Concerns Arise as Boston Dynamics Reveals Latest Robot, Citing Drama with MKBHD and Restructuring at Tesla

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The weather’s getting hotter — but not quite as hot as the generative AI space, which saw a slew of new models released this week, including Meta’s Llama 3. In other AI news, Hyundai-owned robotics company Boston Dynamics unveiled an electric-powered humanoid follow-up to its long-running Atlas robot, which it recently retired. And Rebecca and Sean report on layoffs at Tesla , which they say hit high performers and gutted some departments. AnalysisGoogle Cloud bets on generative AI: Ron writes about how Google Cloud is investing heavily in generative AI, as evidenced by the string of announcements during Google’s Cloud Next conference earlier in the month. Generative AI in health: Generative AI is coming for healthcare — but not everyone’s thrilled.

“First Look: Boston Dynamics’ Newly Unveiled Atlas Robot Amazes Experts”

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This week Boston Dynamics retired its well-known Atlas robot that was powered by hydraulics. Then today it unveiled its new Atlas robot, which is powered by electricity. Its new Atlas robot is leaner, and appears to have improved range-of-motion. Size and ability to contort and maneuver are not cosmetic elements to a humanoid robot — they can unlock new use cases and possible work environments. Happily for those of us who want a domestic robot to handle household chores and hold our hands whilst we cry, there are other startups working on the humanoid robot project.

to the moon Journey to the Moon: A Humanoid Robot Embarked by Mobileye’s Founder

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Mentee Robotics hasn’t been in stealth, exactly. The Israeli firm caught a small wave of press at the tail end of 2022, following Tesla’s initial humanoid robotics announcement. Even so, the firm caught some headlines because its co-founder and chair, Amnon Shashua, founded Mobileye and the well-funded AI firm, AI21 Labs. On Wednesday, however, the company offered up a glimpse of Menteebot, its own stab at the rapidly growing humanoid category. In fact, this is one of those spots where the precise definition of what constitutes a humanoid system gets blurred.

“Atlas Bows: Boston Dynamics Bids Farewell to Its Hydraulic Humanoid Robot”

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Now that humanoids are all the rage in the robotics industry, Boston Dynamics on Tuesday officially retired theirs. Boston Dynamics has been focused on commercializing technologies for a number of years now. Boston Dynamics was, of course, well ahead of the current humanoid robotics curve. Another wrinkle in today’s news is that, as of February, Boston Dynamics was still showcasing Atlas’ capabilities. Meantime, in lieu of a gold watch, Boston Dynamics is offering up a video featuring some of Atlas’ greatest hits and most spectacular falls.

European Automaker to Test Drive Sanctuary AI’s Humanoid Robot

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Sanctuary AI announced that it will be delivering its humanoid robot to a Magna manufacturing facility. As is often the nature of these deals, the parties have not disclosed how many of Sanctuary AI’s robots will be deployed. The news follows similar deals announced by Figure and Apptronik, which are piloting their own humanoid systems with BMW and Mercedes, respectively. For its part, Magna invested in Sanctuary AI back in 2021 — right around the time Elon Musk announced plans to build a humanoid robot to work in Tesla factories. The company would later dub the system “Optimus.” Vancouver-based Sanctuary unveiled its own system, Phoenix, back in May of last year.

‘Mice Cells’ Harvested Muscle Tissue Empower ‘Biohybrid’ Robotics Movement

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While these systems have soft forms, however, many of their components are still rigid like their more traditional counterparts. Researchers are working to bring flexible elements to create locomotion for these soft robots. Researchers at the school are using live muscle tissue in tandem with synthetic robot parts for a classification of robots known as “biohybrid.”MIT Professor of Engineering Ritu Raman confirmed the process with TechCrunch, noting, “We build the muscle tissues from mouse cells, and then we put the muscle tissues on our robot’s skeleton. Biological muscle tissue can be difficult to work with and generally unpredictable. The flexures still needed to be tweaked to the specifications of the robot, ultimately opting for structures with 1/100th the stiffness of the muscle tissue.

Transforming Robotics Focuses on Human-Centered Solutions Rather Than Humanoid Appearances

It is, after all, a lot easier to generate press for robots that look and move like humans. For a while now, Collaborative Robotics founder Brad Porter has eschewed robots that look like people. As the two-year-old startup’s name implies, Collaborative Robotics (Cobot for short) is interested in the ways in which humans and robots will collaborate, moving forward. When his run with the company ended in summer 2020, he was leading the retail giant’s industrial robotics team. AI will, naturally, be foundational to the company’s promise of “human problem solving,” while the move away from the humanoid form factor is a bid, in part, to reduce the cost of entry for deploying these systems.

Kiwibot Acquires Taipei Chipmaker Amidst US-China Tensions

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Bay Area/Colombia-based delivery robotics firm Kiwibot this week announced that it has acquired Auto Mobility Solutions. The Taipei firm produces chips specifically for the world of robotics and autonomous driving. Kiwi founder and CEO Felipe Chávez Cortés does, however, tell TechCrunch that rising tensions between the U.S. and China are a key motivator for the purchase. Prior to this, the U.S. government had set its sights on various Chinese tech giants, including Huawei and DJI. Taiwan’s tenuous geopolitical situation, coupled with its vastly outsized share of the semiconductor market, has placed it at the center of the conflict.

Home robotics’ gain might benefit from Apple’s electric vehicle deficit

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With the Apple Car firmly in the rearview, the company is reportedly exploring yet another notoriously difficult path: home robots. In spite of those efforts, however, the company has fared best when it focused its resources back into its robot vacuum. The hockey puck design that’s prevalent across robot vacuums isn’t ideal for anything beyond the core functionality it’s built for. That’s likely a big part of the reason the company is selling it as a development platform. There’s nothing wrong with teleop in many scenarios, but it seems unlikely that people are going to flock to a home robot that’s being controlled by a human somewhere far away.

“Exploring Saturn’s Moons: NASA’s Serpentine Robot on a Mission to Uncover Extraterrestrial Life in Frigid Oceans”

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The latter has made snake robots a compelling addition to search-and-rescue teams, as the systems can squeeze into spots people and other robots can’t. That means a lot of ice, as NASA researchers are planning to send it to Saturn’s small, cold moon, Enceladus. Twenty-first-century flybys from Cassini have revealed a water-rich environment, making the ice-covered moon a potential candidate for life in our solar system. The eventual plan is to use the snake robot, Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS), to explore oceans beneath the moon’s crust and finally answer one of the universe’s big, open questions. In fact, CMU spinout HEBI Robotics designed the modules being used in this early version of the system.