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re:Invent :: AWS rolls out RoboMaker for easy robotics

At the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week, it was revealed that NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Stanley Black & Decker, Robot Care System, and Apex.AI are all using AWS RoboMaker to build space rovers, drones for industrial inspection, and elderly care robots

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Amazon Web Services this week announced the availability of AWS RoboMaker, a new service that makes it easy for developers to develop, test, and deploy robotics applications, as well as build intelligent robotics functions using cloud services. AWS RoboMaker extends the most widely used open source robotics software framework, Robot Operating System (ROS), with connectivity to AWS services, including machine learning, monitoring, and analytics services, to enable a robot to stream data, navigate, communicate, comprehend, and learn. AWS RoboMaker provides an AWS Cloud9-based robotics integrated development environment for application development, robotics simulation to accelerate application testing, and fleet management for remote application deployment, update, and management.
Robots are machines that sense, compute, and take action. More and more, a wide range of robots are becoming part of our everyday lives, performing tedious house chores, distributing inventory in warehouses, and inspecting pipelines, smokestacks, and high-voltage wires in dangerous industrial environments. Robots accomplish these tasks through instructions expressed in software applications that receive and process sensor data and control actuators that create movement and action. While it sounds simple in theory, developing, testing, and deploying intelligent robotics applications is difficult, time consuming, and demands a diverse set of hard-to-acquire skills.
For example, implementing intelligent robotics functions like object recognition, natural language processing, or autonomous movement requires the machine learning knowledge of a data scientist. Setting up a development environment takes days of configuring the infrastructure and software. Creating realistic simulators to test robotics applications in multiple virtual environments takes months to build the software and infrastructure needed to run multiple simulations in parallel. Once an application has been completed, a developer still needs to either build or integrate with an over-the-air (OTA) system to deploy the application onto the robot and then update the application on the robot while it is in use. All of this effort severely limits the number of robots and intelligent functions in use today.
AWS RoboMaker addresses these challenges by providing an integrated set of software and services for customers to develop, test, and deploy intelligent robotics applications at scale. Within the AWS RoboMaker robotics development environment, developers can start application development with a single click in the AWS Management Console. AWS RoboMaker automatically provisions the underlying infrastructure and it downloads, compiles, and configures the operating system, development software, and ROS.
AWS RoboMaker’s robotics simulation makes it easy to set up large-scale and parallel simulations with pre-built worlds, such as indoor rooms, retail stores, and racing tracks, so developers can test their applications on-demand and run multiple simulations in parallel. AWS RoboMaker’s fleet management integrates with AWS Greengrass and supports over-the-air (OTA) deployment of robotics applications from the development environment onto the robot.
AWS RoboMaker also offers additional ROS packages that connect to AWS services, which developers familiar with ROS can easily use to build advanced functions into their robotics applications. AWS RoboMaker cloud extensions for ROS include Amazon Kinesis Video Streams ingestion, Amazon Rekognition image and video analysis, Amazon Lex speech recognition, Amazon Polly speech generation, and Amazon CloudWatch logging and monitoring. All of this makes it easier to build robots, add intelligent functions, simulate and test robotics applications, and manage and update fleets of robots.
“When talking to our customers, we see the same pattern repeated over and again. They spend a lot of time setting up infrastructure and cobbling together software for different stages of the robotics development cycle, repeating work others have done before, leaving less time for innovation,” said Roger Barga, General Manager, AWS RoboMaker, at the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week. “AWS RoboMaker provides pre-built functionality to support robotics developers during their entire project, making it significantly easier to build robots, simulate performance in various environments, iterate faster, and drive greater innovation.”
As part of AWS’s ongoing support for robotics and open source communities, AWS has made both source code and documentation of the AWS RoboMaker cloud extensions for ROS publicly available under the terms of the Apache Software License 2.0. AWS contributes to the development of the latest version of ROS, namely ROS2, and is a member of the ROS2 Technical Steering Committee. AWS’s contributions to ROS2 include real-time messaging, security, and authentication, as well as working with the robotics community to migrate source code packages from ROS1 to ROS2.
Amazon empowers a smarter, faster, more efficient fulfillment process through the use of automation, robotics, and advanced technologies. “We regularly evaluate how we can use new technology to bring our customers a better experience,” said Brad Porter, VP and Distinguished Engineer, Robotics at Amazon. “Robotics has played a significant role in creating global solutions that help faster deliveries and lower costs for our customers. We’re excited to have supported the creation of AWS RoboMaker and to stand behind a service that will help accelerate robotics development and commercial deployments. We believe AWS RoboMaker will be impactful to advanced robotics operations across the world by greatly decreasing cost and time to production.”
Stanley Black & Decker provides the tools and innovative solutions for the builders, protectors, makers, and explorers. “We are planning to use autonomous ground vehicles and drones to make the construction industry more productive while reducing construction rework costs. Using a variety of imaging sensors, the collected data can be used to create 3D site models for planning and streamlining construction activities,” said Hamid Montazeri, VP of SW Engineering and Robotics at Stanley Black & Decker. “With AWS RoboMaker, we are able to easily test the robotics related software applications in a cloud environment, and rapidly generate synthetic imaging data to train our 3D site model creation algorithms. AWS RoboMaker also provides the ideal fleet management solution for use on ground vehicles and drones. The integration between AWS RoboMaker fleet management and AWS Greengrass makes it really easy to enable communications among ground vehicles, drones, and IoT solutions.”
Robot Care Systems (RCS) enables elderly and disabled people to live safely and independently through technology. “AWS RoboMaker exponentially increases the capabilities of Lea, an autonomous robot assistant for the elderly and disabled,” said Dimitrios Chronopoulos, Lead Mobility Engineer, Robot Care Systems. “Lea is interactive, keeps the elderly safe and active, while it can talk to you, navigate around your house and keep you connected with family and doctors. We have used AWS RoboMaker cloud extensions for ROS to enhance Lea with video and telemetry data streaming, and voice interaction capabilities using services like Amazon Kinesis, Amazon Lex, and Amazon Polly. These cloud services and extensions provided by AWS RoboMaker have enabled us to rapidly develop new features, while breaking the limitations of small on-board computing power.”
Open Robotics works with industry, academia, and government to create and support open source software for the global robotics industry, from R&D to commercial deployments. “AWS’s support for our products, including ROS2, will significantly advance our goal of making open platforms the basis for all robotics applications,” said Brian Gerkey, CEO, Open Robotics. “With ROS and Gazebo available via AWS, it’s now easier than ever for developers to get started and for companies to integrate these tools into their workflow. I can’t wait to see the new and innovative ROS-based robots that will be developed.”
FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs that build not only science and technology skills and interests, but also self-confidence, leadership, and life lessons. “We’re excited to utilize AWS RoboMaker, helping make it easier for students of all ages to develop, test, and deploy robotic applications,” said Don Bossi, President, FIRST. “Offerings like these make it easier for FIRST to meet its mission – to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators by engaging them in mentor-based, science-focused programs.”
AWS RoboMaker is available in the USA and Ireland, and will expand to additional regions in the coming year.
* For more information, visit http://aws.amazon.com/robomaker.

