TECHNOLOGY

ROBOTICS

INTRODUCTION

Robotics is the technology that involves the physical embodiment of artificial intelligence in robots, which are machines that substitute for humans, and replicate human actions. George Devol dropped out of school before he got to college to become a self-taught genius inventor who, in 1954, invented the world’s first robot.

The initial robots were really programmed arms, but now there are many versions of bipedal robots, which are becoming increasingly lifelike with soft ‘skins’, considerable dexterity, and programming that enables them to carry on limited conversations. Development is ongoing to add social intelligence, such as reading body language, and recognizing and expressing (but not feeling) emotions.

Robots are being used in a wide range of situations, especially those where it would be dangerous for humans. In addition to manufacturing and warehousing, robots are used in:

  • Almost every area of agriculture
  • The military (soldiers, bomb disposal)
  • Construction (painting, carpentry, home-building, security guards)
  • Food services (preparation, service, delivery)
  • Personal services (hairdressing, teaching, elder care, sign language interpretation)
  • Disaster management (decommissioning nuclear facilities)

A recent and interim approach is ‘cobots’, which are robots working alongside humans. Robotics technology is being used to create powered exoskeletons, which are worn by humans to increase their natural capabilities. (They are worn by construction workers to increase their upper body strength, and by people, who have lost the use of their legs, to walk.) Perhaps the most sobering innovation is robots teaching other robots!

Replacement of humans by robots is the most obvious form of job loss. Current manufacturing employment in the US is estimated to be 8 million less than if robots were not used. A study estimated that one robot replaces over 6 workers (and that does not include the reduction in management and employment services). The UK is expected to lose 15 million jobs to automation, much of which will be achieved using robots.

The fear expressed by many is that robots will become so powerful that they will decide there is no further need for fallible (stupid?) humans. A more likely eventuality is that the evolution of robots and humans will merge into the science fiction cyborgs. The intelligence and physical capabilities of robots will evolve beyond that of current humans (the Singularity, forecast to occur in the 2040s). But while that is happening, the ability of humans to access AI via the internet (with wireless links to frontal cortices) will expand human intelligence, and the same science used to create robots will be used to improve humans’ physical abilities (with augmented limbs and senses).

Besides manufacturing, two industries particularly impacted by robotics are medicine and retail. The associated robotic technologies warrant separate pages.

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A tour of the world’s first robot-staffed hotel (Service/Hotel – 2019-01 – Wall Street Journal)

Picking peppers (Robotics/Home – 2018-12 – CNBC)

Machines replacing humans (Robotics/Home – 2018-04 – John Wong)

UK farmers can use this soft robot to help with crop picking (Robotics/Farmwork – 2018-03 – ZDNet)

Use of robotics to handle labor shortage on the farm (Robotics/Farmwork & Bees – 2018-03 – TechRepublic)

Robots hit record shipments in 2017 with continued demand growth in several industries (Robotics – 2018-02 – ZDNet)

Using robots to develop drought-resistant corn crops (Robotics – 2018-01 – ZDNet)

 

REVIEW THESE INFORMATIVE ARTICLES - AND READ THOSE THAT INTEREST YOU

Researchers develop an origami-inspired robot hand with a gentle touch (2019-03 - TechRadar)

Researchers at MIT and Harvard have found a novel solution to the problem of building a robot that’s strong enough to lift an object 100 times its own weight, but gentle enough not to crush something fragile. The result is a robot ‘hand’ with a folding structure that collapses around an object to hold it securely.

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A record number of robots were put to work across North America in 2018 (2019-02 - CNBC))

Robots took on a record number of jobs in U.S., Canada and Mexico last year, according to the Robotic Industries Association. Shipments of robotic units to U.S. firms alone increased by 15% from 2017.

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India just swore in its first robot police officer (Service/Policing - 2019-02 - Futurism.com)

India just swore in its first robotic police officer (‘KP-Bot). The animatronic-looking machine was granted the rank of sub-inspector and will operate the front desk of Thiruvananthapuram police headquarters.

