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Senior Vice President, Toyota Research Institute on the Difficulty of Building the Perfect Home Robot • TechCrunch

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earlier this weekThe Toyota Research Institute opened the doors of its Bay Area offices to members of the media for the first time. It was a day full of demos, from driving simulators and drifting coaches to talks about machine learning and sustainability.

Robots, which have long been the focus of Toyota’s research department, were also on display. SVP Max Bajracharya showcased a pair of projects. The first was something more in line with what one would expect from Toyota: a prosthetic arm with a modified clutch designed for the surprisingly complex task of moving boxes from the back of a truck to nearby conveyor belts—something most manufacturers hope to automate in the future.

The other is more surprising – at least to those who have not followed the department’s work closely. The shopping bot retrieves different products on the shelf based on barcodes and general location. The system can extend to the top shelf to find items, before determining the best way to grab the wide range of different items and toss them into the basket.

The system is a direct outgrowth of the 50-person robotics team’s focus on elderly care, aiming to tackle Japan’s aging population. However, it marks a turning point away from their original work of building robots designed to carry out household tasks such as washing dishes and preparing food.

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You can read an extensive write-up about this pivot in an article posted on TechCrunch earlier this week. This was drawn from a conversation with Bajracharya, which we print in a more complete state below. Note that the text has been edited for clarity and length.

Image credits: Brian Heater

TechCrunch: I was hoping for a home robot demo.

Max Bagracharya: We’re still doing some home robot work[…] What we did has changed. Home was one of our original challenge missions.

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Eldercare was the first column.

definitely. One of the things we learned in the process is that we haven’t been able to measure our progress very well. The house is very difficult. We choose the difficult tasks because they are difficult. The problem with the house isn’t that it was too hard. It was very difficult to measure our progress. We’ve tried a lot of things. We tried to make it procedurally messy. We put flour and rice on the tables and try to wipe them off. We were putting things around the house to keep the robot tidy. We’ve been popping into Airbnbs to see how well we’re doing, but the problem is, we just couldn’t get the same house every time. But if we did, we’d be ready for that house.

Isn’t it ideal not to have the same house every time?

Exactly, but the problem is that we can’t measure how well we’re doing. Suppose we were a little better at arranging this house, we do not know if it was because our abilities had improved or if this house was a little easier. We were doing the standard, “Show a demo, put on a great video. We’re not good enough yet, here’s a great video.” We didn’t know if we were making good progress or not. Grocery challenge mission where we said, we need an environment where it’s as hard as the house or has the same representational issues as the house, but where we can measure how much progress we’re making.

You’re not talking about specific goals for either the home or the supermarket, but you’re talking about solving problems that can extend to those two places.

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Or even measure if we are pushing the latest technology in robotics. Are we able to do cognition and planning for movement and behaviors that are actually general purpose. To be completely honest, it doesn’t matter what kind of challenge problem it is. The DARPA Robotics challenges were, those were just hard made-up missions. This is true for our challenge missions as well. We love home because it is where we ultimately want to help people home. But it doesn’t have to be home. The grocery market is very well represented because it has such a huge variety.

Image credits: Brian Heater

But there is frustration. We know how difficult these challenges are and how far things are, but some random guy sees your video and suddenly something is on the horizon, even though you can’t give it away.

definitely. That’s why generation [Pratt] Each time he says, “I reaffirm why this is such a difficult task.”

How do you translate that to normal people? Ordinary people never stop performing challenging tasks.

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Exactly, but that’s why in the demo I saw today, we tried to show the challenge tasks, but also an example of how you can take the capabilities that come from that challenge and apply them to a real application like unloading a container. This is a real problem. We went to the factories and they said, yeah, that’s a problem. Can you help us?’ And we said, yeah, we have technologies that apply to that. Now we’re trying to show that out of these are a few hacks that we think are important, and then apply them to real applications. And I think that helps people understand that, because they see the second step.

How big is the robotics team?

The division is about 50 people divided evenly between here and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

You have examples like Tesla and Figure, which are trying to make all-purpose humanoid robots. You seem to be heading in a different direction.

a little. One thing we’ve noticed is that the world is built for humans. If you just had a blank slate, you’d say I want to build a robot to work in human spaces. You tend to end up with human proportions and human-level abilities. You end up with human legs and arms, not because that’s necessarily the perfect solution. This is because the world has been designed around people.

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Image credits: Toyota Research Institute

How do you measure landmarks? What does success look like for your team?

Going from home to the grocery store is a great example of this. We were making progress on the house but not as quickly and not as clearly as when we moved to the grocery store. When we move to the grocery store, it becomes very clear how well you’re doing and what the real issues are with your system. And then you can really focus on solving those problems. When we toured both Toyota’s manufacturing and logistics facilities, we saw all of these opportunities as basically a challenge with grocery shopping, except for a slight difference. Now, the part instead of the parts are grocery items, the parts are all the parts in the distribution center.

