Opinion: Augmented and virtual reality ‘open up whole new world of opportunities’

augmented-reality-glasses atheer

By Douglas Bruey, electrical engineering program lead at Synapse

At first glance, a gamer playing Pokémon Go has little in common with a surgeon saving lives in an operating theatre. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that might not be the case for much longer.

Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies are poised to open up a whole new world of opportunities. We’re already seeing the effects of VR when it comes to gaming. But in future could AR add a new dimension to surgery?

AR and VR both have the ability to alter our perception of the world. AR takes our current reality and adds something to it – virtual objects or information. VR, on the other hand, immerses us in a different – virtual – world.  Continue reading Opinion: Augmented and virtual reality ‘open up whole new world of opportunities’

How Burger King’s OK Google ad exposed flaws in home automation

Burger King recently decided to try something different to promote its classic Whopper. The fast food giant aired a commercial in which a Burger King employee who says he doesn’t have time to talk about all of the ingredients in a Whopper comes up with another way for customers to learn about its ingredients.

The employee leans into the camera and says “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” This activated Google’s smart speakers — Google Home, and that’s when people started having fun. The actual ingredient list, as published on Wikipedia, was edited with some items replaced with things like children, toe-nail clippings and rat — among other creative ingredients.

Google wasn’t in on the plan, which led to an interesting chain of events that exposed some of the weaknesses of virtual assistants and home automation.

Voice Recognition
The Burger King ad pointed out an issue with voice-activated home automation devices. It’s not difficult for people besides the primary owners to manipulate them.

With some creativity, someone may find a way to do something more nefarious than manipulate the ingredients of your favorite burger. If clever had turned to criminal, this would be an easy way for hackers to manipulate virtual assistants.

Learning to recognize specific users’ voices would help minimize these problems and give people more control over their devices. To get around this issue, tech companies need to start improving the voice recognition capabilities of their VAs, which they are currently working on.

Google responded to the ad by changing their devices so the voice in the ad wouldn’t wake them. They probably did this by getting the device to recognize the voice and then compare it to a blacklist before responding.
This worked for a while, but Burger King got around it by airing similar commercials featuring different actors. Google has said it’s working on the ability to recognize the voices of multiple users.

Amazon, which manufactures one of the more popular smart speakers, is also working on multiple user functionality. Users would have to set up this feature in advance by recording a voice sample. Currently, Amazon’s Alexa can recognize more than one user, but you have to switch accounts by saying “switch accounts” or by using the Alexa app.

Microsoft’s Cortana appears on Windows 10 devices, as well as some third-party devices, including smart speakers made by Harman Kardon. Although Microsoft hasn’t gotten as much attention as some other players in the home automation game, Cortana does respond pretty well to voice commands.
You can even train Cortana to recognize your voice and set it to respond to only you. It’s probably a pretty safe bet, too, that Microsoft is working on improving this functionality.

Apple’s Siri has some ability to recognize speech patterns of particular users. The company doesn’t have smart speakers on the market yet, but it has been rumored to be working on them. Voice recognition is likely a top priority for Apple as it works on this technology, as it’s important to the security and privacy of its users.

It’s even been rumored that Apple may use facial recognition technology to verify users. The fact that Apple typically only allows Siri to work with its devices, and not third-party ones, presents another challenge.

Home automation and virtual assistants are just starting to take off, and this Burger King kerfuffle is likely just one of many slightly strange happenings that will occur as they develop. Although Google didn’t seem to like the ad — it blocked its devices from responding — and some users may have gotten annoyed, Burger King did succeed in getting itself some attention.

The ad put Google Home in the spotlight, too, and highlighted its capabilities, which is a plus for Google as well. It also highlighted some weaknesses in home automation, which tech companies will have to continue to address.

Megan Wild is editor of YourWildHome.com

Virtual factory: Visual Components launches new version of its industrial design application

visual components robots

Visual Components has launched the latest version of its design application which the company says offers a number of new features and capabilities. 

Visual Components 4.0 is the company’s new range of 3D factory simulation products, designed for manufacturing professionals and built on a “powerful, flexible, and scalable platform”.

The company says the new version offers:

  • smarter simulation;
  • improved user interface refresh;
  • better performance;
  • advanced rendering; and
  • open architecture.

Visual Components was founded by a group of simulation experts with long experience in industry.  Continue reading Virtual factory: Visual Components launches new version of its industrial design application

Beam me up virtually, Scotty: I canna change the laws of physics, captain

Kirk, Spock teleportation

lockA while ago, Robotics and Automation News interviewed Alex Boch about 360 cameras, and he said he would be developing a new product soon which would incorporate virtual reality. 

Now, having helped build the ALLie Camera, Boch – who is VP of operations there – is back in touch to talk about the device which he says gives users a better view of events than if they were actually there.

