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Food Robots on the Menu of CMU-Sony Collaboration

Robot chef at EPCOT Center; credit: Sam Howzit, via Flickr May 22, 2018
Kayla Matthews Thanks to ongoing technical advancements, automation is becoming part of each link in the value chain, from production and shipping to retail.

Food robots are a good example because of the need for growers and harvesters, sanitary processing, and fast and efficient delivery. A partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and Sony Corp. promises to advance the state of food robots.

Why does this partnership make sense?

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has one of the nation’s leading robotics programs. Sony’s partnership with CMU will use the latter’s School of Computer Science in Pittsburgh as its headquarters.

This will allow for access to and input from students and academics. Dr. Hiroaki Kitano, president and CEO of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, will be the project’s lead.

“Sony has a longstanding relationship with CMU,” said Toshimoto Mitomo, director of intellectual property and business strategy, Business Development Platform, at Sony. “When looking to enter the AI and robotics field, we saw a potential opportunity to work more closely with CMU, which is recognized as one of the world’s top universities in this subject area.”

Sony’s AIBO robot dog at CES 2018. Credit: Rochelle Winters Sony will reportedly use some technology originally developed for its Aibo robot dog.

A hunger for automation

In March, pasta company Artisola commissioned a survey to learn about Americans’ cooking habits. It learned that only 27% of respondents cook daily.

Other studies from 2015 to 2016 found that Americans spent more on eating and drinking outside the home than on groceries. These statistic suggest that people would prefer not to cook and spend a substantial portion of their incomes avoiding it. Robots that whip up cuisine inside the home could help people save money and make healthy choices without dealing with the inconveniences of cooking themselves. Moreover, some people would love to cook but can’t because of disabilities that interfere with things like motor control and balance.

Robots could provide targeted assistance that helps those people have more freedom for meal planning. It could also become easier for people to adhere to eating preferences by not consuming gluten or animal products, for example. Robots could help with that, either by preparing food directly in people’s kitchens or by delivering ready-to-eat meals to them.

The global food robotics market will experience a compound annual growth rate of 12.5% from 2017 to 2022 to reach £2.1 billion, predicts Meticulous Research.

Food robots prep for commercial kitchens

In the commercial realm, food-cooking robots could maintain accuracy while prioritizing maximum productivity, since they don’t have to take breaks. Scalability could become simpler, too, since a robot’s programming facilitates temporarily ramping up production or dialing it back. At least initially, the partnership between CMU and Japan-based Sony will research ways to enhance methods of food preparation and delivery.

The researchers will kick off their efforts by using existing robots and determining ways to improve them for the food sector. During the later stages of the work, there are plans to create food robots specifically for culinary tasks, as well as those that can operate in confined spaces such as small kitchens. Recent examples of at least partially automated eateries include Zume Pizza, 6d bytes, and Spyce, not to mention major fast-food chains, which are actively investigating food robots.

Many challenges to overcome for food handling

There are still numerous obstacles to figure out when it comes to making any robot, note robotics industry experts.

For example, food robots need to be able to safely handle ingredients that are fragile and awkwardly shaped, such as eggs and whole pineapples. Different types of grippers are designed to handle foods without dropping them, all while meeting minimum sanitation standards. Not only must food robots be able to handle a variety of ingredients, but household and restaurant models must be efficient and safe to operate around humans.

The specialists from Sony and CMU will have to delve into human-machine interaction. The aim is for the humans and robots to work toward a common objective without getting in each other’s way. The two organizations involved in this robotics project reportedly chose the food sector because of the ease of eventually applying their findings to other industries.

The ability to perform delicate tasks is also desirable in manufacturing, for instance. Fortunately, ingredient technologies such as manipulators and machine vision have advanced, allowing for more dexterous and smarter food robots.

Food Robots on the Menu of CMU-Sony Collaboration

June 18-19, 2018 — Boston, MA Join other executives and professionals striving to harness innovative technology into modern manufacturing organizations.

Potential projects Beyond food robots, Sony has committed to supporting CMU through its Seed Acceleration Program, the brand’s business-incubation arm. Furthermore, CMU will get funding through the Sony Innovation Fund, which provides venture capital to corporations.

Those contributions could enable the university to move forward with other projects, regardless of whether Sony teams up with it.

Food Robots on the Menu of CMU-Sony Collaboration

About the author:

Kayla Matthews is a technology journalist and robotics writer whose work has appeared on Vice, VentureBeat, RoboticsTomorrow, and Robotiq’s blog.

To read more posts from Kayla, visit her blog Productivity Bytes.=

New Sony CFO brings entrepreneur spirit to head office

TOKYO — On his first occasion to speak to reporters in his new role as chief financial officer in late April, Sony[1]‘s Hiroki Totoki was unequivocal. “We will seek sustained profitability,” he said about his goal for the role he had just taken over from Kenichiro Yoshida on April 1. Yoshida had been promoted to the electronics group’s CEO[2].

Totoki comes into the job at a challenging time. While Sony appears to have made a convincing comeback, posting its first record profit in two decades[3] in March, the business faces potential risks that could still jeopardize its future. At the briefing, the new CFO seemed rather relaxed, a contrast from Yoshida, whose knitted brow has become a personal trademark.

Yoshida had built a solid reputation with securities analysts in past briefings for his clear and succinct delivery. As new CFO, how will Totoki help Yoshida keep the business moving in the right direction? Until March this year, Totoki was chief strategy officer, in charge of planning new businesses and drafting mid-term business plans.

He has also served as president of Sony Mobile Communications. But his mindset seems to be that of an entrepreneur, something that could be a major asset. He played a major leadership role when the Japanese electronics maker decided to set up a banking business from scratch two decades ago.

