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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Creating jobs, 1 drone at a time

Chris Anderson the award winning former editor of Wired magazine set up DIYDrones in 2007 as a community (on a Ning platform).  A few months after Chris had set up Jordi MunozDIYDrones a ‘few hundred’ members were active when a young man of about 19 years old, Jordi Muñoz signed up and discussed a software hack he had worked on to fly a toy helicopter using a Nintendo game controller and Arduino, a new open-source microprocessor board.

In his book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution Chris describes what happened next:

I got in touch with him to ask some more questions about Arduino, and we started a friendly correspondence. I liked his energy and was impressed by his fearless experimentation and effortless grasp of software concepts that I had struggled to understand. I had a feeling that he was on to something; his instincts kept leading him to more and more exciting technologies, from sensors he found and figured out how to use to algorithms he tracked down in obscure papers.

Eventually, we started to do some projects together on DIY Drones—first an airplane autopilot and then an autonomous blimp controller board. We’d trade circuit-board designs back and forth and we both spent our evenings hunched over soldering irons on our respective worktables, attaching components and testing them. He taught me how to program Arduino and the best places to buy components and get boards made. I wrote the blog posts describing our progress and documented the projects with online tutorials.

After a short while Chris, the editor of Wired, much quoted author of several books (e.g. The Long Tail) and respected member of the global tech community and Jordi realized they could offer kits to other community members to help them create their own mini ‘drones.’

Of course all Chris knew of Jordi was his ability to work on circuit boards, design, etc. but he thought it a good idea to co-found a company, as Chris writes:

That, in turn, meant starting a proper company. I asked Jordi to join me as cofounder. And when he agreed, I thought that might be a good time to ask him a bit about himself.

Here’s what he found out:

At the time of his first posting, Jordi Muñoz Bardales (his full name), was nineteen years old. He was a native of Encinada, Mexico, and had gone to high school in Tijuana. He had just moved to Riverside, a suburb of Los Angeles. His high school girlfriend, who has dual citizenship, was pregnant, so they had recently got married. He was playing with the helicopter in their Riverside apartment because he didn’t have anything else to do while they waited for his green card. He had never been to college.

Needless to say, none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was what he could do, which he had already resoundingly proved.

Initially, Chris continued to work at Wired whilst Jordi became CEO and co founder (with Chris) of 3D Robotics Inc., which within just 5 years is a multimillion-dollar company with state-of-the-art engineering operations in San Diego and manufacturing facilities in Tijuana, Mexico.

Jordi didn’t speak great English, and didn’t do terribly well in school, but he did have access to the Internet. Because he was curious and driven, “he used the greatest information resource in history (Google) to make himself one of the world’s leading aerial robotics experts.”

Within 4 years Chris Anderson quit Wired magazine and took over as CEO of 3DRobotics so Jordi could focus on being Chief Technology Officer (CTO). The company has since raised over US$40 million in venture capital funding and has over 180 employees in North America and more than 28,000 customers worldwide.

At least one report predicts the US Drone market alone will create 250,000 new jobs and be worth $35 billion per annum. Jordi’s success story shows there is hope, that not sitting back, being proactive and using the great tools and communities available on the Internet instead of getting stuck in ‘average,’ is possible for all of us – we just have to take the initiative and create our future.

Robots with “soul”

Can robots and humans interact the way that human beings interact with each other? Guy Hoffman researches embodied cognition and intelligence in robots, or as he says it: ‘robots with soul.’

He explores the humanity of robots — how they think, feel, act, and move, as they interact with humans. He and his team staged the world’s first human-robot theater piece, as well as the first human-robot jazz duet, improv and all.

Watch his TED talk — “Robots with “soul” — to see two of Hoffman’s creations in action. First, there’s Shimon, a robotic marimba player who is able to improvise with a human pianist or freestyle with a rapper. And then there’s Travis, a two-headed robotic speaker that jams to music along with you.


The rise of industrial robots and decline of manufacturing jobs

BofA Merrill Lynch chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett – the one who coined the term “Great Rotation” — in a note to clients writes about where they are forecasting growth in 2014:

“BofAML’s tech analysts favor innovative hardware, the socially mobile consumer and cloud collaboration as their big 2014 themes. We are long tech but wary of the close correlation between Internet stocks and central bank liquidity.”

