All posts in “manufacturing”

Foxconn to plug at least $340M into AI R&D over five years

Manufacturing giant Foxconn has said it will make a major investment in artificial intelligence-based R&D as it looks for new business growth opportunities in a cooling global smartphone market, Nikkei reports.

“We will at least invest some 10 billion New Taiwan dollars ($342M) over five years to recruit top talent and deploy artificial intelligence applications in all the manufacturing sites,” said chairman Terry Gou.

“It’s likely that we could even pour in some $10BN or more if we find the deployments are very successful or can really generate results.”

Gou added that the ambition is to become “a global innovative AI platform rather than just a manufacturing company”.

Data put out this week by Strategy Analytics records a 9 per cent fall in global smartphone shipments in Q4 2017 — the biggest such drop in smartphone history — which the analyst blames on the floor falling out of the smartphone market in China.

“The shrinkage in global smartphone shipments was caused by a collapse in the huge China market, where demand fell 16 percent annually due to longer replacement rates, fewer operator subsidies and a general lack of wow models,” noted Strategy Analytics’ Linda Sui in a statement.

On a full-year basis, the analysts records global smartphone shipments growing 1 percent — topping 1.5 billion units for the first time.

But there’s little doubt the smartphone growth engine that’s fed manufacturing giants like Foxconn for so long is winding down.

This week, for example, Apple — Foxconn’s largest customer — reported a dip in iPhone sales for the holiday quarter. Though Cupertino still managed to carve out more revenue (thanks to that $1k iPhone X price-tag). But those kind of creative pricing opportunities aren’t on the table for electronics assemblers. So it’s all about utilizing technology to do more for less.

According to Nikkei, Foxconn intends to recruit up to 100 top AI experts globally. It also said it will recruit thousands of less experienced developers to work on building applications that use machine learning and deep learning technologies.

Embedding sensors into production line equipment to capture data to feed AI-fueled automation development is a key part of the AI R&D plan, with Foxconn saying earlier that it wants to offer advanced manufacturing experiences and services — eyeing competing with the likes of General Electric and Cisco.

The company has also been working with Andrew Ng’s new AI startup — which is itself focused on plugging AI into industries that haven’t yet tapping into the tech’s transformative benefits, with a first focus on manufacturing — since July.

And Gou confirmed the startup will be a key partner as Foxconn works towards its own AI-fueled transformation — using tech brought in via to help transform the manufacturing process, and identify and predict defects.

Quite what such AI-powered transformation might mean for the jobs of hundreds of thousands of humans currently employed by Foxconn on assembly line tasks is less clear. But it looks like those workers will be helping to train AI models that could end up replacing their labor via automation.

Featured Image: Matt Wakeman/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Erato’s lightweight Verse wireless earbuds deliver solid sound at a good price

Erato, one of the first companies to make and sell fully wireless earbuds, has a new product available called the Verse that’s more affordable than its flagship Apollo 7 buds, but with great sound quality, a lighter form factor, and innovative graphene drivers that provide quality audio with fewer compromises. The small, bullet-shaped earbuds are a good alternative for would-be AirPod customers who either don’t have the right ear shape, or are looking for better sound isolation as compared to Apple’s fully wireless buds.

The Verse buds do have one significant flaw compared to other wireless buds – they have an advertised battery life of just three hours of music playback, which is at least an hour less than most of the other options out there. They do come with a battery-packing case that can recharge them on the go, however, and ultimately Erato says that they’ll provide up to 15 hours of playback between case and earbuds on a full charge (though you’ll have to recharge the buds by stowing them every three hours or so).

The case itself is actually very reminiscent of Apple’s AirPods case – it’s a matte black, and a bit bigger, but it has a similar pivoting top, and even makes a sound that’s an awful lot like the AirPods case click when closed. A label on the stainless steel hinge for the case’s top also reads “Designed by Erato in California, Assembled in China” in case you had any doubts about where they were getting their inspiration.

As for the buds themselves, they’re shaped just like the Apollo 7s, which is to say they look like bullets with rubber tips on the end, and with a small button at the wide end of each bud. The earbuds also have a matte black (or white, depending on which model you buy) finish, which makes the plastic feel higher quality. Also, they’re incredibly light – so light they feel like props rather than actual functioning electronic devices.

Despite their lightness, they sound good – and substantial. They have more bass than their Apple equivalents, and in general you’ll enjoy a more full sound, made better because the “spin-fit” silicon tips that Erato includes with the buds are much more likely to provide a stable fit in your ears.

The other improvement Erato has made here is in the case – it’s far better than the one that shipped with the Apollo 7, providing a much more reliable connection with the buds themselves for charging. Its rounded edges and snap shut lid also make it a pretty fantastic fidget object, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Erato’s offering is a strong one in the $150 price range, where it earns the honor of being the best-sounding option currently out there. If battery life was a bit better, they’d be a no brainer, but as it is, you might want to consider other options if that’s your most important buying criteria.

Beheld is a new startup that lets you scan, send, and print yourself

Kat Kinkead and Peter Weijmarshausen met at their old company, Shapeways. Weijmarshausen recently stepped down as CEO and was looking for something cool to do when he and Kinkead realized that the most popular application of 3D scanning and printing was in 3D figurines. These tiny action-figure-like representations were wildly popular print subjects back at Shapeways but they were notoriously difficult to capture and print.

