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tv   Studio 1.0  Bloomberg  March 22, 2015 6:30am-7:01am EDT

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sam: we are finding it, we are testing it, we are there as they build it. we are on a quest to show you the most cutting-edge companies on the brink of the future. tonight, we visit the epicenter of the american robotics industry, boston. i will start at irobot, the pioneering company at the heart of it all. >> it has a very mars rover quality to it. rachel: i will meet baxter, whose goal is to bring american jobs back from overseas. sam: i will visit harvest automation, which is developing robots to do the back-breaking work no one wants to do. >> our goal is to revolutionize agriculture. >> "bloomberg brink."
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companies that break the mold, convention, boundaries. and the future of technology, design, and industry. rachel: we were just in boston, which is the epicenter of the robotics industry. sam: it is. there are now more 100 robotics companies scattered around boston. the grand patriarch of this whole scene is irobot. many of these newer, smaller robotics companies were all started by former employees of irobot. rachel: irobot makes the roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner. sam: they do, and that is still their most famous robot, but irobot also makes robots for the military, the police. robots that will go anywhere you
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do not want to be or cannot be. ♪ >> so much has been done in hollywood around how robots will impact our lives. we set off to figure out what is keeping us from having the robots that we all dreamed of, and it has been an amazing journey. one of the exciting applications for robotics is to allow people to actually physically be somewhere they're not. if i could attend a meeting, if i could diagnose a patient from my office as opposed to having to travel, then the world would be a different place. sam: since you have started in the boston area, there have been many more robotics companies that have taken hold here, some of which actually come out of your company, is that correct? >> absolutely. boston has become the center of the universe from the
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perspective of practical mobile robotics. there is no better place in the world to start a robot company than right here where you have all of this expertise. sam: is this your testing facility? >> this is our outdoor test area where we run our robots through their paces. packbot is our best seller. there are over 3500 of these out in service. these went onto afghanistan. we did some of the cave investigations. the whole idea is -- how do we keep the operator in a safe location while the robot goes into a potentially dangerous environment? we have a camera at the end of the arm. the camera can rotate, provide 360 degrees coverage inside the vehicle. sam: tell me a little bit about how the packbot was used in the investigation following the boston marathon bombing. >> it was used in the investigation of the suspects' vehicle. it was able to search the trunk, search the car for a threat
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within that vehicle. i will take you down to the next level. we call this the first look. you make it simple to operate. you pick up a controller and drive it immediately. it has four cameras on each of the quadrants. if it didn't land right-side up, it knows it is upside down, and it will flip itself right-side up. it can climb up over curbs, it can climb up over rocks. sam: so we have just come from small and cute to massive and hard-core. >> that is exactly right. warrior -- designed for explosive ordinance disposal, designed for heavy lift. this is a very fast robot and the maneuverability that you get is pretty amazing. sam: there we go.
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come on, warrior. daddy is thirsty. bring me my beer. so, chris, i have been around and seen what irobot has been working on for the present, but i understand this is where you guys are making the future. >> that is right. sam: this looks like a space man's hand or something. >> this is actually a space suit glove that is filled with air. in addition to being inflated with air, there are tendons here that allow each of the digits to flex. sam: oh, look at that. that is crazy. may i? >> of course. sam: it is inflated, it is still squishy. very cool. with all the advancements that you are working on, what are some of the applications that you envision? >> manipulating objects in the world. a robot 10 years in the future can interact in the home, pick up objects for you, bring them
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to you. they can do tasks for you. sam: you talk about the context of presence, which is something that keeps coming up around here. it used to mean virtual presence meant you have visual and audio information. i can see and hear. what you are working on now provides an additional sense, an actual touch. >> that's right. let me show you a robotic hand. very easy to control. i can actually -- each of the fingers, like this, it also has tactile sensing. do you want to put a baseball in? sam: yes, sure. >> all right. does it have a good grip? sam: yeah, it does. i have been here at irobot for a little while. i have seen robots that have military and police applications. you have an entirely different