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Cars

“Hello BMW” – Now we’re talking, with X5

BMW brings impressive safety features and a built-in voice assistant to its 4th generation X5, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Marking 20 years since its release, the BMW X5 has been given a substantial redesign for its fourth generation. A major revamp of aesthetics and functionality affirms this luxury Sports Activity Vehicle’s (SAV) position in the market.

New safety features not only make it safer but also more comfortable to drive. The redesigned headlights utilise laser lighting, which eliminates glare on reflective objects like signboards in dark driving conditions. The laser lighting technology also extends the distance of bright lighting to about 500 meters, 200 meters further than the previous generation.

The Driving Assist Professional package, an option for the SAV, comprises a steering and lane control assistant as well as a lane keeping assistant. These assistants work closely with a smart collision evasion system, which helps avoid collisions with vehicles or pedestrians suddenly appearing in the driver’s path. As soon as an evasive manoeuvre is detected, the system assists the driver with steering inputs to direct the vehicle into a clear, adjacent lane.

BMW Operating System 7.0, the latest version of the car’s software, focuses on customisability. This means that more aspects of the vehicle can be set up in a way that is most comfortable for the driver. For example, the 12.3” infotainment panel features a home screen which uses a three-tile layout, where one can have one large tile and two smaller tiles. These tiles can be swapped around and configured to the point where drivers no longer have to search through menus to get what they would need, as their favourites sit on a customised home screen.

The X5 gets a voice assistant with the BMW Assistant Professional. “Hello BMW” will wake the onboard voice assistant for voice commands. These voice commands could be anything from “Play rock music” to “Is my tyre pressure okay?”. Renaming the voice assistant’s wake prompt is also possible if the driver has named their car something other than BMW.

Keeping in line with the latest technology, the X5 features options for a wireless charging tray in the front and two additional USB Type-C ports. Other features include an adaptive navigation system, a hard-drive-based multimedia system with 20 GB of memory, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.

BMW’s attention to minor details goes a long way with massage seats and thermo-cupholders. Electrically adjustable and heated sports seats are fitted standard. Additional options include seat massage functionality and ventilated seats. The thermo-cupholder option allows a driver to keep a beverage heated or cooled during a drive.

