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Emerging-Technologies

Postmates lands permit to test its Serve autonomous delivery robots in SF

Postmates lands permit to test its Serve autonomous delivery robots in SF

August 16, 2019

Postmates has officially received the green light from the city of San Francisco to begin testing its Serve wheeled delivery robot on city streets, as first reported by the SF Chronicle and confirmed with Postmates by TechCrunch. The on-demand delivery company told us last week that it expected the issuance of the permit to come through shortly after a conditional approval, and that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday this week.

The permit doesn’t cover the entire city — just a designated area of a number of blocks in and around Potrero Hill and the Inner Mission, but it will allow Postmates to begin testing up to three autonomous delivery robots at once, at speeds of up to 3 mph. Deliveries can only take place between 8 AM and 6:30 PM on weekdays, and a human has to be on hand within 30 feet of the vehicles while they’re operating. Still, it’s a start — and from a city regulatory environment that has had a somewhat rocky start with some less collaborative early pilots from other companies.

Autonomous delivery bot company Marble also has a permit application pending with the city’s Public Works department, and will look to test its own four-wheeled, sensor-equipped rolling delivery bots within the city soon, should it be granted similar testing approval.

Postmates revealed Serve last December, taking a more anthropomorphic approach to the vehicle’s overall design. Like many short-distance delivery robots of its ilk, it includes a lockable cargo container and screen-based user interface for eventual autonomous deliveries to customers. The competitive field for autonomous rolling delivery bots is growing continuously, with companies like Starship Technologies, Amazon and many more throwing their hats in the ring.

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Artificial intelligence can contribute to a safer world

Artificial intelligence can contribute to a safer world

August 14, 2019

We all see the headlines nearly every day. A drone disrupting the airspace in one of the world’s busiest airports, putting aircraft at risk (and inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of passengers) or attacks on critical infrastructure. Or a shooting in a place of worship, a school, a courthouse. Whether primitive (gunpowder) or cutting-edge (unmanned aerial vehicles) in the wrong hands, technology can empower bad actors and put our society at risk, creating a sense of helplessness and frustration.

Current approaches to protecting our public venues are not up to the task, and, frankly appear to meet Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” It is time to look past traditional defense technologies and see if newer approaches can tilt the pendulum back in the defender’s favor. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play a critical role here, helping to identify, classify and promulgate counteractions on potential threats faster than any security personnel.

Using technology to prevent violence, specifically by searching for concealed weapons has a long history. Alexander Graham Bell invented the first metal detector in 1881 in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the fatal slug as President James Garfield lay dying of an assassin’s bullet. The first commercial metal detectors were developed in the 1960s. Most of us are familiar with their use in airports, courthouses and other public venues to screen for guns, knives and bombs.

However, metal detectors are slow and full of false positives – they cannot distinguish between a Smith & Wesson and an iPhone. It is not enough to simply identify a piece …

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Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

August 14, 2019

In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.

Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)

This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land Rover.

Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.

The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.

Voyage wants to unlock both.

Crowded field

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Bosch is working on glasses-free 3D displays for in-car use

Bosch is working on glasses-free 3D displays for in-car use

August 12, 2019

German auto industry giant Bosch is developing new technology that will add glasses-free 3D imaging to future versions of its in-car digital display technology. These 3D displays use passive 3D tech, which mans you won’t need to wear glasses to see the effect, and it also skips eye tracking, which is a key ingredient for most high-quality glasses-free 3D displays today.

Going glasses-free, and not requiring that a viewer look from a very specific position are both key ingredients for successfully bring 3D display tech to cars – for obvious reasons. A driver needs to be focused on the road, and the fundamental guiding principle for all Curren in-car display tech is that they provide easy-to-grasp information at a glance, so that a driver’s focus stays exactly where it should.

But why would a driver even want 3D visual effects in their instrument panel or infotainment display? Well, Bosch says that there are multiple compelling reasons, including making sure that crucial alerts really pop-out when they need to in an attention-catching way. Plus, parking cameras can present even more accurate 3D views to the driver so they really get a sense of the space they’re working with. And during navigation, guidance can offer 3D representations of where and when to turn, which can eliminate questions around whether that next corner really is the right corner you’re looking for.

That’s all stuff that could be beneficial now, but it’s also a bet on a future where vehicles are autonomous at least part of the time, and in-car immersive displays could be even more of an opportunity to entertain and inform passengers while they’re ferried to their destinations.