In an interview he added Tech innovations like 3-D printing, big data & the cloud are primed to fuel corporate growth in 2014 with more and more investments.

The client letter also included this chart indicating:

“The rise in the use of industrial robots and the decline in the number of manufacturing jobs for human beings.”

This is very much in line with my article on the significant increases in orders for industrial robots.

Long Robots short human beings

Original source: Business Insider – H/T Ruben Harris

Will Robots replace scientists to solve society’s problems

Robotics and automation is transforming the medical profession. We now have doctors using Google Glass during operations, robot surgery in oncology, robot pharmacists preparing 1 million medications per month in a hospital. In pharmaceutical companies artificial intelligent, or machine learning machines, are helping to create drugs.Robotic surgery

These advances are lifesaving and the robotic medical market is already said to bring in several billion dollars per year for robot manufacturers.

One aspect of robots in medicine I find fascinating, which may have a huge impact on solving society’s health problems, and has been developed by the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University in Wales, a Robot Scientist which the researchers believe is the first machine to have independently discovered new scientific knowledge. The robot, called Adam, is a computer system that fully automates the scientific process.

By the way Adam stands for – A Discovery Machine.

Professor Ross King, who led the research, said: “Ultimately we hope to have teams of human and robot scientists working together in laboratories.”

The scientists at Aberystwyth University and the University of Cambridge designed Adam to carry out each stage of the scientific process automatically without the need for further human intervention.

Robot scientists could make research more productive and cost-efficient. Some scientific problems are so complex they require a vast amount of research, and there are simply not enough human scientists to do it all; automation offers our best hope for solving those problems.

The robot, sorry — Adam, has discovered simple but new scientific knowledge about the genomics of the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an organism that scientists use to model more complex life systems. The researchers have used separate manual experiments to confirm that Adam’s hypotheses were both novel and correct.

Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult and irksome for human scientists, but easy for Robot Scientists.

Using artificial intelligence, Adam hypothesised that certain genes in baker’s yeast code for specific enzymes which catalyse biochemical reactions in yeast. The robot then devised experiments to test these predictions, ran the experiments using laboratory robotics, interpreted the results and repeated the cycle.

Professor King’s team believe that their other new robot, Eve, holds great promise for scientists searching for new drugs to combat diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis, an infection caused by a type of parasitic worm in the tropics.

Skeptics say Adam and Eve are not scientists, because they require human input and occasional intervention. But together, human and robot scientists could achieve more than either one alone. Nobel Laureate, Frank Wilczek, has written that in 100 years the best physicist will be a machine.

If science was more efficient it would be better placed to help solve society’s problems. One way to make science more efficient is through automation.

No place for average

Most people work below their capabilities, leading lives of mediocrity and getting by in an ‘average capacity.’ We make promises and commitments to ourselves and to our employers, investors or partners, which we often fail to deliver.

We think we are escaping the rat-race of office cubicles by setting up our own small family High achieversbusiness, but we continue to trudge through our day using a fraction of our talents and capabilities. We get sidetracked reading gossip papers and magazines, sports sites, friends Facebook posts and a myriad of other distracting, attention grabbing time sucks. And yet we still claim we did a hard day’s work! When in fact the days just keep going on and on—like the movie Groundhog Day.

But the problem is, so often only 10% of people are high achievers – nothing, and I mean nothing, is stopping you from being a high achiever, except your own laziness.

This averageness is leaving a trail of misery and debt for our-selves, our loved ones and our children and future generations.

We live in a time, where it seems to me, entitlement prevails. Far too many people believe they are entitled to a high standard of living, they believe they work hard because they show up at the factory, office, institution or small business they own and yet they squander most of the day.

What happened to REAL hard work and ingenuity?

Is it any wonder the newspapers and TV stations, on a daily basis, are announcing that Robots will take your job?

Now of course this does not apply to every profession, I know some high school teachers that work harder than many finance executives and board directors I work with at close quarters. I work with PhD students that work harder than some of the tenured professors and I know many young engineers and behavioral science graduates that are creatively developing Apps and solutions to solve real world problems.

