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Why robotic sensing is booming

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Robot innovation is moving forward at a fast pace – to the point where some manufacturers are now deploying sensors in their robots, giving them the ability to “feel” and “touch”.

Innovation in robotics is moving ahead at a fast pace, spearing ahead the expected proliferation of robots in new and existing applications. Deploying sensors in robotics allows for the creation of robots that can “see” and “feel”, in a biomimetic way, like humans do. These sensor enabled, advanced robots are now able to undertake more complicated tasks and are being deployed into industrial, commercial, domestic, logistic and other sectors where robot penetration was previously limited. The market for robotic vision and force sensing alone is expected to reach over $16.1 billion by 2027, as described in the newly launched IDTechEx report Sensors for Robotics: Technologies, Markets and Forecasts 2017-2027. The graph below is a plot of the forecasted short term growth of the value of vision systems deployed in industrial and collaborative robots, which represent only a segment of robotic systems impacted by the development of sensing platforms with extensive capabilities.

But why are we experiencing such fast adoption at this point in time?

Revenues of vision systems in industrial and collaborative robots

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Source: IDTechEx Report “Sensors for Robotics: Technologies, Markets and Forecasts 2017-2027: Machine vision, force sensing and sensor fusion: Enabling technologies for collaborative robots, advanced mobile robotics and autonomous driving” (www.idtechex.com/roboticsensors)

Software advances hand in hand with hardware innovation

Early robots were limited in performing tasks under highly organized conditions, with increased safety measures, due to their limited perception of any changes in their operational environments. Applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) concepts in robotics, allows for reducing these limitations. Performance optimization through robotic sensing is allowing for decision making capabilities of new generations of robots based on processing of sensor data (such as visual, tactile etc.) gathered from their operational environment. Data-driven task performance is allowing for higher precision even under conditions of increased randomness. In essence, robots with increased awareness are becoming better at performing the actions they are tasked with and capable of performing additional actions, previously thought of as too complex for robotic systems. These improvements are enabling robot deployment in more demanding application spaces, a key explanation for the expected accelerated proliferation of sensor driven robotic systems.

Key enablers of this robotic revolution can be found in both software and hardware development efforts that have allowed for the creation of advanced sensor platforms and processing algorithms, along with intuitive, user friendly interfaces.

Henrik Christensen, the Executive Director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, sees tremendous potential for robots coupled with such capabilities, especially as prices are coming down. He said back in 2015: “We’re getting much cheaper sensors than we had before. It’s coming out of cheap cameras for cell phones, where today you can buy a camera for a cell phone for $8 to $10. And we have enough computer power in our cell phones to be able to process it. The same thing is happening with laser ranging sensors. Ten years ago, a modest quality laser range sensor would be $10,000 or more. Now they’re $2,000.”

All in all, machine vision and force sensing enable the design of more versatile, safer robots for a wider range of applications. Of course, different sensing systems fit different application spaces, hence, the variety of robots under development each have specific requirements and sensor platforms with the right type of features.

End effector force sensing revenues in industrial and collaborative robots

Source: IDTechEx Report “Sensors for Robotics: Technologies, Markets and Forecasts 2017-2027” (www.IDTechEx.com/roboticsensors)

Source: IDTechEx Report “Sensors for Robotics: Technologies, Markets and Forecasts 2017-2027” (www.IDTechEx.com/roboticsensors)

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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