You hear from 1,000 people you know, that home robotics is really hard, but then you feel like you have to try for yourself, and then you’re really like, you’re making the same mistakes I did.

I think I’m probably as guilty as everyone else. It’s like, now our GPUs are better. Oh, we got machine learning and now you know we can do it. Oh, well, that might have been more difficult than we thought.

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Something must turn it around at some point.

maybe. I think it will take a long time. Just like automated driving, I don’t think there is a silver bullet. There’s no such thing as just magical, it would be “Okay, we’ve got it figured out now.” It will be chipped away, chipped, piecemeal. That’s why it’s important to have that kind of roadmap with shorter timelines, you know, shorter or shorter milestones that give you the small wins, so you can continue to work on it to really achieve that long-term vision.

What is the process for actually producing any of these technologies?

This is a very good question that we are trying to answer ourselves. I think we kind of understand the landscape now. Maybe I was naive at first thinking, well, we just need to find this guy that we’re going to dump the technology on to a third party or someone inside Toyota. But I think we’ve learned that, whatever it is — whether it’s a business unit, a company, like a startup or a unit within Toyota — it just doesn’t seem to exist. So, we’re trying to find a way to create and I think that’s the TRI-AD story, a little bit as well. It was created to take the automated driving research we’ve been doing and translate it into something more tangible. We have the same problem in robotics, and in many of the advanced technologies that we’re working on.

Image credits: Brian Heater

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You’re considering the possibility of getting to a place where you could have child items.

potentially. But it is not the main mechanism by which we can commercialize the technology.

What is the main mechanism?

we do not know. The answer is that the variety of things we do is very likely to be different for different groups.

How has TRI changed since its founding?

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When I first started, I felt it was obvious that we were just doing research in the field of robotics. Part of that is that we’ve been a long way from applying the technology to almost any real-world challenging application in a human setting. Over the past five years, I feel we’ve made enough progress on that very challenging problem that we’re now starting to see it turn into real-world applications. We have consciously transformed. We still pay 80% to the latest developments through research, but we’ve now dedicated maybe 20% of our resources to finding out if that research is as good as we think it is, and if it can be applied in practice. – Applications of the world. We may fail. We may realize that we thought we had some interesting hacks, but they’re nowhere near reliable or fast enough. But we put 20% of our effort into trying.

How does hospice care fit into this?

I would say, in some ways, it’s still our North Star. Projects are still looking at how people will eventually inflate their homes. But over time, as we choose these challenge missions, if things go that apply to these other areas, that’s where we use these short-term milestones to show progress in the research that we’re doing.

How realistic is the possibility of a complete extinguishing agent?

I think if I’m able to start from scratch maybe in the future it might be possible. If you look at manufacturing today, specifically for Toyota, it’s not likely to come close. we [told factory workers]We’re building robotic technology, where do you think it could apply? They showed us many, many processes where it was things like, you take this wire, you insert it here, you pull it out, you clip it here, you clip it here, you take it here, you take it here, and you turn it like this. This takes a person five days to learn the skill. We were like, “Yeah, this is very difficult for robot technology.”

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But the things that are most difficult for people are the things that you want to automate.

Yes, difficult or potentially susceptible. Sure, we’d like to make stepping stones to eventually get to that, but where I see robotics technology today, we’re very far from that.

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Smartphone scams are dead – Android Authority

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Robert Triggs/Android Authority

Ten years ago, the 2013 Samsung Galaxy S4 was a technological marvel. Android phones had only been around for a few years at that point, and it seemed like the Galaxy S4 could do a lot despite its small size. As consumers, we were delighted. So much so, that to this day the Galaxy S4 remains the best-selling Android phone of all time, with over 80 million units sold.

However, that was ten years ago – an eternity in the tech world. Things have changed dramatically since then. The smartphone tricks we saw in the Galaxy S4 — like the Smart Scroll, which let you scroll the contents of your screen by moving your head up or down — would be completely ridiculous to see in a 2023 phone.

Today, smartphones are ubiquitous gadgets, not technical marvels. Consumers are using their phones more than ever before, yes, but that has faded the shine. Modern smartphone buyers don’t want gimmicks. They want a phone that fixes the basics and hides in the background.

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In 2023, if a smartphone manufacturer thinks that some cool new trick will be the backbone that sells its phones, it will be in a world of disappointment. Not only will consumers care, but investing in research and development for this trick could do more harm than good.

What are the tricks of the smartphone?

Google Pixel 4 XL Long Range 2 review

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

The term “gimmick” can be used broadly. In general, when it comes to smartphones, we think of gimmicks as features that are only applicable to very specific situations, appeal to a limited subset of users, or offer no real value (or some combination thereof).

