simple application, I wish you had something,’ ” said Brookshire. “And every time I heard that I would bite my tongue, because I knew we were developing this.”
IntelliFlex offers smarter feeding system
The IntelliFlex Feeding System is powered by Epson’s IntelliFlex Software and Vision Guide, aimed at accommodating a wide variety of parts for advanced applications in the medical, consumer, automotive, and electronics markets, among others, the company said. The combination of a robot, vision system and feeder into a single development environment helps manufacturers looking for high-mix, low-volume parts singulation.

The IntelliFlex Feeding System provides vision guidance for parts singulation. Source: Epson Robots

Manufacturers typically rely on bowl feeder systems when they need to take bulk parts from a system and have it orientate correctly for a machine to grab the part correctly. They are generally custom-built for a specific part and design, which is fine for high-volume, low-mix situations. But when a part’s design or weight changes, costly retooling is usually required.

With the IntelliFlex Feeding System, the vision guide helps the robot see a singular part and grab it correctly. In addition, the vision system can notice whether parts are bunched up in a corner and then vibrate in order to singulate the parts. On the software side, changes to parts are handled by reprogramming the feeder system, so new parts can be used with the system without needing to retool.

“We’re starting to move into a world of high changeover, low-volumes, where they want to make these products for the next two weeks, but then they want to change over to make these other products for the next two weeks,” said Brookshire. “What do you do if you’ve got to get all these custom bowl feeders, that’s where flexible feeders come in.”

In addition, the IntelliFlex system includes an auto-tuning system that automatically adjusts the feeder parameters for new parts setup. “At the end of the day, what customers really want is to have the parts be singulated and the robot to go over and pick them up,” said Brookshire. The auto-tuning and easier programming is designed to speed up the process for parts changeover.

The system can support parts ranging from 5 mm to 40 mm in size, as well as complex and delicate materials. The system also includes red, green, blue, white and infrared blacklight options, and includes ESD/anti-static and anti-rolling configuration options.
About the LSB SCARA robots
The LSB series of robots will be available during the summer and fall this year, with the LS10-B shipping in June. Features of the new robots include:

Faster cycle times;
Lower cable duct profile for hard-to-reach work cell layouts;
A built-in camera cable for easy vision setup;
A new top-of-arm layout for enhanced useability;
A batteryless encoder to minimize downtime and reduce the overall cost of ownership.

“For the last several years, our LS-Series Robots have been the robot of choice for high performance, low-cost automation,” said Gregg Brunnick, director of product management at Epson Robots. “Our customers expect continuous improvement in performance and usability.”

The LS10-B and LS6-B are improved models from previous LS models, and are available in ISO 4 Clean versions for dust-free applications. Additional options include vision, fieldbus interface solutions, RC+ 7.0 API software, teach pendants and customizable GUIs.

In terms of arm design, the LS10-B can reach up to 600, 700 and 800 mm, supporting up to a 10 kg payload. The LS6-B can reach up to 500, 600 and 700 mm, supporting up to a 6 kg payload. The company said details for the LS3-B and LS20-B will come later.

Epson Robots, a division of the Seiko Epson Corp., has an installed base of more than 85,000 robots worldwide, with products line in the SCARA, Cartesian, and 6-axis robot categories, all based on a common PC-based platform. Robots are aimed at precision assembly and materials handling applications in the aerospace, appliance, automotive, biotechnology, consumer products, electronics, food processing, medical device, pharmaceutical, plastics, semiconductor, and telecommunications industries.
Epson Robots Launches New Robots, Intelligent Feeding System

U.S. Robot Sales Set Record for 8th Straight Year, IFR Says

The International Federation of Robotics today said that robot sales in the U.S. hit a new peak of almost 38,000 units, which sets a record for the eighth year in a row (from 2010 through 2018). In addition, robot density in the U.S. manufacturing industry is now more than double that of China, ranking seventh in the world behind South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Denmark.

Robot density, measured by the number of robots per employee, reached 200 robots per 10,000 employees in the U.S., vs. 97 robots per 10,000 employees in China. The IFR said the trend to automate production in domestic and global markets was the main driving force behind robot installations in the U.S.

Source: IFR

“The North American countries (U.S., Canada and Mexico) represent the second largest operational stock of industrial robots in the world after China,” said Junji Tsuda, president of the IFR. “Whilst numerous important robot system integrators come from North America, most big robot manufacturers are based in Japan, Korea, and Europe.”

