Automation

Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Australia, Automation, csiro, drones, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, hardware, robotics, science, Startups, TC | No Comments

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation.

The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared, and so on. Frequently these measurements must be made manually and painstakingly in dangerous circumstances.

One mining technique has ore being blasted from the vertical space between two tunnels; the resulting cavities, called “stopes,” have to be inspected regularly to watch for problems and note progress.

“The way they scan these stopes is pretty archaic,” said Hrabar. “These voids can be huge, like 40-50 meters horizontally. They have to go to the edge of this dangerous underground cliff and sort of poke this stick out into it and try to get a scan. It’s very sparse information and from only one point of view, there’s a lot of missing data.”

Emesent’s solution, Hovermap, involves equipping a standard DJI drone with a powerful lidar sensor and a powerful onboard computing rig that performs simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) work fast enough that the craft can fly using it. You put it down near the stope and it takes off and does its thing.

“The surveyors aren’t at risk and the data is orders of magnitude better. Everything is running onboard the drone in real time for path planning — that’s our core IP,” Hrabar said. “The dev team’s background is in drone autonomy, collision avoidance, terrain following — basically the drone sensing its environment and doing the right thing.”

As you can see in the video below, the drone can pilot itself through horizontal tunnels (imagine cave systems or transportation infrastructure) or vertical ones (stopes and sinkholes), slowly working its way along and returning minutes later with the data necessary to build a highly detailed map. I don’t know about you, but if I could send a drone ahead into the inky darkness to check for pits and other scary features, I wouldn’t think twice.

The idea is to sell the whole stack to mining companies as a plug-and-play solution, but work on commercializing the SLAM software separately for those who want to license and customize it. A data play is also in the works, naturally:

“At the end of the day, mining companies don’t want a point cloud, they want a report. So it’s not just collecting the data but doing the analytics as well,” said Hrabar.

Emesent emerged from Data61, the tech arm of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, an Australian agency not unlike our national lab system. Hrabar worked there for over a decade on various autonomy projects, and three years ago started on what would become this company, eventually passing through the agency’s “ON” internal business accelerator.

Data collected from a pass through a cave system.

“Just last week, actually, is when we left the building,” Hrabar noted. “We’ve raised the funding we need for 18 months of runway with no revenue. We really are already generating revenue, though.”

The $3.5 million (Australian) round comes largely from a new $200M CSIRO Innovation fund managed by Main Sequence Ventures. Hrabar suggested that another round might be warranted in a year or two when the company decides to scale and expand into other verticals.

DARPA will be making its own contribution after a fashion through its Subterranean Challenge, should (as seemly likely) Emesent achieve success in it (they’re already an approved participant). Hrabar was confident. “It’s pretty fortuitous,” he said. “We’ve been doing underground autonomy for years, and then DARPA announces this challenge on exactly what we’re doing.”

We’ll be covering the challenge and its participants separately. You can read more about Emesent at its website.

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Smartsheet co-founder’s next project is a robotic rock picker-upper

Posted by | agriculture, Automation, Brent Frei, farming, Gadgets, hardware, robotics, smartsheet, TerraClear | No Comments

A co-founder of Smartsheet, the enterprise collaboration startup that just filed for an IPO, is taking a hard right turn into the world of agriculture robotics. Brent Frei tells GeekWire that he has been working on an automated system for clearing rocks from land. It’s a bit unexpected, but far from a bad idea.

While doing a little farming work with his kids last year, including the less than stimulating task of picking up big rocks and throwing them in a tractor-trailer, it occurred to him that this was precisely the kind of thing that an automated platform would be good at.

There are some semi-automated solutions, but nothing simple enough that you could just plop it on a few acres and tell it “go grab all the rocks this big or bigger.”

Why not apply to this all the tech that’s going into watering, growing and picking? It seems at the very least he might make something that he himself could use, so he started TerraClear in October to create a “Roomba for rock picking.”

It’s still a ways off even from prototype stage, but it’s a great example of how wide open the world is to new applications of computer vision and robotics if you keep your mind open.