One of history’s most egregious examples of smartphone scams was the Soli radar system in the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Soli was a set of front-facing radar sensors that could track your hand movements. They let you do things like pause the music simply by waving your hand near the screen. While Soli performed as advertised, consumers simply didn’t care, and the Pixel 4 series was the biggest failure in Pixel history.

If your star phone feature only appeals to a few people, it’s probably a gimmick.

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A more recent example came with the OnePlus 10 Pro last year. This phone was equipped with an ultra-high resolution camera with a field of view of 150 degrees. This was essentially a fish-eye lens, creating highly distorted images that looked unreal. Although software trickery helped fix images in post-processing, critics and consumers alike saw no need for such a bizarre lens. OnePlus eliminated the lens on this year’s OnePlus 10T and OnePlus 11.

Here are some other smartphone tricks we’ve seen:

  • foreign matter: OnePlus recently announced the Jupiter Rock Edition of the OnePlus 11. It has a back that is basically made of rock. Who asked for this?
  • Macro lenses: While a great telephoto lens can be an interesting addition to a solid lens collection, most of the time that’s not the case. Often, OEMs will throw in cheap 2MP macro lenses to make a phone look more premium than it is. In other words, the thought process is that more lenses = better cameras, which consumers are no longer fooled by.
  • Super fast charging: While it’s crazy to see 240W charging speeds on a smartphone (that’s fast enough to charge from empty to full in about ten minutes), who really needs that? These speeds are also said to be detrimental to the health of the battery, thus shortening the life of your phone.
  • Cooling systems: Lenovo Legion Duel 2 – a gaming phone – had a cooling fan built into it. While this is practical for a phone designed for gamers, it also made the phone unwieldy, prevented an IP rating, and made wireless charging impossible. It solved one problem at the expense of basic smartphone features. Likewise, OnePlus’ latest concept phone has a liquid cooling system that didn’t even work.

These gimmicks don’t help sell phones because they don’t give us what we really want: a great overall experience.

But what about phones in specific niches, like rugged phones? Is the rugged phone a gimmick? I’d argue it isn’t, but they also don’t sell in the numbers we’d see with something like the Galaxy S series. These phones exist for specific purposes for a specific consumer, so they get a special pass.

The current smartphone successes are all the evidence you need

Google Pixel 7 Pro camera housing

Robert Triggs/Android Authority

We know why smartphone manufacturers invest in these kinds of tricks. They obviously think they’ll help sell the phones or, at the very least, help their products stand out from the crowd. This is an odd strategy because the most successful phones tend to be relatively gimmick-free.

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Here in the US, the iPhone is by far the most popular smartphone. For the first time ever, Apple has more than 50% of the market in the US, leaving the other half to Android OEMs (mostly Samsung). The iPhone doesn’t have a lot of tricks. One could argue that Dynamic Island is a gimmick, but it’s one that consumers seem to enjoy, so it doesn’t really count.

Unsurprisingly, the most successful phones are also some of the most gimmick-free.

In second place, Samsung’s Galaxy S series also stands out as being gimmick-free. The Galaxy S23 Ultra’s S Pen may be a bit gimmicky for some. However, it’s also incredibly popular and a calling card for a premium Galaxy experience, so we’ll be happy to let this feature slip. Despite this, the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 Plus are pretty boring with how functional and no-nonsense they are. And guess what? The Galaxy S23 line is selling better than the Galaxy S22 line.

Of course, we can’t forget about Google’s pixel font. The Google Pixel 7 Pro doesn’t have any weird tricks up its sleeve, and was voted the best Android phone of 2022 by both Android Authority And our readers. It’s interesting that when Google gave up the tricks, it ended up selling more phones than ever before.

Obviously, phones can reach consumers without gimmicks. However, Dynamic Island and the S Pen show that there is still room for fun and doing things differently.

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However, phones can still be fun

None Phone Number 1 graphic on the back

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

We’ve already discussed plenty of examples of stupid smartphone tricks that get in the way of a good experience. However, some tricks work.

Take Nothing Phone 1, for example. The lights on the back of the device — officially known as The Glyph — appear to be a ridiculous gimmick. Once you use the phone, you will realize that it is actually an Android smartphone with a strange light show added. In other words, The Glyph can be ignored, and you’ll still get a great Android experience with a very fair cost-to-value ratio.

I’m not against the trick. There is plenty of room for fun features.

This is a great example of how doing tricks properly can be beneficial. Nothing crammed into The Glyph comes at the expense of wireless charging, a premium feel, or a decent camera system. Use the trick as a light garnish on top of a satisfying meal. It’s a beautiful detail that highlights an already well-done dish.

