Alphabet X Exosuit – TechCrunch


Last week, Kathryn Zealand shared some ideas on the eve of Women’s Equality Day. The post highlighted a problem that has been apparent to everyone in and around the robotics industry: There is a huge gender gap. It’s something we try to keep in mind, especially when scheduling events like TC Sessions: Robotics. Zealand cites some staggering figures in the article.

According to statistics, about 9% of robotics engineers are women. That’s bad. That’s, like, bad even by the standards of STEM fields in general, I mean, it’s really, really bad. (It is also worth drawing attention to ethnic disparities in the same source.)

The Zeeland article was published on LinkedIn – appropriate, given that the general focus here is on recruitment. It is well worth your time, if you are involved in the hiring process at a robotics company and are concerned about broader diversity issues (which hopefully go hand in hand for most organizations). Zelandia offers out-of-the-box thinking in terms of what, precisely, it means to be a roboticist, writing:

We have a great opportunity here! Women and other underrepresented groups are untapped groups of talented individuals who, despite not thinking of themselves as “roboticists,” could be vital members of a world-changing robotics team.

I’m going to be real with you for a minute, and I will notice that what really caught my eye was the image above. Zelandia is a project leader in Alphabet X. And what you have there is a brace or, rather, what appears to be a component of a soft exosuit.

Image credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Exoskeletons / exoskeletons are a booming category for robotics right now that really runs the gamut from the giant James Cameron-style Sarcos suit to much more subtle fabric-based systems. Some key names in the space include Ekso Bionics, ReWalk, and SuitX. Hell, even Samsung has shown a solution as part of a robotics department that appears to be largely ornamental at the moment.

Image credits: Harvard Biodesign Laboratory

Most of these systems aim to address one of two problems: 1) Improving workers to help with difficult or repetitive tasks for work and 2) Providing assistance to people with reduced mobility. Many companies have offers for both. This is what Harvard’s Biodesign Laboratory has to say about it:

Compared to a traditional exoskeleton, these systems have several advantages: the wearer’s joints are not restricted by external rigid structures, and the worn part of the suit is extremely lightweight. These properties minimize inadvertent interference of the suit with the body’s natural biomechanics and allow for a more synergistic interaction with the wearer.

Alphabet loves to give the occasional spike behind the scenes on some of their X projects, and it turns out we’ve had a couple glimpses of the Smarty Pants project. Zealand and Smarty Pants make a cameo appearance in a Wired UK piece that ran early last year on the 10th.th Google / Alphabet X anniversary. The piece notes that the project was inspired by her experience with her 92-year-old grandmother’s mobility issues.

Image credits: Alphabet X

The piece highlights a very early Raspberry Pi-controlled setup created by a team that includes costume designers and deep learning specialists (going back to that earlier discussion of innovative thinking when it comes to what constitutes a roboticist). The system uses sensors in an attempt to predict movement effectively to anticipate where force should be applied for tasks like climbing stairs. The piece ends on an appropriately gloomy note: “Less than half of X’s investigations turn into Projects. By the time this story is published, he will probably be dead. “

My suspicion is that the team seeks to differentiate itself from other exosuit projects by leveraging Google’s knowledge base on deep learning and artificial intelligence to develop those predictive algorithms.

Alphabet declined to offer additional information on the project, noting that it likes to give its moon shooting teams “time to learn and iterate out of the spotlight.” But last October, we got what is probably our best look at Smarty Pants, in the form of a video highlighting Design Kitchen, Alphabet X’s design lab / studio.

Image credits: Alphabet X

Wired’s piece mentions a “pearlescent fanny pack” that holds the aforementioned Raspberry Pi and additional components. To you Yanks, that’s a fanny pack, not known as such in the UK, due to some regional jargon. Said fanny pack is featured in the video as well, honestly providing a very clever solution to the dangling cords problem for an early stage portable prototype.

“One of the things that really helped the team is being really focused on a problem. Even if you spent months on something, if it’s not really going to achieve that goal, sometimes you honor the work that has been done and say, ‘we’ve learned a ton of things in the process, but this isn’t the only one really going to solve it. that problem ‘. “

The most notable conclusion of the video is some additional images of prototypes. You imagine that by the time Alphabet feels confident sharing that kind of thing with the world, the team has gone a lot further. “No matter how squeaky, cardstock and duct tape is, as long as it helps you learn, and everyone can prototype, even while working from home,” the X team writes in a partner blog post.