Industries seeing large growth in robot unit sales included the food and beverage (64% growth), and the plastic and chemical products industry (30% growth).

Robert Doyle, RIA.

In the automotive industry, where parts suppliers account for two-thirds of installations, sales were up 9% between 2017 and 2018. Yet car manufacturers themselves invested less in automation, with installations down 26%. This echoes a report by the Robotics Industry Association in February, which said robot shipments to auto industry companies saw a 12% decrease compared to units shipped in 2017. Much of the growth in robot sales and installations in recent years have been to small and midsize manufacturers, the RIA reported.

“If you look at the automotive numbers since the end of the great recession, which was the last downturn for the robotics industry, we knew that there was a point where they just needed to slow down, especially the OEMs,” said Robert Doyle, vice president of the RIA and A3 Mexico. But unlike the last downturn, the growth of non-automotive robotics deployments means that that the robotics industry as a whole can endure a decrease by the automotive space.

More on robotics industry:

North American Robot Shipments Grow Beyond Auto Industry, RIA Says
Market Forecast: Worldwide Commercial Service Robotics, 2019-2022
Robots Will Be Working in 50,000 Warehouses by 2025, Report Says
Global Spending on Robots, Drones to Top $115B in 2019, Says IDC
Global Industrial Robot Sales Doubled Over Last Five Years, Report Says

“In the past when automotive was down, the entire robotics industry was down because it was so linked to automotive,” said Doyle. “But now, the automotive space was only 52% of the market, which measn there’s a lot of non-traditional industries that are realizing the benefits of robotics. It’s also giving suppliers and integrators the opportunity to ensure they’re in a position  to serve the general industry.”
More robots, more employees
The IFR said the annual growth rate of robot sales to the U.S. automotive industry between 2013 and 2018 was 7%. Robot density in this space increased by 52% between 2012 and 2017, from 790 to 1,200 industrial robots per 10,000 employees, the IFR said.

Before you think that the increase in robot destiny should have employees worried, fear not – the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment in the automotive industry increased 22% between 2013 to 2018, going from 824,400 jobs to more than 1 million jobs.

The second largest industry for robots is the electronics/electrical industry, with an 18% market share of the total supply of robots, the IFR said. From 2013 to 2018, robot installations increased 15% on average. Total installations in this space rose to almost 6,700 units in 2018.

The IFR plans to discuss the latest data round world robotics at its CEO Roundtable, at the Automate 2019 show in Chicago next week. The event, held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Automate, will feature robotics industry leaders from around the world, including:

Robert Atkinson, president Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Byron Clayton, CEO of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute
Junji Tsuda, the IFR president and representative director chairman of the board, Yaskawa
Henry Sun, director of strategy for Guangzhou MINO Automotive Equipment Co.
Thomas Visti, CEO of Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR)
Robert Huschka, director of education strategies at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
U.S. Robot Sales Set Record for 8th Straight Year, IFR Says

Formlabs Launches New 3D Printers for Larger Parts Production

Formlabs today announced the latest versions of its 3D printers for advanced digital fabrication – the Form 3 and Form 3L printers. The printers will be demonstrated at the company’s booths this week at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) show in Chicago, and at Hannover Messe show in Germany.

The printers also feature a new process the company calls Low Force Stereolithography (LFS), an advanced form of stereolithography that “delivers consistently flawless parts by adapting to your part’s geometry to deliver the perfect balance of detail and speed.” The LFS process uses a custom-designed system of lasers and mirrors and a flexible film tank to cure solid isotropic parts from liquid resin with pinpoint precision, Formlabs said.

The Form 3L and Form 3 3D printers. Source: Formlabs

“We’ve completely re-engineered our approach to resin 3D printing with the [LFS] print process behind the Form 3 and Form 3L,” said Max Lobovsky, CEO and co-founder of Formlabs. “We entered the industry seven years ago with the first powerful, affordable desktop SLA 3D printer, and since then have shipped more than 40,000 printers, and our customers have printed more than 40 million parts. Now users are leading the way in how to grow 3D printing from one machine to many, from prototyping tool to game changer. We’re excited to take another huge leap forward with LFS 3D printing.”
Easier cleanup, higher accuracy
Features of the LFS process include:

A flexible film tank that reduces peel force;
A modular light processing unit (LPU) that maintains a precise, high density laser spot to ensure accurate and repeatable prints;
Easier cleanup and smoother parts with tear-away light-touch supports;
Integrated sensors that help maintain ideal print conditions, sending alerts about the state of the machine;
Remote printing through the online dashboard.