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environment that irobot has been working on trying to bring robotics into. >> absolutely. let me show you the rp-vita that we've recently launched for hospital environments. it allows doctors to be at the bedside of patients even though they may be thousands of miles away and still do the consultation. sam: i hear something coming, and here it is, but you are not doing anything. >> i am not doing anything. it is driving by itself. i simply asked it to come. this could be of course the doctor coming to do a consultation. it has a monitoring camera. it allows the doctor remotely to be able to talk and see the patient. sam: this is working in hospitals. i would imagine that there are other applications. you are talking about telepresence, extending people's ability to be in other places. that is not necessarily limited to just hospitals. >> you are right. we just partnered with cisco to bring to market the first
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business collaboration robot. we enable the freedom of the remote worker to be wherever they need to be at their own control. once you are in a person's office or conference room, you could turn around and look at the whiteboard, look at the various people in the room, and it gives you the feeling of a physical presence. sam: so i could be at home, and so long as i am wearing a shirt up top, but if i am going full porky pig, i could have nothing going on here and nobody would know. >> we will leave that up to you. sam: ok, very good. >> this remote-presence concept is exciting and has such a disruptive potential for caring for our elders or my visiting france on a whim. now, as a result, the world is a little smaller and a little more connected. rachel: what was the inspiration for this charming-looking face
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right here? >> the face always looks where baxter is about to move, so you are not surprised by its motion, and so you are comfortable being around it. ♪
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sam: the entire robotics scene in boston is very much interconnected through irobot, which was cofounded by rodney
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brooks and colin angle. brooks having taught angle at m.i.t., but rodney brooks now has his own robotics company called rethink robotics, which i know you just revisited. what did you see when you went there? rachel: i got to meet and spend time with baxter, a manufacturing robot created in order to take on chinese manufacturing and bring back jobs to the u.s. sam: isn't the conventional wisdom that robots will take jobs away from human beings? rachel: that is not how brooks sees it. he believes it will create american jobs by stopping companies from outsourcing. >> we will have a lot more robots in all parts of our lives. it will be a symbiosis between people and robots. at rethink robotics, we are trying to build robots that ordinary people can use in factories. baxter is a robot that can go into factories which would never have had robots before. the factory workers can work side-by-side with and train to
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do simple tasks. rachel: this is baxter. i am anxious to meet baxter. i have heard so much about it. >> it is a robot that is meant for small companies that have never had robots before. the idea with baxter is it is easy for people in factories to train it to do new tasks. traditional robots are not sensing the world around them. that robot is going this way, and you happen to be there. it will keep going and it will be bad. baxter is aware of its surroundings. it has a sonar ring around the top that detects where people are. if it runs into you, it stops. rachel: show me what this guy can do. >> baxter will sort the boxes using this scale. if the box is small enough, the weight will pass, and baxter will put the part on the bench. if it is heavier, then it will be a fail, and baxter will put the part in the trash bin. >> it will pick up that first object.
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it decided that one is the right weight, so it will put it on the table. now it is going off to get another part. >> this is not the part we want to take. baxter will weigh it, and it will fail. >> it rejects that. now it will get another part. why don't you grab that out of his hand and we will see what baxter does? a little common sense, oh, the part is gone, so it goes to get the next part, whereas a traditional robot would have just gone through the sequence with nothing in its hand. rachel: what was the inspiration for this charming-looking face right here? >> the face always looks where baxter is about to move, so you are not surprised by its motions and you are comfortable being around it. rachel: when we talk about robots and manufacturing, there is always a question of the robots displacing jobs. >> what we are doing is getting american workers productivity tools. it makes american workers more productive, so instead of having to send money overseas to
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low-cost labor places, the money can stay in the country, and the manufacturing can be done here. it is important to me that we make our robots be usable by ordinary workers. just an ordinary worker is a very smart person, much smarter than the robots are going to be for 50 or 100 or 200 years. it is like when the pc came to offices, it did not get rid of office workers -- it raised up the game for office workers, who can do so much more now. rachel: i just saw a complicated task that baxter was able to do. how does it learn that? how was it trained? >> someone in the factory shows him how to do it, and i will let kyle teach you to teach baxter. >> you will train baxter to grab. we will place them on that other bench. so you will grab baxter's cup and put it up on some of this. now you will take the arm. place the cup in the direction. rachel: ok. >> now that you have placed it, it, go ahead and press run. >> now it is doing its thing. >> yep. you just trained baxter do a task.