Bosch says that part of the reason they can do this now, compared to in the past, is that more powerful mobile computing has …

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Autonomous air mobility company EHang to deploy air shuttle service in Guangzhou

Autonomous air mobility company EHang to deploy air shuttle service in Guangzhou

August 9, 2019

China’s EHang, a company focused on developing and deploying autonomous passenger and freight low-altitude vehicles, will build out its first operational network of air taxis and transports in Guangzhou. The company announced that the Chinese city would play host to its pilot location for a citywide deployment.

The pilot will focus on not only showing that a low-altitude, rotor-powered aircraft makes sense for use in cities, but that a whole network of them can operate autonomously in concert, controlled and monitored by a central traffic management hub that EHang will develop together with the local Guangzhou government.

EHang, which was chosen at the beginning of this year by China’s Civil Aviation Administration as the sole pilot company to be able to build out autonomous flying passenger vehicle services, has already demonstrated flights of its EHang 184 vehicles carrying passengers in Vienna earlier this year, and ran a number of flights in Guangzhou in 2018 as well.

In addition to developing the air traffic control system to ensure that these operate safely as a fleet working in the air above the city at the same time, EHang will be working with Guangzhou to build out the infrastructure needed to operate the network. The plan for the pilot is to use the initial stages to continue to test out the vehicles, as well as the vertiports it’ll need to support their operation, and then it’ll work with commercial partners for good transportation first.

The benefits of such a network will be especially valuable for cities like Guangzhou, where rapid growth has led to plenty of traffic and high density at the ground level. It also could potentially have advantages over a network of autonomous cars or wheeled vehicles, as those still have to contend with ground traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles …

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Self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics begins deliveries in Texas

Self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics begins deliveries in Texas

August 6, 2019

A year after coming out of stealth mode with $40 million, self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics will begin making its first commercial deliveries in Texas.

Kodiak will open a new facility in North Texas to support its freight operations along with increased testing in the state.

There are some caveats to the milestone. Kodiak’s self-driving trucks will have a human safety driver behind the wheel. And it’s unclear how significant this initial launch is; the company didn’t provide details on who its customers are or what it will be hauling.

Kodiak has eight autonomous trucks in its fleet, and according to the company, it’s “growing quickly.”

Still, it does mark progress for such a young company, which co-founders Don Burnette and Paz Eshel say is due to its talented and experienced workforce. 

Burnette, who is CEO of Kodiak, was part of the Google self-driving project before leaving and co-founding Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. Uber then acquired Otto (and its co-founders). Burnette left Uber to launch Kodiak in April 2018 with Eshel, a former venture capitalist and now the startup’s COO.

In August 2018, the company announced it had raised $40 million in Series A financing led by Battery Ventures . CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures also participated in the round. Itzik Parnafes, a general partner at Battery Ventures, joined Kodiak’s board.

Kodiak is the latest autonomous vehicle company to test its technology in Texas. The state has become a magnet for autonomous vehicle startups, particularly those working on self-driving trucks. That’s largely due to the combination of a friendly regulatory environment and the state’s position as a logistics and transportation hub.

“As a region adding more than 1 million new residents each decade, it is important to

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Quantum computing is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise on Sept. 5

Quantum computing is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise on Sept. 5

August 6, 2019

Here at TechCrunch, we like to think about what’s next, and there are few technologies quite as exotic and futuristic as quantum computing. After what felt like decades of being “almost there,” we now have working quantum computers that are able to run basic algorithms, even if only for a very short time. As those times increase, we’ll slowly but surely get to the point where we can realize the full potential of quantum computing.

For our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5, we’re bringing together some of the sharpest minds from some of the leading companies in quantum computing to talk about what this technology will mean for enterprises (p.s. early-bird ticket sales end this Friday). This could, after all, be one of those technologies where early movers will gain a massive advantage over their competitors. But how do you prepare yourself for this future today, while many aspects of quantum computing are still in development?

IBM’s quantum computer demonstrated at Disrupt SF 2018

Joining us onstage will be Microsoft’s Krysta Svore, who leads the company’s Quantum efforts; IBM’s Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort; and Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs.

