In what is probably a good illustration of how innovation can sometimes be bewildering at first, industrial robotic arms are being placed on autonomous robotic logistics vehicles to create something entirely new that doesn’t yet have a name of its own, and no one really knows how to describe it in simple terms.
But plenty of people know what it does. Or what it could do at least.
In fact, anyone who’s seen a picture of one or has read the first paragraph of this article can probably imagine what such machines are capable of.
Certainly the robot makers – and logistics companies, in particular – are very aware of the potential of these machines.
If only they could work out how to program it to flawlessly identify the bewildering array of products in today’s online shopping world.
For the average human, looking at an assortment of mixed-up products and picking out specific ones they need is quite simple.
But for a robot, it’s not so easy.
To help the robot, each product could be tagged with some sort of chip that sends a signal that identifies itself as being a specific product, which is one way it’s being done. Or, if it’s in a box, the packaging could have a barcode.
Another way is to keep products separated, each in their certain locations and specific trays or boxes, so the robot knows that whatever it picks out of a box will be what the barcode or chip on the box says it is.
But arguably the best way is for the robot to have vision – much like human vision – which will enable to see and identify based on visual records what it’s looking at and whether it’s the item required.
Such vision technology is perhaps the most challenging area of robotics. In the autonomous car market, light detection and radar – or lidar – is gaining ground.
But that may be too broad-brush an approach to effective in complex, fine-detail work, which is what is often required in factories and warehouses.
Then again, warehouses can be highly organised, unlike the outside world, so the challenge is present in both environments.
This is why the Rewired investment group is concentrating on vision systems as the most important technology for robotics, and has set up a $100 million robotics-focused venture studio for the purpose.
Rewired is a collection of robotics and automation experts from the field of academia and business, combined with their investment advisers.
Rewired calls it “machine perception”, but it’s essentially the same thing.
One of the leading partners in Rewired, Santiago Tenorio, says the fund is looking to invest in “core technologies” – machine perception, or robotic vision, being one of them.
Robotics and Automation News will publish an exclusive interview with Tenorio soon.