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Your next personal trainer could be a robot (Service/Sports & Fitness - 2019-02 - ZdNet)

A new study from ETH Zurich, Switzerland demonstrated that people learned new rowing skills faster when a robot taught them how to do it using behavior feedback. This simple concept could also be applied to other examples of motor learning.

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Your babysitter could be a robot (Service/Childcare - 2019-01 - Leapmag)

The iPal from China’s AvatarMind Robot Technology is a $2,500 child-sized humanoid robot with a round head, expressive face and articulated fingers, which can keep children engaged and entertained. iPal talks, dances, plays games, reads stories and plugs into social media and the internet, adapting to a child’s likes and dislikes.

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Robotic lawn mower trims your grass autonomously (Service/Gardening - 2019-01 - Engadget)

iRobot, the manufacturer of Roomba, will introduce the Terra, a robotic lawn mower, in 2019 in Germany and the US. You set boundaries with wireless beacons, and drive Terra around the perimeter once. Terra will operate on a schedule with mowing parameters, and will return to a charging base whenever necessary.

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How self-driving tractors, AI, and precision agriculture will save us from the impending food crisis (Robotics - 2018-12 - ZdNet)

John Deere’s test farm has helped increase overall farm productivity. In 1940 the average American farmer fed 19 people/year; today 155 people. For individual crops, corn and soybean yields in the US grew by 61% and 29% (1980-2015). Detailed pdf downloads available.

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Chinese robotic news anchor (Robotics - 2018-12 - Technology.org)

On Nov 9, 2018, there was a 30-second appearance of a robot news anchor. The Chinese AI robot, Qiu Hao, was dressed in a suit and tie, and it was difficult to detect any non-human flaw or aspect.

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Robotic procedures in food manufacturing (Robotics - 2018-12 - Technology.org)

Robots are being used in food manufacturing for food handling (picking and packaging), quality control, palletizing, and for distribution and supply chain processes. They can also be used to form food, and to cut, slice, and grind food products.

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The British Army is carrying out a massive test of military robots and drones (Robotics - 2018-11 - MIT Technology Review)

The British Army is testing out over 70 new technologies, including unmanned vehicles and surveillance drones, in a four-week experiment on one of its biggest training grounds.

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Self-driving robots modernize materials handling (Robotics - 2018-11 - Zdnet)

A rapid shift toward automation in e-commerce distribution centers and manufacturing plants has led to autonomous vision-guided pallet jacks, forklifts, industrial tuggers, and other factory and warehouse vehicles.

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First autonomous robotic farm in the US opens (Robotics - 2018-10 - MIT Technology Review)

Iron Ox has opened its first production facility in California. The 8,000-square-foot indoor hydroponic facility will be producing leafy greens at a rate of roughly 26,000 heads a year. This is the next step in the company’s vision of a fully autonomous farm where software and robotics fill the place of human agricultural workers.

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This Japanese robot contractor can install drywall (Robotics - 2018-10 - The Verge)

Japan’s Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has developed a humanoid robot that can carry out simple construction tasks, like installing drywall. The research institute is aiming for autonomous replacement of labor at assembly sites for large structures, such as buildings, houses, aircrafts, and ships.

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Ground-breaking robotic solutions in subterranian deployments (Robotics - 2018-10 - Technology.org)

A team of international researchers from Nevada, Zurich, California, Berkeley, and Lausanne are developing robotic solutions in subterranean deployments, with a system of walking and flying robots, equipped with multi-modal perception systems, navigation and mapping autonomy, and self-organized networked communications that enable navigation, exploration, mapping, and object search in complex underground settings.

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US$150M factory in Shanghai designed for robots to build robots (Robotics - 2018-10 - Engadget)

Swiss robotics company ABB is spending US$150 million to build an advanced robotics factory in Shanghai, using robots to build robots. Its YuMi single-arm robots will perform small parts assembly.

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Robots used for pre and post processing of 3D-printing (Robotics - 2018-10 - Metal AM)

Swedish start-up Digital Metal is launching a fully-automated production system, using 3D-printing with robots performing pre and post production functions.