That’s pretty much a Who’s Who of the current state of quantum computing, even though all of these companies are at different stages of their quantum journey. IBM already has working quantum computers, Intel has built a quantum processor and is investing heavily into the technology and Microsoft is trying a very different approach to the technology that may lead to a breakthrough in the long run but that is currently keeping it from having a working machine. In return, though, Microsoft has invested heavily into building the software tools for building …

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Optimus Ride’s Brooklyn self-driving shuttles begin picking up passengers this week

Optimus Ride’s Brooklyn self-driving shuttles begin picking up passengers this week

August 6, 2019

Self-driving startup Optimus Ride will become the first to operate a commercial self-driving service in the state of New York — in Brooklyn. But don’t expect these things to be contending with pedestrians, bike riders, taxis and cars on New York’s busiest roads; instead, they’ll be offering shuttle services within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre private commercial development.

The Optimus Ride autonomous vehicles, which have six seats for passengers across three rows, and which also always have both a safety driver and another Optimus staff observer on board, at least for now, will offer service seven days a week, for free, running a service loop that will cover the entire complex. It includes a stop at a new ferry landing on-site, which means a lot of commuters should be able to pretty easily grab a seat for their last-mile needs.

Optimus Ride’s shuttles have been in operation in a number of different sites across the U.S., including in Boston, Virginia, California and Massachusetts.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is a perfect environment for the service, as it plays host to some 10,000 workers, but also includes entirely private roads — which means Optimus Ride doesn’t need to worry about public road rules and regulations in deploying a commercial self-driving service.

May Mobility, an Ann Arbor-based startup also focused on low-speed autonomous shuttles, has deployed in partnership with some smaller cities and on defined bus route paths. The approach of both companies is similar, using relatively simple vehicle designs and serving low-volume ridership in areas where traffic and pedestrian patterns are relatively easy to anticipate.

Commercially viable, fully autonomous robotaxi service for dense urban areas is still a long, long way off — and definitely out of reach for startup and smaller companies in the near term. Tackling commercial service …

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Why AWS is building tiny AI race cars to teach machine learning

Why AWS is building tiny AI race cars to teach machine learning

July 31, 2019

The AWS DeepRacer is an almost toylike 1/18th scale race car. It comes with all of the sensors and software tools to help developers build machine learning models to drive the car around a course — or really do anything else they want it to do. The $399 DeepRacer launched at AWS’s massive re:Invent show in late 2018.

At the time, it seemed like a bit of a gimmick, but AWS has put a lot of its weight behind it and is currently running a DeepRacer league at its various events around the world. At these events, developers can pit their models against each other and learn more about building a specific kind of machine learning model in the process.

Why bother, though? It’s not like DeepRacer cars are likely to add to AWS’s bottom line anytime soon. DeepRacer, however, is part of a line of hardware products from AWS that started with DeepLens, a smart camera for developers.

“It really comes from the same place,” AWS general manager for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning marketing Ryan Gavin told me. “When you think about the stimulus for something like DeepLens, it was really about how do we put machine learning into the hands of every developer and data scientist. That’s our mission and we’re very consistent about that.”

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Ford acquires mobile robotics company Quantum Signal to help with self-driving

Ford acquires mobile robotics company Quantum Signal to help with self-driving

July 30, 2019

Ford has acquired a small robotics company based in Michigan called Quantum Signal, which has produced mobile robots for a number of clients, including the U.S. military. The company’s specialty has been building remote control software for robotic vehicles, specifically, and it’s also responsible for a very highly regarded simulated testing and development environment for autonomous and remotely controlled robotic systems.

All of the above is useful not only when developing military robots, but also when setting out to build and deploy self-driving cars — hence Ford’s interest in acquiring Quantum Signal. Ford said in a blog post that while others might’ve been sleeping on Quantum Signal and the work it has done, it has been following the company closely, and will employ its experience in developing real-time simulation and algorithms related to autonomous vehicle control systems to help build out Ford’s self-driving vehicles, transportation-as-a-service platform and hardware and software related to both.

Reading between the lines here, it sounds like Ford’s main interest was in picking up some experienced talent working on autonomy, and very specific challenges that are needed to develop road-worthy self-driving vehicles, including perception systems and virtual testing environments. Ford does, however, explicitly lay out a desire to “preserve” Quantum’s own “unique culture” as it brings the company on-board, pointing out that that’s the course it took with similar acquisition SAIPS (an Israeli computer vision and machine learning company) when it brought that team on-board in 2016.

SAIPS has now more than doubled its team to 30 people, and relocated to a new headquarters in Tel Aviv, with a specific focus among its latest hires on bringing in specialists in reinforcement learning. Ford has also invested in Argo AI, taking a majority stake in the startup initially in 2017 and then re-upping with a joint …

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