Eye on AI - November 29th, 2019
Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!
This week, we take a look at consumer robotics, and how new advances in furniture and food assembly could soon disrupt traditional mass production processes.
Researchers Use Digital IKEA World to Train Robots
We begin with a story out of WIRED, titled “Why Robots Should Learn to Build Crappy Ikea Furniture,” in which reporter Matt Simon describes how researchers at the University of Southern California are using the Ikea furniture catalogue to help overcome robotics complications in product assembly.
“For you and me, assembling things from Ikea is simultaneously simple and hellish,” writes Simon. “.... For a robot, this is all pure horror…. machines never have to improvise—even if they were smart enough to do so, their unpredictability would put their human coworkers at risk.... if we want robots to be of any use in our homes, they'll have to be more flexible. And to get them there, perhaps they need to practice building Ikea furniture—a multifaceted problem that can teach the machines a multitude of lessons.”
USC researchers built a 3D digital playground to train their robots, simulating things like gravity and adding numerous variables like lighting, texture, material, etc. to train real-life robots in a digital world without having to worry about costly physical errors and complications. The Ikea digital world gives them a platform and foundation on which to train and compare robots before physical implementation. It’s an ingenious process, with fewer setbacks. Still – complications remain.
“It’s extremely difficult to translate what a robot has learned in simulation into real-world skills. ‘So it's unclear whether a successful task in the simulation environment can be successfully executed by physical robots, such as in our previous experiment,’” says Nanyang Technological University engineer Quang-Cuong Pham, who did experiments with physical robots building Ikea chairs.
I’m most excited to see how this training might translate to more complicated physical robotics tasks to improve things like worker safety and transportation & productivity costs. For now, let’s cross our fingers that the age of Ikea furniture assembly will soon be in the past.
Picnic Raises 5M, Ramping Up Potential for Mass Food Production
We continue with an article out of The Spoon, titled “Pizza Party! Picnic Raises $5M for its Food Robotics Platform,” which describes how food assembly company Picnic, which we’ve been following at Aigora for a month now, plans to expand with its latest round of funding. Chris Albrecht, The Spoon’s Managing Editor, reports:
“Picnic sits squarely at the nexus of a number of different food tech trends,” writes Albrecht. “First, it’s part of a wave of food automation that is taking over some of the repetitive tasks of food creation and promising to help restaurants deal with high human turnover. Second, among its first venues is a stadium, since stadiums need to feed a lot of people quickly, they are becoming a hotbed when it comes to food innovation. Finally, Picnic says that its machine can help cut down on food waste by precisely applying the same amount of ingredients to each pizza, each time.”
While this kind of mass food production technology may seem gimmicky at first glance, (and somewhat comical if we’re being honest) it could soon pay off dividends for food chains that rely on speed for profitability. Already the technology is being used by Centerplate at Seattle’s T-Mobile arena, and is expected to expand to more arenas soon. But the question remains how this technology will affect the workforce. Some suggest the same amount of workers will be needed, only their rolls will transition. Others maintain this technology may eliminate the need for a large segment of the service workforce. Time will tell. Watch this space.
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