The other bit of information we have right now is a patent application granted last year, which comes with all the standard patent warnings. Seeing a patent materialize is often even more unlikely (read: moonlighting) than gambling on an Alphabet X project to graduate. But they can offer insight into where a team is headed, or at least some of the avenues it has considered.

Image credits: Alphabet X

The patent highlights similar attempts to anticipate movement to those highlighted above. It effectively uses sensors and machine learning to adjust tension in garment regions designed to assist the wearer.

Image credits: Alphabet X

The proposed methods and systems provide adaptive support and assistance to users by performing intelligent dynamic adjustment of tension and stiffness in specific areas of the fabric or by applying forces to non-stretch elements within a garment that is sufficiently comfortable to be suitable for frequent and daily use. . The methods include detecting movement of a particular part of a wearer’s body enclosed within the garment, determining an activity rating for that movement, identifying a support configuration for the garment adapted to the activity rating, and dynamically adjusting a tension and / or stiffening one or more controllable regions of the garment or applying force to non-stretchable fabric elements in the garment to provide personalized support and assistance to the wearer and the activity the wearer is performing.

It’s nice to see Alphabet take a more organic approach to developing robotics startups internally, rather than the acquisitions and consolidations that occurred several years ago that finally found Boston Dynamics briefly living under the Google umbrella. Of course, we saw the recent graduation of the Wendy Tan White-led intrinsic, which creates software for industrial robotics.

Okay, there are a lot of words about a project that we know next to nothing about! I love the startup space, where we are definitely not doing crazy speculations based on a thin trail of breadcrumbs.

I will say for sure that I definitely know more about Agility Robotics than I did this time last week, after speaking with the CEO and CTO of the Oregon-based company. The conversation This was apparently a new video the team released showing Digit performing some housework in a warehouse / fulfillment environment.

Some key things I learned:

  1. Agility sold a dozen Cassie robots, mostly to researchers.
  2. It has already sold “substantially more” digits.
  3. The team includes 56 people, mostly in Oregon (makes sense, as an OSU spin-out), with plans to expand operations to Pittsburgh, everyone’s favorite rustbelt robotics center.
  4. Agility is consulting with “the major logistics companies”.
  5. In addition to Ford’s delivery agreement, the company has its sights set on warehouse tasks in hopes of offering a more adaptable solution than warehouse automation companies like Berkshire Gray.

Image credits: Agility robotics

Oh, and a good quote on CEO Damion Shelton’s job loss:

The conversation about automation has changed a bit. It is seen as an enabling technology that allows you to maintain the workforce you have. There is a lot of talk about the risks of automation and job loss, but job loss is actually happening now, before automated solutions.

Agility hopes to begin deploying its robots in locations next year. More immediate than that, however, is this deal between Simbe Robotics and the Midwest grocery chain, Schnuks. The food giant will bring Simbe’s inventor robots to all of its 111 stores, four years after it began testing the technology.

Schnuck Markets implements the Simbe Robotics Tally robot in its stores, providing information about the shelves for a better shopping experience. Photographed Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, in Des Peres, Missouri.

Simbe says his robot Tally can reduce out of stock items by 20-30% and detect 14 times more lost inventors than standard human scanning.

Carbon robotics (not to be confused with the prosthetic company of the same name that hit our hardware battlefield a few years ago) just raised $ 27 million. Series B brings its total funding to around $ 36 million. The Seattle-based firm builds autonomous robots that remove weeds with lasers. We featured their newest robot in this column in April.

And seeing how we recently updated you on IRobot’s continuous indefinite delay for Terra, here’s a new Segway-Ninebot robotic lawnmower.

Image credits: Segway-Ninebot

Designed for a lawn area of ​​up to 3,000 square meters, Segway’s first robotic lawnmower has several features of a smart garden helper, and is the quietest mower on the market at just 54 dB. The Frequent Gentle Mowing System (FSCS) ensures that the grass is cut from above and that the desired height is gradually reached. Offset blades allow cutting as close to edges and corners as possible.

That’s it for the week. Don’t forget to sign up to receive the next free version of the newsletter from Actuator delivered to your inbox.


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