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>> we have a version of the robot we call the baxter research robot. it has been shipped to universities all over the country. they are using it as a research platform to try out other ideas in robotics. >> this is our baxter robot. we got it a month ago. we would use it for research on how robots can recognize objects and interact physically with the world. rachel: what are you using these 3d models for? >> you can send that off to other robots that are more mobile in the field. >> a lot of our work is geared to robots in harsh environments in the ocean and space, so we learn about objects and how to physically interact with them here and translate that to other robots in the field. robots that might be for the military or the offshore industry. baxter is cheap enough that you might think of having one baxter per grad student. it lets us think of new ways to
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use them that might not have been feasible before. >> baxter will let thousands of people work on ideas with robots, and they will be applying it to the biggest problems of the world. i think it is limitless. >> oh, grommet! >> grommet thinks i am a plant. sam: i am a little jealous that they keep going to you. >> it will go to you now. sam: check it out. that's right -- come get some. yeah. ♪
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rachel: sam, you visited another company that emerged from irobot? sam: i did -- i spent some time at harvest automation. they are building these little robots that can move potted plants around nurseries. rachel: aren't the robots at harvest automation taking the jobs that baxter could, potentially? sam: the jobs being replaced are jobs nobody wants to do anymore. harvest is hoping their robots can be the alternative. ♪ >> harvest automation is bringing smart, nimble, autonomous robots into the field
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of agriculture. agriculture faces big challenges in the demands in the next 30 years, and we believe robotics will play a big role there. sam: these are some robots. >> yes. sam: does it have a name? >> it is harvey. sam: hello, harvey. >> we started out, as engineers do, giving it a serial number, so it was the hv-harvest vehicle 100. we had a visitor in one day who said you should call it harvey. it immediately stuck. each robot also has a name. this is astro. this we call the gripper. stand back a little here. sam: ok. >> this robot is designed to pick up and move plants that are grown in containers. when the plant is small, they can have the containers close together on the ground. as the plants grow, they need space for the plants to grow out. they have to put them out in these huge fields. this industry has $17 billion in
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the united states. the important thing we realized a few years ago is they have huge labor problems. >> farm workers in this country -- the availability of people to do that work has been in decline over the past 10 years or 15 years. historically, farms in the u.s. have relied on migrant labor from countries south of the border. increasingly, those people are choosing to stay in their own countries. we saw a real opportunity to bring robotics in to take on some of the tasks that have historically been done by people. >> there have been a lot of failures in robotics because roboticists tend to love robots to death. instead of treating robots like products, they treat robots like they are inventing the future. if you build a product, there has to be a market demand for it, and once a product is built, it needs to be priced in a way that is competitive. sam: what is all of this?
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>> this is our roadkill robot. this is where we test all of the components and the circuit boards before they go on the robot. we haven't invented a lot of new components. as much as possible, we buy off-the-shelf components. the computer is one that might be in a cell phone. the cell phones drive the cost of these things down. sam: there are a lot of cell phones in the world. it is very cheap. >> if we can use that technology, we can piggyback on that and get something that is not too expensive. ♪ sam: what did you learn from the creation of roomba that you were able to bring to the creation of harvey? >> with roomba, you know what it does. it basically moves around the floor and does not get stuck. what i was looking for next was something that was one technology step more difficult. our robot also moves around a fairly flat surface, but it adds one element. it changes the environment. it turns out that that is a really useful application in our industry.
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>> this is our test farm. what we are trying to do is simulate to the best of our ability the conditions that our customers will see at commercial nurseries around the world. sam: how do the robots know where to go? how do they know what to do? >> they are pretty simple little critters. they just have a few things they need to know about. that is what they focus on. they start up and they do not have a plant. and they say ok, i need a plant. they have a sensor that lets them see the plant. sam: there are some plants over there. i want to get one of those. >> i will get one of those. i find the plant and pick it up. now what do i need? i need a boundary tape. i found the boundary tape. now i will follow that tape. i will keep following that tape until i see more plants. now i see more plants ahead me and i see the pattern of plants. and it says where is the next hole in the pattern? there is the hole -- that is where my plant goes. sam: i think i know what is coming next. >> so i don't have a plant anymore, i need a plant.
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back to the beginning. sam: there is one pot left. he has got it. what will grommet do? >> grommet thinks i am a plant. sam: i am a little jealous they keep going to you. i'm right here, guys. >> it will go to you now. sam: check it out. that's right -- come get some. yeah. >> in agricultural, more and more, you will see small robots out in the fields taking care of the crops, making sure every plant gets exactly what it needs when it needs it, and thereby maximizing the yield. >> what we are working on now is a machine that will work with harvey to do things like trimming the plants and apply herbicides and pesticides, fully automating the maintenance of the plant. if we can gather the right data and deliver chemicals in a targeted way, we can get higher yields from the same acre of ground. >> our goal is to revolutionize agriculture. the world is going to be tasked
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in the next 30 years to 40 years to produce 70% more food. it will have to do that with finite resources. the same amount of land. the same amount of water. we see that robotics will play a big role in solving that food problem in the next 30 years or 40 years. ♪
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♪ cory: from pier 3 in san francisco, welcome to "bloomberg west," where we focus on innovation, technology and the future of business. i'm cory johnson. every weekend we bring you the "best of west," the top interviews with the power players in technology and media. to our top stories. silicon valley's football team, the san francisco 49ers are getting ready to host the super bowl 50 in levi stadium in santa clara next year, right in the belly of silicon valley. i spoke with yahoo! chairman maynard webb, big 49ers fan and


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