Office Robots and Robotic Vaccination, a Camera that sees round corners and a shirt that talks to your phone
This week we examine some progress in robots becoming a part of our everyday lives. We look at an Office Robot that is working in the Alphabet Offices and a Robot that vaccinates without using needles. We also discover an improvement to Near Field Communication chips that will allow your shirt to talk to your phone. We start by investigating a camera that can see around corners and through objects.
A Camera that can see around corners
A new field of research called, non-line-of-sight imaging allows a high resolution camera to see around corners and through human skin and bones. It is also able to capture fast moving objects such as fast cars in addition to objects like a beating heart and the tiniest capillaries.
The camera intercepts the scattered light coming from an object in order to reconstruct the inherent information about its travel to and through the object, to reveal the original object. Sort of like shining a flashlight through your hand. You should see the bones in your hand however the light coming through the hand scatters the bone image resulting in just a large dot. The new camera captures the scattered light and reconstructs it into an image.
The camera currently uses visible or infrared light, however the same principle can be applied to other wavelengths . It could be applied to radio waves for space exploration or underwater acoustic imaging. Other applications include noninvasive medical imaging, early warning navigation systems for vehicles and industrial inspections in confined spaces.
Alphabet (Google’s parent company) has a moonshot project called “Everyday Robots”. The robots have just recently gone from the lab to the office floor. A fleet of more than 100 robot prototypes are autonomously performing a range of useful tasks around the Alphabet’s offices. Robots pick up the trash, wipe down tables, pick up dirty cups and open doors.
The machines have a large wheeled base with a column sticking up. A multi camera array with a spinning LiDAR sensor to allow the robot to understand the world around it. The robots are able to learn as they work. The algorithms they use allow the robot to apply the learning it achieves from opening a door to a new task such as straightening up the chairs in the onsite cafes. The robots will autonomously open doors to conference rooms and check to see if anything needs cleaning up or chairs straightened.
The robots can learn more quickly than in the past, for example a complex task like opening a new door can be learned in a day whereas 5 years ago a simpler task such as grasping an object took four months for the robot to learn.
The longer term goal is for the robots to help people to maintain their independence at home for longer.
Your Shirt will soon talk to your Phone
University of California, Irvine researchers have developed a new system of meta materials that can be integrated into flexible textiles and allow battery free communication between articles of clothing and nearby devices.
For example your car would recognize the jacket that you are wearing and the car would start as soon as you sat in the drivers seat. You would just need to drive away. A hospital gown would be able to provide a real time transmission of a patients vital signs (which will no doubt be continuously monitored by an algorithm, medical staff would be alerted on a need to act basis) .
Our phones take advantage of near field signaling technologies when we pay for anything using the phone. The fabrics use the same principle however the range has been extended significantly (you don’t want the signal from your phone to extend too far). Currently near field communications have a range of a couple of inches, the team has extended this to more than 4 feet.
The innovation is highly flexible and tolerant of body motion. An athlete might wear smart pants that will measure leg movements whilst communicating with a shirt that tracks heart rate. In medicine a simple gown might replace many of the sensors that have to be manually applied to patients.
The materials are low cost and easy to fabricate. They can be heat pressed into existing clothing so there is no need to go out and replace the wardrobe.
If you are like me and you hate needles then this new robotic vaccinator that delivers vaccines without using a needle might be interesting. A startup from the University of Waterloo’s tech incubator has developed a robot that is capable of intramuscular injections.
The robot, called Cobionix (Cobi for short), users a high pressure fluid jet which is about the same width as a human hair to inject the vaccine into tissue. The robot is completely autonomous and is able to vaccinate patients with the involvement of a healthcare professional.
Cobi scans identification documents and verifies accuracy before proceeding to find the best spot on the patients body to vaccinate. Cobi is able to be reprogrammed to perform a range of tasks. Other potential applications may be found in cleantech and hospitality.
Given that the recent pandemic is likely the first of at least a few pandemics. An automated vaccinator will not only reduce cost it may speed up delivery and free up skilled healthcare workers for more important tasks.
Paying it Forward
If you have a start-up or know of a start-up that has a product ready for market please let me know. I would be happy to have a look and feature the startup in this newsletter. Also if any startups need introductions please get in touch and I will help where I can.
If you have any questions or comments please email me via my website craigcarlyon.com or comment below.
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Till next week.