New president of Universal Robots defines his leadership style and strategy for driving innovation in manufacturing

Kim Povlsen 1200px
Kim Povlsen, President of Universal Robots

Universal Robots launched the world’s first commercially viable collaborative robot (or cobot) in 2008 and has since become the fastest-growing segment of the global robotics market. With the recent departure of Jurgen Von Hollen, the company’s new president Kim Povlsen, “the new enzyme to the UR innovation formula,” and former elite athlete talks to Insider about leadership, human ingenuity, and how COVID-19 has changed manufacturing.

Insider: How will you continue to drive innovation in your new role at Universal Robots?

Povlsen: UR is driven by ingenuity, creativity, and a genuine desire to improve workplaces and global productivity. It is my ambition to build on this heritage and bring the flexible cobots to new audiences.

I will draw on my background from The Maersk Mc Kinney Moller Institute at Syddansk Universitet. This unique environment hatched several figures from the Danish robotics community and the creativity found here is a key ingredient for future innovation. In this sense, I am the new enzyme to the UR innovation formula. I will support the boldest ideas and link them to commercial opportunities to push UR innovation forward.

Insider: What exciting new plans can we expect to see from UR?

Povlsen: The industrial world is at a crossroads. Decisions must be made for more agile and adaptable production paradigms to accommodate new consumer behaviors. This is relevant for large corporates as well as SMBs, and UR’s flexible cobots are positioned perfectly to play a pivotal role in this paradigm shift. UR’s open ecosystem and UR+ platform will play a key role in this transformation and continue to create new use cases for cobots.

Insider: How excited are you for what the next few years in robotics looks like and how does UR fit into this picture?

Povlsen: I am beyond excited to have entered the UR world at a time and place, when the manufacturing industry is reaching out for new approaches to increase productivity in a more flexible and customer-centric way. We have only just scratched the surface of potential within robotics. We see new applications, open innovation, and global developments driving flexible automation forward at an ever-increasing pace.

Insider: What’s your leadership ethos and what’s it like working with you?

Povlsen: I constantly drive myself and my colleagues mad with the “why” question. Why are we doing what we are doing and to what extent do our actions support this ethos? It is imperative to step back from time to time to reflect and to challenge. This can guide the organisation towards greater goals.

As a former elite athlete, I also believe in multifaceted talent development. You need to improve on several parameters to create sustainable growth and creative drive.

Insider: How has the pandemic impacted the industry (positive and negative) and how will the industry cope?

Povlsen: No doubt the pandemic has challenged the manufacturing industry. Restrictions disrupted supply chains and lockdowns have posed immense financial and practical urgencies on owners as well as staff and management. At the same time, we have witnessed new creativity and the adoption of new technologies – such as allowing more local and flexible production. In this light, I believe the manufacturing industry will come out on top, reinvent itself and be prepared for new global opportunities.

Insider: What lessons have you and your company learned?

Povlsen: We have witnessed, in the most challenging of circumstances, that human ingenuity and technological advancements present new and unexpected potentials. We have seen manufacturers realigning their production to Covid safety equipment assisted by flexible cobots. These examples will inspire and drive innovation forward.

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A loud groaning noise at Tuesday’s White House press briefing wasn’t ‘Lincoln’s ghost.’ It was a creaky robot.

Jen Psaki
Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing on April 27, 2021.

  • A loud creaking noise interrupted Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
  • One reporter at the press conference joked that it might have been “Lincoln’s ghost.”
  • The loud sound was actually a robotic camera swiveling in place.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A loud creaking noise interrupted Tuesday’s White House press briefing, but it wasn’t a crumbling roof or “Lincoln’s ghost,” as some suggested: the culprit was a robotic camera.

As White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was answering a question about the CDC’s recent change to mask-wearing recommendations, a groaning sound rang out.

“Have no fear, the ceiling is not falling… that I’m aware of,” Psaki said after pausing. One reporter called out that the sound was may have been “Lincoln’s ghost.”

Reuters White House correspondent Steve Holland later said that the source of the eerie sound was much less supernatural. It was, in fact, a robotic camera attached to the ceiling that was swiveling in place.

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‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Bot’: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is snapping remarkable new selfies

perservance camera selfie
Perseverance photographed its own cameras.

NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are having some fun on Mars ahead of the rotorcraft’s highly anticipated first liftoff.

