earlier this weekI video appeared A robot dog walks the streets of Shanghai with a megaphone on its back. There are those who will undoubtedly see in this some kind of apocalyptic vision. I would be lying if the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. It is strange to live in history and imagine that you are traveling through time and trying to describe a scene as recently as 2019.
A four-legged robot that walks the deserted streets of a city of over 26 million people. A voice coming from behind them is warning citizens to stay at home as China enters its biggest lockdown in two years as the country sees another surge in the ongoing pandemic.
The less cynical part of me (it exists! Really!) sees a charming little world. We can discuss lockdown measures (and of course China’s special approach) another time. But the image of a robot performing a task designed to stop the spread of a virus contains much of what I have written and modified over the past two years.
We’ve been waiting for decades for robots to get their way. In fact, this moment is now, because it has to happen. After years of touting automation as a distant luxury, it has suddenly become a necessity. We put on our pants, open the door, water comes out and suddenly everything is in the mill. Strapping a megaphone to a robot’s back may not be exactly what its creators wanted, but it’s time to get flexible and smart. It’s time to see what these robots are capable of.
I’m not going to tell you that interest in robotics and automation will be at its peak once (knock on wood) things are back to normal. But the seeds planted will change many industries forever. Much of this will be for the better, as robots improve jobs and quality of life and keep people out of harm’s way.
But I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a full-blooded techno-optimist. The sooner we resolve any issue, the better. I’ve heard it described as “growing pains” but I think that phrase is doing a disservice to very real people who are at risk of losing a very real job. Even if, as Dean Kamen told me recently in this newsletter, automation creates more jobs than it displaces, how can we help those affected in the short term? Either way, employee training initiatives like Apple’s recently announced are a good start.
This topic has been haunting me over the past few weeks as I have studied chip shortages and elements in the supply chain. The talk of offshoring manufacturing jobs has taken a similar shape. In the long run, if we play our cards right, we can create more, better paid, and less exhausting work. But do you want undervalued employees to know that their services are suddenly no longer needed, or that they should learn to code with resources that may or may not be available to them? Similarly, I believe that startups should focus on making a net positive impact on the environment by displacing the jobs that tech companies might have by defining how we ensure that technology is not actively imitated by others.
Let’s talk about it. I plan to continue discussing this here and on the forum at my upcoming robotics event. I look forward to discussing this with the startups I interact with in the future, and I hope my VK readers do the same. The role of technology should be to make life on Earth happier. It has potential but often lacks sequel.
This week’s robot news offers countless ways we can do everything from forestry to factories to bees, and that’s a good thing.
The biggest news of the week is Sarcos’ major acquisition of RE2. The $100 million deal includes $30 million in cash (that’s why you do SPAC) and $70 million in inventory. As I mentioned earlier, there is definitely some redundancy here with the existing Sarcos technology and the RE2 remote control system. There will likely be some consolidation, but the new addition will cover a number of verticals, including the underwater application and the medical market.
Here is the CEO of Sarcos:
This transaction brings the Sarcos family an innovative company with a complementary yet complementary product line, allowing us to offer a wide range of solutions to meet the needs of our customers. This allows us to expand our offering to new industries such as medicine and submarines, expand our team of robotics experts, and advance the development of AI and machine learning technologies for use in unstructured environments.
As I recently tweeted, I said wood Like a weird spin-off from some startup doing some really interesting work in the natural world all week.
First, there’s TreeSwift, aptly named after a family of woodland birds. The company hopes to replace existing satellite and aerial imagery with a swarm of drones designed to track deforestation, provide carbon sequestration measurements, and prevent wildfires (which only you and drones can do). It just raised a $4.8 million seed round, bringing the total funding to $6.4 million.
From drones to drones, the Israeli company Beewise, founded in 2018, hopes to help fight “colony collapse” (CCD), which will lead to a 30% annual reduction in bee colonies. The company, which just raised $80 million Series C, is building what looks like a robotic toilet designed to protect its tenants from habitat destruction, overpopulation, pets and other intrusions. Beewise CEO says:
Our BeeWise team is delighted to be backed by an incredible roster of investors for our Series C who understand our dedication, tenacity and passion for saving bees and reversing the trend of bee colony destruction. Thousands of orders have been placed in the US in recent months, and with this funding, BeWise will be able to meet the incredible market demand by increasing production, developing additional product iterations, and further improving pollination.
A little more talk about drones. Flytrex has just announced the expansion of its delivery service to Texas. Specifically, it will arrive at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in Granbury, a city of about 10,000 people. Partners include the Chili’s and Maggiano restaurant group.
A few news from Boston Dynamics to wrap up this week. The Hyundai-owned company has announced the release of its second Stretch commercial robot. Warehouse robots will be delivered in 2023 and 2024. In the meantime, the company has partnered with a number of clients, including DHL (which recently made a major purchase) and clothing retailers Gap and H&M.
Get the latest robot news by subscribing to Actuator.