It's a scenario movies and sci-fi stories have predicted for years: an intelligent fleet of human-serving robots become too smart and take over the world. The common storyline is also one some people worry will come to real-world fruition thanks to technological developments in artificial intelligence and robotics. For many others, though, applying intelligence to robotics is all about furthering innovation.
From making smart consumer products to creating the first human-like artificial brain, the following companies are doing dazzling things with AI in robotics.
Location: San Diego, Calif.
How it's using AI: Brain Corp’s proprietary technology makes robots adaptable and flexible so they can navigate unstructured environments like warehouses and store floors. The robots also have mapping, routing, surface anomaly detection, object avoidance and cloud-based data capture capabilities.
Industry impact: EMMA (Enabling Mobile Machine Automation), a Brain Corp robot was tested in Walmart stores for after-hour floor cleaning.
Location: Waltham, Mass.
How it’s using AI: Boston Dynamics is a robotics company creating dynamic, intelligent and adaptive robots. With nine different models, the company develops sensor-based controls that prepare robots for a variety of environments and terrains.
Industry impact: If you’re a fan of Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” then you’ve seen Boston Dynamics’ concepts in action. A season four episode entitled, “Metalhead” took inspiration for it’s four-legged killer robot from Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini model.
Location: Boulder, Colo.
How it's using AI: Canvas Technology builds autonomous and intelligent technology that streamlines warehouse processes. The company’s main product, an industrial autonomous cart, works in unstructured warehouse and factory environments — indoors or outdoors. Designed for quick change, the cart is easily adaptable and implemented.
Industry impact: New Jersey-based International Flavors and Fragrances found that just one Canvas autonomous cart reduced 10 hours of wasted time per week within its facility.
Location: Santa Clara, Calif.
How it's using AI: Because a humanoid robot brain would require enormous physical dimensions — much larger than those of an actual human brain — CloudMinds enables users to operate robots from the cloud, with mobile phones acting as cloud robot control units (RCU) and operating on secure networks.
Industry impact: CloudMinds provides robotic services like airport patrol robots (with vision and navigation capabilities) as well as AI technology for single-task manufacturing robots.
Location: Austin, Texas
How it's using AI: DroneSense's drone software platform is used for public safety. Drones can be operated manually or autonomously to aid fire services, emergency response teams, law enforcement and search- and-rescue operations. A drone’s unique vantage point enables it to gather and report a wide array of information and data — like the source of a wildfire, the location of stolen property or missing people or the extent of disaster damage in a certain area.
Industry impact: Drones were used by a Texas power line company to assess tornado damage, saving time and keeping people off damaged towers.
Location: Bedford, Mass.
How it's using AI: iRobot is a consumer robot company that creates home-cleaning and lifestyle devices. Its most prominent product, Roomba is a robot vacuum that maps and adapts to its environment as it clears dirt and small debris from floors.
Industry impact: Compared to the original model, the most recent Roomba is extremely smart and can determine room sizes, adjust to carpet or hardwood, choose optimal routes and remember where objects are in a room. The robots are steadily improving at learning and adapting to their surroundings.
Location: Los Angeles
How it's using AI: Miso Robotics creates autonomous robots for use in commercial kitchens. Its cooking robot, Flippy, boasts 3D and thermal vision that enables it to learn from its surroundings and acquire new skills. Robot use in kitchens reportedly decreases food waste and frees up time for human workers to prepare food or help customers.
Industry impact: The Los Angeles Dodgers use Flippy in their stadium kitchens to help cook and serve chicken tenders.
How it's using AI: Neurala created “The Neurala Brain,” AI software that makes an array of devices more intelligent. Already integrated in more than nine million devices, the technology boosts intelligence in cars, phones, drones and cameras. It's also used by major organizations like NASA, DARPA, Motorola and NVIDIA.
Industry impact: Neurala solutions are designed to make drones smarter. Future uses include identifying early signs of corrosion in large equipment like wind turbines and curbing elephant poaching by deciphering between hunter and hunted.
How it's using AI: Rethink Robotics makes collaborative robots that can work in the same environment as humans. Simplified training consists of moving the robot’s arms to demonstrate the action it need to perform. Additionally, Rethink's robots automatically adjust the amount of force needed for a given task, creating safer environments and widening work capabilities.
Industry impact: Rethink’s Sawyer model was used by a furniture company to keep up with increased production needs throughout busy months. Sawyer prepped materials for assembly, completed inspections and adapted to human workflow changes.
How it's using AI: Sea Machines creates autonomous technology for the marine and maritime industry. The company’s technology connects a vessel’s machinery with navigation sensors for autonomous or remote control. The system acts as a data recorder while enabling remote missions or typical workboat routing tasks.
Industry impact: Currently testing off the coast of Massachusetts, Sea Machines offers a product for retrofitting vessels and continues to develop its advanced driver assistance system.
Location: Waltham, Mass.
How it's using AI: Veo Robotics creates industrial robots with 3D sensing, AI and computer vision capabilities that enhance manufacturing operations. Robots work alongside humans to make workplaces more flexible and efficient.
Industry impact: Industrial robots typically are separated from human workers for safety reasons, but Veo's robots use 3D sensors to detect objects or people nearby and, if necessary, slow or stop. The robots are used on car assembly lines to handle heavy-lifting while human coworkers perform more delicate tasks.
Location: San Francisco
How it's using AI: Vicarious develops intelligent robots with architecture that more quickly trains and adapts. Through algorithms that learn abstract concepts through sensorimotor experiences, the company aims to develop human-level intelligence.
Industry impact: Vicarious’s first breakthrough came when its AI began passing CAPTCHA response tests, which are designed to determine and verify human vs. machine users.
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