Now, thanks to improvements in scanning, color printing, and software, they’re surprisingly easy. Thus Beheld was born.

Kinkead, the CEO, has an MFA in industrial design and has worked in the 3D printing industry for half a decade. She helped build 3D printing procedures for places like Michael Kors and they founded Beheld in January 2017. They’ve raised a small amount of angel funding.

The system is simple: you enter a booth-sized scanner and strike a pose. The scanner takes multiple pictures of your body in 360 degrees and then stitches them together, creating a 3D model that you can share with your friends for free. If you want to print yourself, however, it will cost you about $40.

“What separates us from others in the industry is: We are making 3D scanning an experience,” said Kinkead. “We’re taking the components which already exist, and neatly tying them together to create a truly fun and memorable experience for consumers while simultaneously creating a turnkey experience for businesses. We’re placing scanners in an environment that makes them accessible to everyone.”

The vision is to have 3D scanning kiosks in malls and other high-trafficked places. Because the service is free to try the pair think that they’ll get quite a bit of upsell in the process.

It wasn’t hard convincing users that they wanted to scan themselves. It wasn’t even hard to convince them to pay a few dollars for a 3D print.

“Once the idea comes to mind that they, themselves, could actually be 3D printed, that’s when I would see the true excitement in people. Whether it was simply to have a 3D print of themselves or to use a 3D scan of their body to make items that were customized to fit them perfectly — that’s when the true sparks would fly,” said Kinkead.

The team plans to roll out 3D scanning kiosks in spots across America and Europe. They’ve also created special effects that can make you appear and disappear in fireworks and clouds of smoke, the better to please the Snapchat generation. After all, who wants a selfie when you can make yourself appear and disappear into a cloud of particles?

Markforged raises $30 million from industrial investors

When Greg Mark takes his 3D printer to VCs he gets blank stares. The Boston-based CEO of Markforged, a 3D printing company that specializes in printing carbon fiber and metals, has found that few of them could understand his technology.

“The composite business is profitable, and we are scaling at 300% year-over-year,” said Mark. “We have an incredible product roadmap, and raised this round to help us bring these new printers to market even faster.”

“All of our rounds have been oversubscribed. We were in the fortunate position to choose our investors,” he said. “We selected leading global manufacturers at the cutting edge of technology and product development because they are a great fit with our mission to dramatically shorten the time it takes to go from idea to product. We spoke with regular VC’s as well – given our hyper-growth, profitability, and efficiency with which we’ve scaled, there was a lot of interest. As one VC said, ‘we don’t see C round companies that have numbers like this.’”

In the end we choose strategics for the reason stated above.

That’s why he turned to Microsoft Ventures, Posche, and Siemens-backed Next 47 for his next $30 million for his Series C. These industry-backed VCs understood the problems associated

The company is currently delivering a system for complete metal forging. The system, which involves putting metal into a very powerful microwave, is a hit with industrial partners but is confusing to those who think 3D printing is basically teaching a robot to squirt out Yoda heads.

The company has raised a total of $57 million since launch. The company is profitable and is selling printers faster than it can make them with revenue growth at 300 percent.

There are a number of other metal solutions on the market including massive systems from 3D Systems designed for industrial use. Markforged makes a nearly desktop-sized 3D printer and has discovered that its customers are printing finished parts in metal and factory jigs for CNC cutting and part holding in carbon fiber. By integrating both metal and plastic into the workflow they are able to reduce the time it takes to get to a finished part.

The Goliath CNC is an autonomous cutting machine

The phrase “autonomous cutting machine” may sound like something out of Terminator but this clever little robot, called the Goliath CNC, wants to help humanity, not harm it.

Created by Lorenzo Frangi, Alessandro Trifoni, and Davide Cevoli, the robot is basically a free-rolling CNC machine that can crawl over a surface and etch and cut lines into many materials. The machine uses a drill bit and multi-directional wheels and can automatically measure the size of the material you’re cutting.

The team has pre-sold over 400 machines and raised $814,000. It will ship this month. It costs $1,850.

“Goliath CNC can be positioned directly on the work surface: this innovative mode of operation makes it a machine tool with a boundless work area because it matches the workpiece’s surface,” said Frangi. “The user can design or download designs from online project libraries, then upload the drawing to Goliath and supervise the work progress by a computer, smartphone or tablet.”

Because the machine is portable you can build wherever you want and even drag it to job sites where it can cut out pieces automatically. It has automatic leveling so it doesn’t drill haphazardly.

“The concept of Goliath CNC was born at the beginning of 2014 as my thesis project for the Master Degree in Design & Engineering at the Politecnico of Milano,” said Frangi. “I wished to contribute somehow to the digital fabrication tools’ world, which together with the Maker movement pick my attention for the enthusiasm and great success reached – at least in Italy! – and especially dealing with 3D printing. I wanted to develop something able to manufacture real and quality materials, so I focused on CNC milling machines of a desktop size.”

While yes, this robot could become self-aware and start drilling everyone in its path, it’s clear that Frangi and his team have taken special care to only allow the Goliath to cut down through materials and not give it the ability to climb walls and zap our bodies… yet.