That flight, which could pioneer a new method of planetary exploration, is scheduled to take place early Monday morning, around 3:30 a.m. ET. So before clearing the area, Perseverance co-starred in a selfie with the tiny helicopter.

The selfie is actually a mosaic of 62 individual images taken on Tuesday. Citizen scientist Seán Doran stitched the photos together and adjusted the brightness to create a stunning composite.

NASA Perseverance
Perseverance stares back at the Ingenuity helicopter.

Perseverance also snapped a solo shot – this time a single image – on Tuesday that offers a close-up look at the remote-sensing mast on the end of its robotic arm (the part that functions as a selfie stick).

NASA cheekily titled that photo “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Bot,” a reference to James Joyce’s novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

The rover’s rotating arm is perfect for selfie-taking

Perseverance is equipped with 23 cameras. Some help the rover navigate Martian terrain, spotting potential hazards like large rocks or trenches. Others allow human operators on Earth to check that the rover’s parts are in good shape.

The rover’s two newest selfies were taken by WATSON, a wide-angle sensor that captures the texture and structure of Martian rocks in fine detail. Since it’s attached to Perseverance’s robotic arm, the camera can rotate to snap photos of the rover itself.

Perseverance selfie
Perseverance rotates its robotic arm.

“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Bot” also showcases the rover’s 23-pound SuperCam, which can fire a laser at areas smaller than 1 millimeter from more than 20 feet (about 7 meters) away. The heat from the laser turns the rock to plasma, which researchers can then analyze to learn more about Mars’ composition.

Just below the SuperCam is a pair of rectangular cameras called Mastcam-Z. Their powerful zoom lenses can record video and snap three-dimensional and color images.

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The remote-sensing mast at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.

A mission to uncover ancient life on Mars

Perseverance touched down on Mars in February carrying Ingenuity in its belly. The helicopter fully separated from its host on Saturday and is now positioned about 13 feet (nearly 4 meters) away from the rover. Both are in an ancient lake bed called Jezero Crater.

The location is ideal for hunting for alien fossils: NASA scientists suspect that if fossilized microbes exist on Mars, they could be trapped in clay mineral deposits along the crater’s dried-up lake bottom, shorelines, and river delta. Perseverance’s mission is to examine and collect rocks to see whether that’s the case.

Ingenuity, meanwhile, is a technology demonstration: The 4-pound helicopter – roughly the size of a tissue box – will attempt up to five flights, each more difficult than the last.

The first flight will just test whether Ingenuity can successfully get a few feet off the ground, hover for about 30 seconds, then touch back down. If all goes well, the final flight could carry the helicopter over 980 feet (300 meters) of Martian terrain.

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Ingenuity extends vertically into place after being rotated outward from its horizontal position on March 29.

To be successful, Ingenuity must fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere and survive frigid temperatures for 30 Martian days (about one Earth month). Nighttime temperatures on Mars can plunge as low as negative-130 degrees Fahrenheit.

So far, the helicopter has made it almost a week since it dropped onto the Martian surface. Ingenuity now has to finish testing its sensors and motors before it’s ready to fly.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting.

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Grocery giant Albertsons is partnering with software startup Tortoise to launch remote-controlled food delivery robots

FILE PHOTO: Customers leave an Albertsons grocery store with their purchases in Burbank, California, U.S., July 17, 2012.  REUTERS/Fred Prouser
Customers leave an Albertsons grocery store with their purchases in Burbank.

Albertson Companies, the company that owns Safeway and Jewel-Osco, has partnered with Silicon Valley software startup, Tortoise, to launch a pilot program that uses remote-controlled delivery robots, as reported by TechCrunch.

The test will start at two Safeway locations in northern California. 

According to the report, Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of Tortoise, said that if the operation is successful, he expected the pilot to scale up to other shops within the state and perhaps the west coast.

The Safeway-stamped delivery carriages installed with Tortoise’s software will be able to make food deliveries for its customers who live as far as three miles from the store location, said TechCrunch. The delivery carts will be tele-controlled by long-distance operators to guide the cart on its journey. When the carts reach their destination, customers will be told to collect their order via text message, according to the outlet.

Other large companies, including Ford, are becoming more reliant on delivery robots.  The pandemic has also bolstered the growth of smaller robotic-delivery companies, such as Starship Technologies, which hit 1 million sales in February.