One of the events ALLie has been used for is the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, which Boch mentions in the Q&A that follows.  Continue reading Beam me up virtually, Scotty: I canna change the laws of physics, captain

Reality ain’t what it used to be: The Sword of Damocles gets a reboot

Leroy Spence, head of sales development at industrial spares supplier EU Automation, looks at how AR and VR are changing the world of manufacturing

The Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens and even Google Cardboard are a far stretch from the first virtual reality headset, created in 1968 by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland.

The concoction was called the Sword of Damocles and, because of its formidable size and weight, had to be anchored to the ceiling so it didn’t crush the user.

Almost 50 years later, we are only now seeing VR and augmented reality being used in manufacturing environments.  Continue reading Reality ain’t what it used to be: The Sword of Damocles gets a reboot

Bank of America hires chatty virtual robot

Reuters / Joshua Lott / File Photo
Reuters / Joshua Lott / File Photo

By David Henry, Reuters

Bank of America plans to provide customers with a chatty “virtual assistant” named Erica that will use artificial intelligence to make suggestions over mobile phones for improving their financial affairs.

Michelle Moore, head of digital banking for Bank of America, said in an interview on Monday that Erica will be smarter than a robot because she will bring up topics on her own, using predictive analytics as opposed to only answering questions customers ask.

For example, Erica may recommend taking steps to lift a sagging credit rating she noticed. Or, she may propose a customer make higher monthly payments on an outstanding credit card balance to reduce interest expenses.  Continue reading Bank of America hires chatty virtual robot

RoboDK updates industrial robot simulation application

RoboDK industrial robot simulation software has been given an extensive update

RoboDK has launched the latest version of its industrial robot simulation application. 

The company’s CEO, Albert Nubiola, says the software is now much faster and easier to learn and use.

He adds that RoboDK is working on producing more video tutorials and manuals. “RoboDK has been updated to better integrate into smart factories and Industry 4.0 networks.

“The RoboDK software enables your robots and your factory to automatically adjust processes according to any modifications, as well as accurately merge the virtual simulation with the physical world.”

Virtual factory: Manufacturing improvements with PLM


Adam Bannaghan, technical director of Design Rule, discusses three ways that the digital continuity of product lifesycle management helps manufacturers deliver high quality innovative products with ease

No one hates being faced with a problem they weren’t expecting more than manufacturers. During the design and build process, unplanned events can increase cycle times and have a detrimental impact on the management of materials and working hours.

There is now a demand in the manufacturing sector for a system that provides real-time visual status and control, alongside product quality predictions. Enter, product lifecycle management (PLM).

PLM is used by different sectors for various reasons. For manufacturers, the virtual production element is used to improve the planning, management and optimisation of industrial operations.  Continue reading Virtual factory: Manufacturing improvements with PLM

Husqvarna launches virtual reality game for lumberjacks

husqvarna limberjack

Husqvarna, which makes robotic lawn mowers and demolition robots among other things, has launched a virtual reality game for lumberjacks.

Probably intended to test the market for future products such as smart glasses featuring augmented reality, aimed perhaps at the forestry and logging industry, the game is called Limberjack and is available through Steam.

The company says the game is aimed at anyone who wants to test their chainsaw skills or, to be precise, “limbing” skills. Limbing is the process of removing branches from the stem of a fallen tree.  Continue reading Husqvarna launches virtual reality game for lumberjacks

The role of humans in the testing of autonomous cars

autonomous car simulation

Ansible Motion develops driving simulators for autonomous car engineering, but with one important additional component — the human driver 

The interest in, and momentum assigned to, the introduction of autonomous cars may appear substantial to anyone catching articles in the media.

We can certainly find plenty of aspirational images of happy people reading books or watching films whilst travelling down the motorway.  Excellent.  But our lovely ‘digital living space’ will require substantial validation before we get down that road.

With hundreds of (computer) processors and sensors required to offer even simple driver assistance systems, signing off a fully autonomous car with any level of confidence is not going to be an easy assignment for vehicle manufacturers. And that sign off is going to need some human involvement. Continue reading The role of humans in the testing of autonomous cars

Siemens technology boss says digitization ‘one of the biggest growth drivers’

siemens digital transformation 1

Professor Siegfried Russwurm, chief technology officer at Siemens, says digital transformation is opening up great opportunities

The world has never been as networked as it is now. Whether in gas turbines, trains, manufacturing facilities or medical imaging technologies, our reality is taking on a digital dimension.

Digital change is sounding the bell for a paradigm change – in business as well as private life. As one of the world’s leading companies in digitalization, Siemens is playing an active part in this development. We’ve set a clear focus and identified digitalization as one of the biggest growth drivers to carry us into a successful future.