Max Lobovsky, Formlabs CEO.

“If you’ve ever used a 3D printer and remove the parts from the printer, you know there’s sometimes these support structures that you have to break parts off from, and minimizing those support structures, making parts easier to remove, that’s really important so they don’t have marks from the support structures,” said Lobovsky in an interview with Robotics Business Review.

The new process also provides scalability for its printers – the Form 3L simultaneously uses two LPUs to bring large format 3D printing in-house, with five times the build volume and two times the laser power of the Form 3, the company said.

“We were able to take that technology and build the Form 3L by taking two LPUs and combine them side by side,” said Lobovsky. “Because it applies less force to the parts, it’s easy to scale it up to print much larger parts.”

In addition to the new printers, Formlabs also announced a new material – Draft Resin. The new material can print at 300 microns layer lines, and is three to four times faster than other standard resins, the company said.

Founded in 2011 out of MIT, the Somerville, Mass-based company now employs more than 500 people across the U.S., Hungary, Germany, Japan, and China. Beyond its Form family of printers, the company recently introduced its Form Cell concept, where multiple Form printers are connected together, and along with a robotic arm, can help companies scale up and optimize their manufacturing processes.

The Form Cell offering combines multiple 3D printers with a robotic arm in a work cell. Source: Formlabs

The Form Cell concept isn’t necessarily about making products quicker, but rather to help companies address labor costs. “A lot of people were talking about print speed, and they said that was the key to reducing costs for 3D printing,” said Lobovsky. “But we looked at what high volume usage looked like, and we found that labor is a bigger factor in the cost, especially when you’re already using a low cost system like Form 2. So we thought it was more important to focus on automation to reduce the labor costs involved.”

More on 3D printing, manufacturing:

Medical Fields Find Immediate Benefit from 3D Printing
3D Printing Startup Arevo Names New CEO, $12.5 Million Funding Round
3D Printing Developments Increase in Size, Complexity
Industry and Technology Combine to Advance Rapid Prototyping
Case Study: Voodoo Manufacturing Triples 3D Printing Production With Cobots
Creator of Dexter Robot Arm Teams With Markforged to Scale Parts Production

Customers expand beyond prototyping
Lobovsky said the majority of Formlabs’ customers are in the engineering, product design, and manufacturing, whether they are prototyping new products or creating things like jigs or fixtures for a manufacturing line. In addition, customers in health care, particularly dentistry, have used Formlabs printers to produce things like dentures, surgical guides, aligner models, and more.

Formlabs has worked with small, midsize and large manufacturers – for example, Gillette has teamed up with them to pilot its Razor Maker concept, a platform that lets customers create customized 3D printed razor handles, with the choice of more than 48 different designs, colors, and the ability to add custom text.

Last August, the company raised $15 million in its latest funding round (it’s raised more than $100 million total), bringing its valuation to more than $1 billion.

“I don’t know if I thought a lot about being the CEO of a billion-dollar company,” said Lobovsky. “I’ve always just wanted to grow it to be as big and impactful as it could be. It just feels like another step along the way.”
Formlabs Launches New 3D Printers for Larger Parts Production

Things to Know This Week: Gymnastics Robot and Self-driving Snowplows

Happy April Fool’s Day, the worst day to be in the news business or public relations field.

Why? Because most companies that attempt to write April Fool’s Day stories or come up with fake product announcements don’t really succeed with their humor, and any journalists that end up falling for it then look dumb by thinking that something that incredible really did happen. On the PR side of things, woe be to the  agency or company that makes an actual product announcement on this date, as then they end up fielding a lot of “Is this real?” and “Do you know what today’s date is?” types of emails and phone calls.

So, if you are out and about on the Internet today, don’t believe ANYTHING. Even if they say it’s real, just ask them to reconfirm it tomorrow.