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Robots are being used in hotels for room delivery and concierge services (Robotics - 2018-09 - Miami Herald)

Robotic concierge roam through hotels, hospitals and casinos, giving directions, serving snacks and beverages, using the elevator, and performing bellhop duties. The machines are fully automatic, using digital mapping to travel to and from rooms at 3 mph. Singapore manufacturer Techmatics has robots in casinos and hospitals at over 100 venues. Santa-Clara technology company Savioke has robots in greater than 70 hotels across the world.

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Harvesting marijuana with robots is hard (Robotics - 2018-09 - ZDNet)

Boston-area Bloom Automation will deploy smart robots that can harvest the sensitive marijuana crop at twice the efficiency of human harvesters. The robotic harvester uses machine vision and path planning algorithms to isolate clusters of flowers, segmenting the plant into the flower, branch, and leaf for clipping effectiveness.

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New social robot will be likeable and appear fond of people (Robotics - 2018-09 - Technology.org)

Stanford researchers are designing a social robot that can manoeuver closely around humans, operating as a generalized personal helpers: delivering packages, cleaning house, and grabbing a snack from the fridge.

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Stanford's polite, pedestrian social robot (Robotics - 2018-09 - Technology.org)

Stanford researchers are designing a social robot that can manoeuver closely around humans, operating as a generalized personal helpers: delivering packages, cleaning house, and grabbing a snack from the fridge.

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Robot picks nearly-ripe bell peppers (Robotics - 2018-09 - Wired)

Researchers in Israel and Europe have developed a robot (‘Sweeper’) that autonomously roams a greenhouse, finding peppers ready to be cut, saws them off the plant, and places them in a basket.

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Culturally-sensitive robots will care for the elderly (Robotics - 2018-09 - Futurism)

Researchers want robots to help elderly people with everything from staying active to remembering their medications, and to do so with a sense of cultural norms.

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Gita will carry your stuff and follow you everywhere (Robotics - 2018-08 - Entrepreneur)

Designed to transport items, Gita is a blue 26″ ball-shaped robot that features 2 wheels, a hard shell, and several cameras and sensors. A human wears an electronic belt to guide it, but Gita can also roll autonomously in a pre-mapped area. Gita can carry up to 40 lbs, and travel at 22 mph.

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The software robot invasion is underway (Robotics - 2018-08 - ZDNet)

Consulting firm Protiviti’s research shows a growing demand for Robotic Process Automation, which involves the use of software robots to handle any rules-based repetitive tasks quickly and cost effectively.

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Mind-reading robots (Robotics - 2018-08 - FastCompany)

New research developed at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) lets a person control a robotic arm with brainwaves and subtle hand gestures. The idea is to create an interface that acts like an extension of a person’s will, without any training or learning any mental commands.

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Human bankers are losing to robots as Nordea sets a new standard (Robotics - 2018-07 - Bloomberg)

Sweden’s Nordea Bank CEO expects banks to halve its workforce within 10 years, with automation and robots taking over from people in everything from asset management to call centres.

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Robotic arm for multitasking can be controlled with thoughts (Robotics - 2018-07 - ZDNet)

Researchers at Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Japan demonstrated how people can use an extra robotic arm to multitask, controlling it with their minds.

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Robot bartenders are starting to be used (Robotics - 2018-07 - Wall Street Journal)

The mixologist at the Tipsy Robot in Las Vegas is a two-armed robot, able to shake, stir, muddle and garnish, that makes <120 cocktails an hour. Show full article 

Teaching robots to be more reliable teammates for soldiers (Robotics - 2018-07 - Science Daily)

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new technique to quickly teach robots novel traversal behaviors with minimal human oversight.

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Why China is spending billions to develop an army of robots to turbocharge its economy (Robotics - 2018-06 - CNBC)

Wages in China are rising, and it’s becoming harder to compete with cheap labor. An aging population also necessitates automation. Robotic growth is forecast to exceed 20 percent annually through 2020.

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Combining the latest advances in AI with robots could transform manufacturing and warehousing (Robotics - 2018-06 - MIT Technology Review)

Robots from San Francisco’s Osaro have adaptive gripping skills. They can identify objects in front of them, study how they behave when poked, pushed, and grasped, and then decide how to handle them – and the robots continue to learn from experience.