Even today, Siemens’ worldwide workforce includes about 17,500 software engineers, who contribute a wide range of industry-specific IT and software solutions to their work in electrification, automation and urban infrastructures. Continue reading Siemens technology boss says digitization ‘one of the biggest growth drivers’

Virtual assistants prepare to take over the world of work

Dennis Mortensen, CEO, x.ai,
Dennis Mortensen, CEO, x.ai, pictured in the Wall Street area of New York, US

Exclusive interview with Dennis Mortensen, founder and CEO of intelligent assistants technology developer x.ai 

Virtual assistants, or intelligent assistants, are multiplying by the day. Currently there are around a dozen really well-known ones, such as Siri and Cortana, and then there’s several dozen other reasonably well-known ones talking or otherwise communicating their way into the public consciousness.

These intelligent assistants can be placed in at least 10 different categories, such as text and chatbots, personal advisors, and employee assistants.

Of these, perhaps the most commercially profitable is the employee assistants category. And within this segment, the virtual assistance technology that arguably holds most promise is the one produced by x.ai – in part because among its investors is SoftBank, the Japanese communications giant behind Pepper, the cloud-connected humanoid robot which is claimed to be able to discern human emotions and communicate appropriately.  Continue reading Virtual assistants prepare to take over the world of work

Dassault Systèmes teams up with HTC to provide virtual reality to enterprises

dassault htc vive

HTC has formed a strategic partnership with Dassault Systèmes to drive virtual reality (VR) into the enterprise space. HTC has a VR system called Vive, which the two companies will work on refining applications for. 

Dassault Systèmes has developed the 3DExperience platform as a collaborative virtual environment for businesses to create differentiating customer experiences.

Dassault Systèmes applications can already be used on the HTC Vive VR system, which is said to provide “total experiential immersion and room-scale capability”, say the companies, adding that it delivers a 3D experience in a highly accessible format that enables their customers to easily envisage potential solutions.  Continue reading Dassault Systèmes teams up with HTC to provide virtual reality to enterprises

AMD claims it has 83 per cent of global VR systems market

amd liquidvr
AMD LiquidVR

AMD claims it virtually owns the virtual reality systems market with a whopping 83 per cent market share. And yet the chipmaker says it is looking to further consolidate its dominance. 

AMD has revealed new advances in hardware and software to further the reach of VR, and unveiled its new GPU certified program that simplifies adoption of VR technology for consumers and content creators.

“AMD continues to be a driving force in virtual reality,” said Raja Koduri, senior vice president and chief architect, Radeon Technologies Group, AMD.

“We’re bringing the technology to more people around the world through our efforts to expand the VR ecosystem with VR i-Cafés in China, new Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets, and a wide variety of content partners in gaming, entertainment, education, science, medicine, journalism and several other exciting fields.”

AMD says it is also making VR more easily accessible to consumers and content creators with its GPU certified program featuring the new Radeon VR Ready Premium and Radeon VR Ready Creator tiers. Its forthcoming Polaris GPUs and AMD LiquidVR technology will “simultaneously advance groundbreaking VR-optimized graphics”, says the company.

Offline programming software for industrial robots from RoboDK offers hundreds of virtual industrial robots from top robotics companies

  • Offline industrial robot programming software, RoboDK, now has hundreds of virtual robots from all the leading industrial robot manufacturers, including ABB, Fanuc, and Kuka
  • RoboDK’s online library has more than 200 industrial robots, tools and external axes, which can be accessed directly from within the cross-platform application
  • Albert Nubiola, founder and CEO of RoboDK, talks to RoboticsandAutomationNews.com about offline programming and how RoboDK can play an increasingly important role in a market where other solutions can prove far more expensive 

Offline programming software for industrial robots

Offline programming for industrial robots seems like such a logical method of managing industrial robots that it’s difficult to find a good enough reason to do it any other way. Offline programming for industrial robots, mostly in the form of industrial robot simulation software, is a relatively new development in industrial robotics but it has been gaining popularity over the past few years.

However, offline programming software for industrial robots is still not as widespread as perhaps one would expect it to be. The majority of robots were programmed using the teach pendant method. A teach pendant, also known as a “teach box”, is a hand-held device often attached to the robot which has numerous buttons and a screen with which to program the robot, usually on-site, requiring the robot to be isolated from the production line and not do any work.

Without offline programming software for industrial robots, downtime is inevitable. This downtime can clearly be costly, even if the robot is out of action for a few minutes, let alone a few hours or a few days. Offline programming drastically reduces and can even eliminate the need to take the robot away from the automated cell and, therefore, is far more cost-effective. That’s the theory. But in practice, the offline programming solutions released so far have been prohibitively costly for many companies.

RoboDK, a new industrial robot simulator and offline programming software for industrial robots, is aiming to change that. RoboDK is the result of many years’ development at École de technologie supérieure (ETS) university in Montreal, Canada. It is the commercial spin-off from RoKiSim, an educational simulator for industrial robotics that the university made available for free. “RoKiSim was a basic simulator but we realised that people used it a lot,” says Albert Nubiola, founder and CEO of RoboDK. “We got a lot of feedback and we used it to build the commercial version, RoboDK. Continue reading Offline programming software for industrial robots from RoboDK offers hundreds of virtual industrial robots from top robotics companies