Unlocking the X5 with a smartphone will soon be a reality with a planned update to the BMW Connected Drive app, in the second quarter of 2019. BMW Digital Key brings functionality to lock and unlock the car with a smartphone’s NFC chip, which eliminates the need for a traditional car key. The driver will simply hold the smartphone to the door’s handle and the car will unlock. Once the driver is inside, the smartphone can be placed on the built-in wireless charging tray, and the NFC chip will register again to verify the driver. From there, the engine can be started.

Overall, exciting technology features come with the new X5 and even more impressive features will come with software updates in 2019.

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ERP needs asset management

A single, integrated EAM and ERP solution can power an asset-intensive business into the future, says MOHAMED CASSOOJEE, MD and Country Manager, IFS South Africa and Africa.

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Most Enterprise Resource Planning software originated in the manufacturing sector as materials resource planning (MRP) solutions for organisations that needed to manage a lot of inventory. From there, they were rapidly developed into solutions for every industry imaginable.

But these roots mean that most standalone ERP software isn’t quite enough on its own to address the needs of organisations in asset-intensive industries such as metal foundries, mining, oil and gas, pulp and paper, energy and utilities, and construction and engineering.

Companies in these sectors are not managing inventory as much as they are managing the capacity of a fixed asset over its lifecycle as well as handling large-scale infrastructure projects with long planning cycles. This is where enterprise asset management (EAM) comes into play, offering capabilities that are not found in typical ERP systems.

EAM systems are built to help organisations manage assets such as plants, heavy machinery, pipelines and industrial-class vehicles. These solutions enable organisations to track the location and status of assets and asset objects in real time, schedule work orders to maintain and fix the assets, and manage the storage of spare parts required to service them.

As Africa’s governments, state-owned enterprises and private sector step up infrastructure investment, EAM has a vital role to play in ensuring that organisations drive the highest possible value from their new assets, whether these are telecoms networks, railway systems, ports or power plants.

According to the World Bank, Africa needs to spend around $93 billion a year over the next decade to address its infrastructure backlogs — about one-third of that cost is for maintenance. In 2008, World Bank found that about 30% of the infrastructure assets of a typical African country needed rehabilitation.

These numbers point to the urgent need for organisations across the continent to take a more proactive and preventative outlook towards maintenance of their key infrastructure and assets. Implementation of EAM can enable organisations to better track, manage and maintain assets to prolong their lifespan and enhance return on investment.

From asset planning to construction to operation to decommissioning and replacement, EAM allows organisations to maintain, manage and optimise assets over the entire asset lifecycle. By helping companies to increase asset productivity and availability – while reducing total cost of ownership – EAM can have a direct impact on profitability and financial sustainability.

Good EAM solutions can also be paired with corporate performance management and analytics tools to let organisations analyse operation disruptions and determine and address the causes, such as maintenance issues, inadequate training, or design faults.

Technological advances, along with the associated price drop for smart products being developed for the Internet of Things (IoT), now make it possible to monitor almost any asset in real-time from nearly any location across the globe. This further boosts the power and usefulness of an EAM solution. It is imperative that the EAM solutions that are implemented are built on robust, newer technologies that can easily support IOT, AI and smart bots.

EAM and ERP: a critical partnership

To sum up, ERP manages business operations, while the EAM system manages all the monitoring and operations of the asset. That means for most companies it isn’t an either-or choice because they need both EAM and ERP to drive optimal business performance.

Some organisations opt for so-called ‘best of breed’ EAM and ERP solutions from different providers. Yet integration can be a headache. The challenges include master data synchronisation and transaction integration. The company may also need to consider whether the ERP or EAM system is the better fit for a particular transaction or asset type.

However, for most organisations in asset-intensive industries, the ideal solution is an ERP system with extensive EAM capabilities: a system built from the ground up to manage not only basic business functions but also assets and their maintenance. Such a solution provides one complete solution spanning key processes and data.

This approach enables the organisation to truly manage and maximise value over asset lifecycles. It also empowers the enterprise to organise operations around the assets and individual asset objects it uses to create value for stakeholders, customers and the community.

For most asset-intensive companies, delivering EAM capabilities as part and parcel of an integrated ERP solution, simplifies their business systems landscape, giving them a single source of truth. The same arguments apply to project management and workforce management systems.

Organisations seeking to transform their business by standardising processes and leveraging reliable, real-time data will benefit from an ERP system with all of these capabilities, setting them up to adopt IoT, artificial intelligence, or whatever other new technologies are coming up next.

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