Source: IHMC
Thing #1: Check out this awesome gymnastics-enabled robot concept
Down in Florida, the robotics group at the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, aka IHMC, is working on a concept of a humanoid robot gymnast, named Nadia after famed Romanian gymnast Nadia  Comăneci from the 1976 Summer Olympics. Evan Ackerman from the IEEE Spectrum publication has a great interview with the team working on the project.
Thing #2: Help some kids get to the VEX Robotics World Championship
Next month the VEX Robotics World Championships occur in Louisville, Kentucky, and a whole bunch of teams from around the world are preparing to compete. Several teams have posted GoFundMe campaigns to help them get there, so if you have some extra money to spare to help train the next generation of robotics leaders (trust me, they’ll be needed), click the links below to help out.

The Da’ GOAT team from Petal, Mississippi is looking to raise $1,500.
The Chanclas from Gibson Middle School in Las Vegas is attempting to raise $13,500 (a second team is raising money to attend the CREATE U.S. Open Robotics Championship to be held later this week in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Two teams from Maine (the MSSM Penguins S and MSSM Penguins Z) are raising $3,000 to attend the championships.
A team from Kaunakakai Elementary School in Hawaii is trying to raise $10,000, as they were invited on short notice and needs the fundraiser to cover the full budget.
The Ultramagnus independent robotics team in Puerto Rico is attempting to raise $15,000 to be able to attend the competition.

Thing #3: Go back to college so robots can deliver you breakfast
Without trying too much to sound like one of those grumpy old men who would say, “When I was your age, I had to go downstairs to the dorm cafeteria in order to get breakfast!”, students at Northern Arizona University (NAU) can now receive breakfast orders via Starship Technologies mobile delivery robots.

Since launching at the end of January on George Mason University, Sodexo and Starship announced recently that an extra 1,500 breakfast orders have been delivered autonomously by students and others.

A Starship robot delivers breakfast to a Northern Arizona University student.

At NAU, each on-demand delivery costs just $1.99, and works in conjunction with the student meal plan. “I’m really excited for these robots!” said NAU student Josh Feygin, in a press statement. “Having the ability to get breakfast delivered right to my door simply with my meal plan will be a lifesaver for early classes and long days.”

A recent report from Research And Markets predicted a 49.5% compound annual growth rate from now through 2024 for the global autonomous delivery robots market, which means that maybe someday I’ll be able to get a robot to deliver me a bagel instead of having to drive to Panera on my own.
Thing #4: Fly to Winnipeg to see an autonomous snowplow
Today being April Fool’s Day, the spring for us in most of North America is sort of here, although we’ve had snow in April in New England a few times. But perhaps up in Winnipeg, Canada, the snow season lasts a little bit longer.

It’s good that the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport now has “Otto” working for them, the first autonomous airport snowplow in North America. A result of a partnership with Manitoba companies Northstar Robotics and Airport Technologies Inc., Otto is a specially designed ATI Snow Mauler configured to operate autonomously using Northstar Robotics technology. The plow can clear snow by following predetermined routes and the blade can be controlled at specific locations. Otto has 3D lidar and radar that can sense surroundings and detect obstacles, and includes a wireless emergency stop system.

“Launching North America’s first autonomous snowplow is a great achievement for Winnipeg Richardson International Airport,” said Barry Rempel, president and CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority. “Our success is a direct result of bringing together partners who are committed to lead transportation innovation and growth.”
Thing #5: Chat with coworkers about this non-robot story

NASA Offers $19,000 to stay in bed for 60 days

Sign me up!
Thing #6: Read some REAL robotics news
Missed some of our awesome stories because you’re too busy building a real robot? Check out this list of some cool posts we’ve recently been writing:

Market for Commercial Drones to Nearly Triple by 2024, Research Says
Video: Watch a Robot Assist With Hurricane Disaster Cleanup
Play Ball! Robots Chalk Baseball Foul Lines for Fields
Singapore-Based Techmetics Brings 2 Service Robot Lines to the U.S.
ProMat 2019 Preview: 4 Can’t-Miss Sessions and To-Do Items
Robots Will Be Working in 50,000 Warehouses by 2025, Report Says

That’s it for the week, stay cool, warm or happy (or all three!)

Here’s my one “fake news story” for April Fool’s Day: Video: Humans Steal Robot Jobs
Things to Know This Week: Gymnastics Robot and Self-driving Snowplows