Unless we move from an ‘average,‘ to an ‘augmented’ personal economy, we will suffer and stagnate and lose everything we have worked for including our self-esteem.

Make no mistake about it, robotic and automated technology is changing the way we work, and it WILL displace those that work in an average and mediocre way. No job is safe… there are already robot burger flippers, waitresses are being displaced by automatic ordering services in restaurants, driverless trucks are replacing fork lift drivers, and factory workers, the robot barman is far more efficient and ‘friendlier’ than many bar staff, driverless cars will replace taxi drivers, and even psychiatrists could be displaced, automation has displaced millions of office jobs and will continue to do so. The list is endless and much of it has been happening for years, and suddenly the advances of technology have brought it closer to where it could impact your job no matter what you do.

As head of the AI at Singularity University, Neil Jacobstein, told the BBC. “It isn’t artificial intelligence that keeps me awake at night, it is human stupidity.”

There is absolutely no excuse for mediocrity – but if you choose to live in an average way, don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Which skills will be most in demand in the robot economy?

It seems de rigueur in the press to claim that robots will take our jobs, or drones will be able to make their own decisions, we read often about how advances in technology will lead to our own destruction. The Chief Investment Officer of Blackrock Fundamental Fixed Income even suggested that as many as 35 million jobs in the US may have been displaced by the advances in technology over the last 10 to 15 years.

Frankly I’m tired of the doomsayers. We will always evolve and advances in technology will create jobs. Sure jobs will be displaced … but new ones will be created.

We often hear of the Industrial Revolution being a catalyst for growth, and indeed it was, but also consider the 13th century in England. The 1200s were one of the golden ages of the Middle Ages where businesses flourished as a result of advances in technology. Royal Courts were richly furnished, monasteries grew in abundance, cathedrals rose towards the sky, watermills, windmills, bridges and ports were built all over England. The fact is we have always had cycles where new technologies contributed to new ways of doing business. There has always been and always will be new ways of production, of transportation and new consumer demands in all industries. During the Industrial Revolution advances led us away from lives that were as Hobbes so aptly put it: “nasty, brutish, and short.”

In order to thrive in the new economy those who learn to continuously upgrade their skills and harness technology will increase their worth. Those who do not will stagnate.

This dynamic creates highly skilled, highly productive workers that are increasingly in demand. Salaries for these high-performing workers will continue to grow “creative” workers, as defined by Richard Florida, may command a $61,000 premium in compensation over the average worker.

In his book The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, (New York: Basic Books, 2012, pp. 398-400.) Richard Florida, classified those that will be in demand as:

Super-Creative workers include: computer science and mathematics; architecture and engineering; life, physical, and emotional science; education, training, and library management; and arts, design, entertainment, sports and media studies. Creative workers include: management; business and financial operations; law; health care and technical fields; high-end sales and sales management.

And above all, those that posses strong analytical skills. (See for example: The world needs data scientists).

One area that is and will continue to be in demand was so well written about some 5 or 6 years ago by Marc Andreesen, the man who essentially developed the internet browser (Mosaic, Netscape), and who is acknowledged as a leader within the technology world, with ownership positions in companies such as Skype (now sold to Microsoft), Twitter and has held (or still holds) board positions at FaceBook, HP, and eBay, among others:

Which undergraduate degrees are useful in the real world?

Typically, those that have a technical element of some form — that teach you how to do something substantive.

Engineering degrees obviously qualify. The current myth that engineering and computer science degrees are less useful because all the jobs are going to India and China is silliness; ignore it.

Hard science degrees — physics, chemistry — also clearly qualify, as do mathematics and economics.

Why do I take this stance?

Technical degrees teach you how to do something difficult and useful that matters in the real world. Even if you don’t end up actually doing what the degree teaches you how to do, going through the experience of learning how to do it will help you go through other serious learning experiences in your career. Complexity and difficulty will not faze you.

Plus, technical degrees teach you how to think like an engineer, a scientist, an economist, or a mathematician — how to use reason, logic, and data. This is incredibly useful in the real world, which generally demands rigorous thinking on the path to doing anything big.

Plus, technical degrees indicate seriousness of purpose to future employers and partners. You get coded right up front as someone who is intent on doing real things.