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Video: The driver of the autonomous Uber was distracted before fatal crash

Posted by | arizona, Automation, autonomous car, car sharing, commuting, Gadgets, pittsburgh, San Francisco, self-driving car, spokesperson, toronto, Toyota, transport, Uber, United States, volvo | No Comments

The Tempe, Arizona police department have released a video showing the moments before the fatal crash that involved Uber’s self-driving car. The video includes the view of the street from the Uber and a view of minder behind the wheel of the autonomous Uber.

Warning: This video is disturbing.

Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating
the details of this incident that occurred on March 18th. We will provide updated information regarding the investigation once it is available. pic.twitter.com/2dVP72TziQ

— Tempe Police (@TempePolice) March 21, 2018

The video shows the victim crossing a dark street when an Uber self-driving Volvo XC90 strikes her at 40 mph. It also shows the person who is supposed to be babysitting the autonomous vehicle looking down moments before the crash. It’s unclear what is distracting the minder. It’s also unclear why Uber’s systems did not detect and react to the victim who was clearly moving across its range of sensors at walking speeds.

Uber provided the following statement regarding the incident to TechCrunch:

Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.

Since the crash on March 19, Uber has pulled all its vehicles from the roads operating in Pittsburgh, Tempe, San Francisco and Toronto. This is the first time an autonomous vehicle operating in self-driving mode has resulted in a human death. In a statement to TechCrunch, the NHTSA said it has sent over its “Special Crash Investigation” team to Tempe. This is “consistent with NHTSA’s vigilant oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies,” a spokesperson for the agency told TechCrunch.

“NHTSA is also in contact with Uber, Volvo, Federal, State and local authorities regarding the incident,” the spokesperson said. “The agency will review the information and proceed as warranted.”

Toyota also paused its self-driving testing in the US following the accident.

This tragic accident is the sort of situation self-driving vehicles are supposed to address. After all, these systems are supposed to be able to see through the dark and cannot get distracted by Twitter.

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Inside Amazon’s surveillance-powered no-checkout convenience store

Posted by | Amazon, amazon go, Automation, food, Gadgets, retail, TC | No Comments

 By now many have heard of Amazon’s most audacious attempt to shake up the retail world, the cashless, cashierless Go store. Walk in, grab what you want, and walk out. I got a chance to do just that recently, as well as pick the brain of one of its chief architects. My intention going in was to try to shoplift something and catch these complacent Amazon types napping. But it became clear… Read More

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Marketing and investment firm Wareness expands beyond hardware

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Automation, Computer Vision, Gadgets, Marketing, Startups, TC, wareness.io | No Comments

Wareness team It’s been about three years since PR firm VSC launched Wareness, a “studio” within the larger organization that provides consulting services and seed funding to hardware startups. Since then, Wareness has backed 14 companies. The next step? Looking beyond hardware — founder and CEO Vijay Chattha told me that the studio is now looking to work with startups in… Read More

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AI learns and recreates Nobel-winning physics experiment

Posted by | AI, artificial intelligence, Automation, Gadgets, Physics, robotics, science, TC | No Comments

The machinery used to create the BEC. You can actually see it: the small orange cloud right of center. Australian physicists, perhaps searching for a way to shorten the work week, have created an AI that can run and even improve a complex physics experiment with little oversight. The research could eventually allow human scientists to focus on high-level problems and research design, leaving the nuts and bolts to a robotic lab assistant. Read More

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Ulysses for iPhone makes me consider writing articles on my phone

Posted by | Apps, Automation, Markdown, Mobile, TC, The Soulmen, Ulysses | No Comments

Ulysses-5.jpeg Ulysses is a Markdown text editor for small and big projects. It works quite well for anything between a blog post and a novel. And Ulysses is also the kind of apps we need on iOS. It’s an expensive $25 app that provides nearly all the features of its desktop equivalent. In other words, it’s a serious app to do serious work with a clear business model. And of course, everything stays… Read More

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