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Google’s Magic Eraser is another example of a gimmick that works. With the Pixel’s camera experience already being one of the best (if not the best) phone camera experiences available, the Magic Eraser feature exists as a useful tool for people looking to fix otherwise great photos. It was not Need Magic Eraser, but it’s practical and fun when you want it to be.

That’s all to say that smartphones don’t need to be boring. There’s plenty of room for fun gimmicks, cool aesthetics, and thought-provoking twists. But gimmicks can’t be the phone’s selling point. They must be side players.

OEMs will need to shift focus — or dump

Lenovo Legion Duel 2 1

Luke Pollack / Android Authority

Remember Lenovo Legion Duel 2, the phone with an integrated cooling system? Unfortunately, this trick didn’t work out very well for Lenovo. Recently, the company confirmed this Android Authority He shut down the Legion’s smartphone arm.

We’ve also mentioned OnePlus several times in this article. This company is not doing well either. There is a rumor that it could pull out along with sister brand OPPO from the European market either this year or in 2024. OnePlus has lost all carrier partnerships in the US, and its latest flagship — the OnePlus 11 — hasn’t gotten strong reviews. Again, tricks don’t seem to have helped here.

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What do you think of smartphone scams?

146 votes

This all supports my central argument: scams don’t sell phones. We’ve settled on wanting phones that excel at the essentials: battery life, camera, screen, usability, performance, and so on. I could also argue that design is just as important here, though it’s more subjective than something like battery life. What doesn’t matter are the extra lenses, radar systems, cooling fans, rock-solid backboards, and all the other tricks we’ve seen.

Companies that are stuck in 2013 and think cool gimmicks will sell a lot of phones will need to wake up from that dream sooner rather than later. Apple and Samsung eat your lunch and do so without relying on gimmicks. Make your phones awesome at a competitive price and we’ll buy it. Simply.

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All of my favorite games this year are old

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I also installed the original version Final Fantasy, the game that debuted when I was three years old, on Sony’s most advanced console yet, I came to a realization: everything I played this year was outdated. Between remakes, new releases, and vintage collections, there’s been a flood of nostalgia. I personally welcomed it.

These kinds of releases aren’t new, of course. What was different during the early months was the huge amount of classic releases. Two of the biggest movies so far this year – dead space And Resident Evil 4 – is a remake of titles from more than a decade ago. Both are slick, slick updates that don’t look out of place among recent big-budget releases, but part of what makes them so attractive is how straightforward they are. There are no open worlds filled with endless quests or live service items to keep you coming back. And most of these design decisions date back to their ages, as these games were made at a completely different time with very different expectations. In my review of Resident Evil 4 A remake, I called it “a video game like this,” and I meant that as a compliment.

Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp.
Image: Nintendo

But they can also be a lot of work, frequently setting in to be all-consuming experiences that keep you hooked and never let go. Oh I love Fortnite Like everyone else, but that’s not all I want from my video games. Whether it is as complicated as RE4 Or simply put a scene from the opera Final Fantasy VI On my PS5, these games have returned a simplicity and focus I often find missing from their modern contemporaries. vampire And Final Fantasy They are very different experiences, but they give me the same feeling of a whole solo journey that I’m supposed to play through from start to finish. Same goes for the other old games I’ve been playing.

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Playing—and in many cases, replaying—these games was an exercise in reminding myself of what could be so great about a medium. The largest modern versions tend to imitate each other to the point where they are almost indistinguishable from one another. That’s what makes a lot of indie releases so exciting, and likewise, what keeps me coming back for all these new releases of old games — so it’s good to me that this trend shows no sign of stopping.

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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell leaves Comcast due to ‘improper conduct’

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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell will leave Comcast, effective immediately. The telecom giant made the surprising announcement in a brief press release Released on Sunday. After an investigation prompted by a complaint of improper conduct, Comcast says it has reached a “joint” decision with Shell that he should resign from his position.

“Today is my last day as CEO of NBCUniversal. I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret,” Shell said in a joint statement. “I am really sorry that I left my colleagues at Comcast and NBCUniversal, they are the most talented people in this field and the opportunity to work with them over the past 19 years has been a privilege.”

Comcast has not named a successor to Shell. in a note obtained diverseComcast CEO Brian Roberts and President Mike Kavanagh told employees they were “disappointed” to share the news. “We built this company on a culture of integrity. Nothing is more important than how we treat each other. You must count on your leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace,” they wrote. “When our principles and policies are violated, we will always move quickly to take appropriate action, as we have done here.”

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Shell joined Comcast in 2004. He became CEO of NBCUniversal in 2020. That same year, he oversaw the launch of Peacock. Shell leaves NBCUniversal without making the streaming service profitable. At the beginning of the year, Comcast told investors that it had done so Added five million paid subscribers During the last three months of 2022. However, over the same period, the company lost nearly $1 billion while operating the service.

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