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Robots complete tasks by simply observing humans (Robotics - 2018-06 - Cnet)

Nvidia’s researchers have built a unique deep learning-based system that allows robots to learn how to do a task by simply watching human beings do that task. The technology is designed to enhance communication between humans and robots, helping them to work more seamlessly.

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The software robot invasion is underway (Robotics - 2018-06 - ZDNet)

Consulting firm Protiviti’s research shows a growing demand for Robotic Process Automation, which involves the use of software robots to handle any rules-based repetitive tasks quickly and cost effectively.

Show full article 

Mind-reading robots (Robotics - 2018-06 - FastCompany)

New research developed at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) lets a person control a robotic arm with brainwaves and subtle hand gestures. The idea is to create an interface that acts like an extension of a person’s will, without any training or learning any mental commands.

Show full article 

Robot puts hospital gown on a person (Robotics - 2018-05 - Futurism)

Researchers from Georgia Tech are working on a robot that can help a person get dressed. So far, it can successfully thread one sleeve of a dressing gown onto a person’s arm.

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The first robot-assisted spinal surgery is successful using Da Vinci robotic arms (Robotics - 2018-05 - Engadget)

The University of Pennsylvania performed the first-ever robot-assisted spinal surgery, using Da Vinci’s robotic arms to remove a rare tumor where a spine meets a. The successful two-day operation involved neurosurgeons preparing the spine using ultrasonic cuts, and the robot clearing a path for removing the tumor through the mouth.

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Operational functionality for industrial robots is being provided by 3rd-party suppliers (Robotics - 2018-05 - ZDNet)

The big change in robotics is cobots (robots working alongside humans on a line). Major robotics players are building task-agnostic, highly customizable industrial robots using open-source architecture. Third-party suppliers are providing the operational functionality, such as a 3D vision system that allows robots to identify pick points on items of different shapes and sizes.

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AI-powered weed hunters could soon reduce the need for herbicides and genetically modified crops (Robotics - 2018-05 - MIT Technology Review)

Robots, like the one created by ecoRobotix, will be able to roll through fields, using computer vision to target and spray individual weeds as they go. EcoRobotix claims its robo-brigade will decrease total herbicide use by a factor of 20.

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3D-printed hydrogel humanoid goes for an underwater walk (Robotics - 2018-05 - New Atlas)

Researchers at Rutgers University have developed a smart gel that can be 3D-printed into a variety of shapes, and electrically-activated to make it “walk” underwater, grab and move objects.

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Deep-learning system that lets robots learn from human demonstration (Robotics - 2018-05 - TechRepublic)

Nvidia researchers have created a deep-learning system that can teach a robot simply by observing a human’s actions. Researchers trained neural networks that incorporated perception, program generation, and ultimate execution.

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Japanese are not scared of robots stealing jobs (Robotics - 2018-05 - CNBC)

Japan’s labor force does not mind robots in factories because they’re seen as a source of help, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso said. Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is home to a rapidly shrinking population that’s produced an extremely tight labor market.

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Robots will steal more jobs from women than men in some countries (Robotics - 2018-04 - TechRepublic)

Women in the US and UK are more likely to lose their job to a robot than men, while British female workers are much more likely to lose their jobs than American women, American men are safer from losing their jobs than British men. Japan has the highest potential for workers to lose their jobs to machines (63% for women, 65% for men).

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A self-cleaning robotic kitchen will prepare an entire meal in less than three minutes (Robotics/Kitchen - 2018-04 - New Yorker)

The Spyce Kitchen is a self-cleaning, steel-encased, robotic kitchen, designed to prepare an entire meal in less than three minutes. A glass façade shows 7 cameras watching over its functioning. The National Sanitation Foundation has cleared the Spyce Kitchen for commercial use in a Boston fast-casual restaurant.

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New garbage-sorting bots are as reliable as humans and much faster (Robotics/Recycling - 2018-04 - NBC News)

Trash-sorting robots are being used in recycling plants, using cameras to recognize specific objects, and robotic arms with suction cups or oversized tongs to flick them into bins of different materials. The robots are already just as accurate as human workers, and up to twice as fast.