AP reported that Albertson’s EVP, and chief customer and digital officer, Chris Rupp, said in a statement: “Our team is obsessed with trying new and disruptive technologies that can bring more convenience for our customers.”

He added: “We are willing to quickly test, learn and implement winning innovations that ensure we are offering the easiest and most convenient shopping experience in the entire industry.”

The partnership is an example of smart technologies transforming all types of industries to improve the customer experience at a time when social interaction has become increasingly difficult.

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A cyberpunk scene at SpaceX’s launch facilities: A robot dog inspected the wreckage of a Starship rocket prototype

spacex robot dog zeus starship sn10

SpaceX created a futuristic tableau at its Texas rocket-testing facilities on Thursday, when a robo-dog wandered the wreckage of its latest Starship prototype.

SpaceX launched the rocket prototype, called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10, on Wednesday. Like the last two prototypes before it, SN10 climbed to nearly 33,000 feet above the company’s facilities in the town of Boca Chica. Then it shut off its engines and plummeted to Earth in a belly-flop position, controlling its fall with four wing flaps.

Unlike its predecessors, which both slammed into the ground and exploded immediately, SN10 successfully re-fired its engines to flip itself upright and touch down softly on the ground. But then it exploded spectacularly 10 minutes later.

sn10 starship explosion landing spacex
SpaceX’s SN10 Starship rocket prototype exploded on the landing pad minutes after touchdown on Wednesday.

With the air cleared and the roads reopened, photographers and SpaceX fans flocked to the company’s facilities on  Thursday morning to watch the clean-up from a distance. That’s when they spotted a fascinating four-legged robot wandering the wreckage.

Spadre.com shared videos of the agile bot on Twitter.

 

The life-like machine is a Boston Dynamics “Spot” robot dog, which SpaceX has apparently renamed Zeus, according to photos that show the name printed across a red doghouse where the robot lives.

Zeus has been spotted inspecting SpaceX landing sites before. It’s not clear what exactly the mechanical pooch was doing at the SN10 explosion site, but Zeus is likely outfitted with cameras and sensors to collect data, since approaching wrecked rockets can be unsafe for humans.

SpaceX did not respond to Insider’s request for further details.

 

The rocket Zeus was inspecting is designed as the upper stage of a two-part system; a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would one day heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. But eliminating these explosions from the vehicle’s landing process is crucial, since SpaceX is designing Starship and Super Heavy to be fully and rapidly reusable. A spaceship that blows up after it lands is, of course, tough to relaunch.

If the system works, though, Starship-Super Heavy could slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold, since it would eliminate the need to build new rockets and spaceships for each spaceflight. Musk wants to eventually construct a fleet of reusable Starships to power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, fly astronauts to the moon, and one day carry people to Mars.

Musk has said that he is “highly confident” SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Starship to Mars in 2024, followed by a crewed mission in 2026.

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How autopilot on an airplane works

  • Autopilot is a flight-control system that allows a pilot to fly an airplane without continuous hands-on control.
  • But this feature isn’t as automatic as you might think. There’s no robot sitting in the pilot seat and pressing buttons while the real pilot takes a nap.
  • A modern automatic flight-control system is made of three main parts: a flight-monitoring computer, several high-speed processors, and a series of sensors placed on different parts of the plane.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Autopilot isn’t as “auto” as you might think. There’s no robot that sits in the pilot seat and mashes buttons while the real pilot takes a nap. It’s just a flight-control system that allows a pilot to fly an airplane without continuous hands-on control.

Basically, it lets a pilot fly from New York to Los Angeles without white-knuckling the controls for six straight hours. But how does it actually work? Kind of like a polar bear. A polar bear’s core temperature sits at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is so well insulated against the frigid Arctic cold that it often overheats. When that happens, its body reacts by releasing excess heat through its hairless parts, like its nose, ears, and feet. The polar bear’s body temperature returns to a comfortable 98.6, and it’s free to hunt seals another day. That cycle is called a negative feedback loop, and it’s the same way an autopilot functions.

A negative feedback loop is a self-regulating system that reacts to feedback in a way that maintains equilibrium. Generally, it uses a sensor to receive some sort of data or input, and the system uses that data to keep functioning in a preset way.