Marc’s companies and investments in early stage entities have added billions of dollars to the world economy, changed the way many of us communicate, learn and do business. Indeed created channels of accelerating and improving the way we do business, enabling our own businesses to prosper and in the process possibly created tens of thousands of new jobs.

Marc’s philosophy, and now mentoring and investments into new companies, has been the bedrock of economic growth and with it substantial job creation and innovation of new tools that add real value to the world.

In another blog post Marc indicated his hiring preference of engineers.

I think as the robot economy continues its upward spiral of growth we would be well advised to follow his suggestion.

US Military to spend $23.9 billion on drones and unmanned systems

In late December the US Department of Defense releases its biannual Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap which: “will be critical to U.S. operations in all domains across a range of conflicts, both because of their capability and performance advantages and because of their ability to take greater risk than manned systems.”

As unmanned systems have proven their worth on the ‘battlefield,’ the DoD has allocated an increasing percentage of its budget to developing and acquiring these systems. As the roadmap indicates Unmanned systems have proven they can:

“Enhance situational awareness, reduce human workload, improve mission performance, and minimize overall risk to both civilian and military personnel, and all at a reduce cost.”

With dramatic increases in battery life and computer processing, robotics; reduction in size and complexity of sensors; and improvements in reliability, maintainability, automation, and operator interfaces, unmanned systems are now vital components of the military’s operational commander’s tool kit.

The roadmap indicates that over the last decade: “Growth in unmanned platforms of all sizes and shapes has been substantial.” The five year budget for Drones and other Unmanned Systems is set at US$ 23,883.2 billion. (Or approximately US$4.8 billion per year.)

UAS budget

For most people, the term unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is closely associated with the U.S. Air Force’s Predator or Global Hawk aircraft. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), however, is a more accurate and complete term which includes the aircraft as well as supporting ground, air, and communications infrastructure.

The three areas of the US DoD budget are:

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

DoD defines unmanned aircraft as “an aircraft or balloon that does not carry a human operator and is capable of flight under remote control or autonomous programming.”

Therefore, when the aircraft is under remote control, it is not autonomous. And when it is autonomous, it is not under remote control. While these two conditions could exist (controlled and uncontrolled), current DoD UAS are remotely operated and capitalize on automation in extreme circumstances, such as a lost link condition, to automatically perform a preprogrammed set of instructions. This distinction is important because our community vernacular often uses the term “autonomy” to incorrectly describe automated operations. UAS

The roadmap notes that:

“Research and development in automation are advancing from a state of automatic systems requiring human control toward a state of autonomous systems able to make decisions and react without human interaction.”

Yep, you read that right, drones could become autonomous and able to make decisions without human guidance. Although presumably somewhere they will need to have been programmed? The roadmap seeks to address many legal, policy, and ethical issues around this.

Unmanned Ground Systems

UGS are a powered physical system with (optionally) no human operator aboard the principal platform, which can act remotely to accomplish assigned tasks. UGS may be mobile or stationary, can be smart learning and self-adaptive, and include all associated supporting components such as operator control units.

The DoD puts an emphasize on these systems and their vision for increasing spend beyond 2016:

“This vision continues to be strengthened as ground-based robots have proven their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan across a spectrum of mission areas.”

The areas are shown in the next photo:


Unmanned Maritime Systems

UMS comprise unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs), which include both unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs), all necessary support components.


The DoD roadmap illustrates a futuristic storyline which gives insight into the capabilities that could come about with today’s emerging technologies applied on future unmanned systems and is well worth reading.

Additionally the DoD is further considering a future leaner military with more advanced technological capabilities and assessing:

“Quantum computing, microelectronics, robotics, nanomaterials, genetics, “big data,” alternative energy sources, advanced materials, and modeling and simulation. Technologies that have the potential to significantly enhance or transform the nature of warfare in the sea, land, air and space, and cyber regimes.”

“Realization of this goal will decrease physical and cognitive workloads on our warfighters, while increasing their combat capabilities. The end state is an affordable, modernized force as a manned-unmanned team with improved movement and maneuver, protection, intelligence, and sustainment.

Unmanned systems is expected to be an US$ 89 billion market over the next 5 years and it is clear the US Department of Defense aim to be a major party in developing and protecting their lead in the market.