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Robots handling tools with greater dexterity and sensitivity (Robotics - 2018-04 - FastCompany)

Robots in Singapore have assembled flat-packed IKEA furniture, using arms, grippers, sensors and 3D cameras. The frame of an IKEA dining chair was assembled in around 20 minutes.

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Japanese companies are using robots to help build skyscrapers (Robotics/High-rises - 2018-04 - MIT Technology Review)

Japanese companies are using robots in the construction of skyscrapers to weld beams, move supplies, and install ceiling panels. This only represents about 1% of the total labour.

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Robot shows visitors around the Smithsonian while telling factoids and answering questions (Robotics/Tour Guides - 2018-04 - CNet)

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is using interactive 4-foot-tall humanoid robots, created by Softbank, which donated 30 robots to the museum in 2017. Pepper is programmed to answer commonly-asked questions, and tell stories. The robot can react and make gestures and is equipped with an interactive touchscreen.

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Robots could replace human crop pickers (Robotics/Farmwork - 2018-03 - ZDNet)

Researchers from the University of Plymouth have created GummiArm, a soft robot capable of crop picking, which has two arms and soft joints. Cameras and sensors built into the robot’s ‘hands’ produce 3D models of objects in real-time, allowing the robot to assess which produce — such as cauliflower, cabbage, or broccoli — to pick or to leave. Soft joints and appendages backed up by robotic materials can provide the strength to pick without damaging crops. Commercialization is expected in the next two to three years.

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Use of Robotics to handle labour shortage on the farm (Robotics/Farmwork & Bees - 2018-03 - TechRepublic)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has a long history of robotics research, with a fast-growing area being agriculture. Projects include a calibrated, intelligent sprayer that can identify grapes and leaves, applying sprays accurately; A small drone to pollinate flowers, and tomato flowers; and a sweet pepper harvesting-robot.

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Robot will crawl through pipes to help decommission nuclear facility (Robotics/Maintenance - 2018-03 - ZDNet)

Robots have found a particularly important niche working in radioactive and toxic environments. After the Fukushima disaster, Japanese roboticists have created several robots capable of surviving, if only for a few minutes, inside the compromised reactor cores. Decommissioning the Piketon, Ohio facility will be helped by 2 customized autonomous robots, developed at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, which will identify uranium deposits on pipe walls, costly when done by human workers.

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MIT’s robot carpenters will saw wood for you (Robotics/Carpentry - 2018-02 - The Verge)

Researchers from MIT have created a new system of robot-assisted carpentry that could make custom furniture and fittings creation safer, easier, and cheaper. AutoSaw is made up of design software and semi-autonomous robots. Users select a template and then adjust for size and shape. This robots autonomously pick up and saw the necessary materials to the correct size. Then users put the finished product together.

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Robots hit record shipments in 2017 with continued demand growth in several industries (Robotics - 2018-02 - ZDNet)

Sales of robotics, machine vision, and motion control technologies set new growth records in North America in 2017, according to the Association for Advancing Automation. Customers bought 34,904 robotic units ($1.9 billion sales). The largest growth rates were from the plastics and rubber, metals, and food and consumer goods sectors, while automotive orders declined.

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Japanese robots appointed teaching assistants (Robotics - 2018-01 - Technology.org)

The Technical University of Denmark has invested in two robots from the Japanese SoftBank Robotics. The 4-wheeled humanoid robots are designed to interact and communicate with people. They are able to recognize faces and ‘read’ feelings by analyzing facial expressions and tone of voice, adapting their own tone of voice and choice of words to match.

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AI-fortified robot will build first homes for humans on Mars (Robotics - 2018-01 - Wired.com)

For the past decade, German space agency DLR has been refining a humanoid bot, ‘Justin’, to build the first Martian habitat for humans. Justin can handle tools, shoot and upload photos, catch flying objects, and navigate obstacles – and now, using a new AI upgrade, Justin can think for itself to perform complex tasks, including cleaning and maintaining machinery, inspecting equipment, and carrying objects.

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