For the polar bear, that preset is body temperature. For an airplane, it’s lateral and vertical movement. A modern automatic flight-control system is made of three main parts: a flight-monitoring computer, several high-speed processors, and a series of sensors placed on different parts of the plane. The sensors collect data from the entire plane and send them to the processors, which in turn tell the computer what’s what.

AFCSs come in three different levels of complexity. There are single-, two-, and three-axis autopilots, based on the number of parts they control. Single-axis controls the ailerons, which are these guys. They make the plane do this. Single-axis autopilot is also called the “wing leveler” because it controls the roll of the plane and keeps the wings perpendicular to the ground. Two-axis handles everything the single-axis does, along with the elevators, located here. They move the plane like this. And three-axis juggles those two plus the rudder. That one there is in charge of this movement. Then the computer tells the servomechanism units what to do. Servos are the little instruments that actually move the parts. All of these pieces come together to make sure your plane stays in the air, where it belongs. But they don’t just work on their own.

The success of the autopilot depends on the knowledge of the actual human pilot.

Greg Zahornacky: Autopilots are dumb and dutiful, meaning this: that if you program them incorrectly, they will kill you.

Narrator: Dumb and dutiful are the “two Ds of automation,” according to Earl Wiener, a former US Air Force pilot and an aviation scholar. He once described autopilot as, “Dumb in the sense that it will readily accept illogical input; dutiful in the sense that the computer will attempt to fly whatever is put in.” It’s crucial, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that you know how to fly a plane before you use an autopilot. Step one is inputting a flight plan. And step one is also where things could start going wrong.

To get from New York to LA, a pilot needs a route. That route translates to a flight plan, and that flight plan gets punched into the computer and logged into the database. If the pilot doesn’t know what the heck they’re doing, then they can end up programming the autopilot to fly the plane upside down or to spell out “I’m a Bad Pilot” in the sky. If they correctly navigate step one, step two is simply turning on the autopilot. The system executes the flight plan and takes over from there.

Zahornacky: That will stay operational until such time as they tell it or turn it off. But it is capable of flying the aircraft essentially from takeoff all the way to touchdown and including touchdown.

Narrator: But you can’t just tap it and nap it. It’s the ABCs of autopilots: Always be checking. Because autopilots can and do fail. Sometimes it’s user error when entering the flight plan. Sometimes it’s a sensor or servo malfunction. Either way, this is when it becomes very important that an inflatable toy isn’t flying the plane.

– Why is it doing that?!

Zahornacky: If it’s not doing what I expect it to do, I’m gonna disengage the autopilot. I’m gonna go back to hand-flying the aircraft and say, OK, this is what I want you to do. I’m gonna rebuild it again.

Narrator: The good news is autopilot will never take over a plane, à la HAL. Worst case, the pilot turns it off and on again or pulls the circuit breaker if that doesn’t work and reprograms it to behave itself. Worst-worst case, the pilot just has to fly the plane themselves.

Zahornacky: So, I am a very large proponent of hand-flying that airplane to keep your skills high because, you know what, you’ve gotta go through a check ride at least once a year.

Narrator: A check ride is a practical test regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration that US pilots must pass to get their licenses. And most airlines require yearly check rides to make sure their pilots can actually fly.

Zahornacky: ‘Cause if it’s on autopilot all the time, how can you keep your skills sharp?

Narrator:  There’s a reason we still have pilots flying planes and haven’t handed the yoke over to robots. As advanced as the technology is, an autopilot is not auto enough to think for itself, which means it’s not smart enough to fly a plane by itself, and that’s another thing autopilots have in common with polar bears.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

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Watch the humanoid robots from Boston Dynamics perform an elaborate dance number in their first video since being bought by Hyundai

Boston Dynamics, Atlas

The humanaoid robots from Boston Dynamics are back with another video, but this time the focus isn’t agility or power – it’s all about how well they can dance.

In a routine that would be at home on “Dancing with the Stars,” Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot gets down to The Contours’ “Do You Love Me?”

As ever, the impressive video sparked responses far and wide – from the apocalyptic “We’re doomed,” care of sports broadcaster Rex Chapman, to the absurd, care of Tesla CEO Elon Musk:

It’s the first such video from Boston Dynamics following its acquisition by Hyundai from Softbank in mid-December that valued the robotics company at $1.1 billion.

Boston Dynamics describes the dance routine as a celebration of “the start of what we hope will be a happier year.”

Check out the full video right here:

Got a tip? Contact Business Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@businessinsider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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