Totoki joined Sony in 1987 and has specialized in finance. The young Totoki played a central role when Sony began seeking to enter the banking business around 1997. As a total stranger to the business, he surprised financial regulators when he visited them and announced, “Excuse me, we would like to set up a bank.”

The bank project got off to a rocky start. At the end of 1998, it was suspended and its development office was dissolved. The team got together again the following year, but the office was set up in an inexpensive building outside of Sony headquarters.

Desks, chairs, meeting tables and other facilities were basically unused items from headquarters. After some back and forth with regulators, Sony eventually obtained a banking license and launched its internet bank in 2001. The first day of service was a nightmare.

Customers could not access the service due to system errors, and the business was bogged down with troubles for some time afterward. Totoki appears to have incorporated lessons from that episode into his career. Despite extensive experience in important, often stressful positions, Totoki says the hardest he has worked was during preparations to set up the bank.

In 2001, he quit Sony and joined Sony Bank, and was named head of the banking unit a year later. The achievement of launching a new business from scratch won him accolades. Now, he is known both inside and outside Sony as a successful “in-house” entrepreneur.

“He knows about entrepreneurship and understands what we say,” said an executive of a startup that has received funding from Sony. In 2005, Totoki was transferred to then Sony Communication Network, now Sony Network Communications, also known as So-net, as managing director. While helping Yoshida, who was president of the unit at the time, Totoki demonstrated a talent for nurturing startups.

The team discovered businesses with high potential, such as the online advertising business, So-net Media Networks, and Enigmo, a merchandising platform for imported items. During these years, Sony was struggling to improve its core electronics business. Kazuo Hirai, named chief executive in 2012, called Yoshida back to Sony from So-net, and Totoki also returned to support Yoshida.

Totoki and Yoshida have since worked together to bring about structural reforms across Sony. In 2014, Totoki was tasked to head Sony Mobile Communications, and to rebuild the slumping unit that had posted a 180 billion yen impairment loss earlier in the year. He was also involved in the Seed Acceleration Program, an initiative to create new business that was pushed strongly by Hirai.

Totoki’s abilities as CFO will likely soon be tested. The company expects to unveil its three-year business plan on May 22. Totoki has been compared to Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of the French automaker Renault, and chairman of Japan’s Nissan.

But will Totoki be able to exert similarly strong leadership as Ghosn? During the April 27 briefing, Sony said it had posted its record operating profit in 20 years, at 734 billion yen (£6.68 billion) for the year through March. Despite such a comeback from years of disappointing results, the company expects an 8.8% decrease in profit for this fiscal year ending in March next year, largely from the impact of a less favorable exchange rate as the yen strengthens.

Developing a company structure to sustain robust profitability will be a major challenge for Sony, and for Totoki. Sony’s semiconductor business will likely suffer a particularly big profit decline, estimated at 64 billion yen. Sony controls a large share of the market for image sensors for smartphones.

By June, the inventory adjustment phase will be complete, and unit sales are expected to pick up again. Still, the impact of a strong yen and soaring research and development costs could weigh on profits. The company’s smartphone business is also struggling.

Totoki has spent the past three and half years rebuilding the mobile communications unit, with unsatisfactory results. “I take it quite seriously that we have not shown a turnaround in performance yet,” Totoki said. In the fiscal year that ended in March, the mobile business unit booked a 31.3 billion yen impairment loss on fixed assets.

Sony once declared it would sell 80 million handsets a year, but has scaled back the target to 10 million for the current fiscal year — 3.5 million units fewer than last year. The survival of Sony’s mobile business is under threat, and the company’s management team is apparently aware of the urgency. During the briefing, Totoki spent some time explaining that the company has no intention of selling the loss-making business unit.

“Sony will pursue fifth-generation technologies through smartphones, and the entire group will make the most of this advantage,” Totoki said.

References

  1. ^ Sony (asia.nikkei.com)
  2. ^ promoted to the electronics group’s CEO (asia.nikkei.com)
  3. ^ first record profit in two decades (asia.nikkei.com)

Deadpool 2 Review: Deadpool 2 Succeeds Because It Understands the Character

When the Merc with a Mouth got his first standalone film in 2016, its subversive approach to the superhero genre, a love for breaking the fourth wall, and a full-on embrace of the possibilities of an adults-only rating allowed Deadpool to create something that was both unique and surprising. Since then, thanks to Deadpool’s success or simply as an organic coincidence, other superhero films have pushed further on all three fronts – Taika Waititi crafted an almost Marvel parody in Thor: Ragnarok, The Lego Batman Movie was relentless in its self-referencing, and James Mangold made great use of the age rating to give us the best Wolverine film in Logan. It’s this climate that Deadpool 2 finds itself in, with a nigh impossible task on its hands.

It has to not only fix the problems of the first chapter – its ‘have your cake and eat it too’ approach often led it to hit the beats of a standard superhero movie, while claiming to send up the genre – and avoid the trappings of “going bigger” with sequels, but it also has to deliver on fan expectations in a fresh way, without feeling like a cash-in on the unexpected popularity of the original. Deadpool 2 doesn’t manage to check all those boxes, but it’s smart enough to know why people enjoyed the character so much, and leans into that. A crucial part of Deadpool, the film and the character, were its meta-jokes and sarcastic delivery.

Ryan Reynolds, the actor behind the titular anti-hero, was important to the latter for obvious reasons in the first chapter, and he understands his character so well that he co-wrote the sequel with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the co-writers of Deadpool. That’s unusual for movies of this scale, and Fox granting Reynolds more creative control led to the departure of director Tim Miller – he reportedly wanted a more stylised follow-up as opposed to Reynolds’ focus on the raunchy comedy – who was replaced by John Wick and Atomic Blonde director David Leitch.
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Deadpool 2 shows that Reynolds had the right idea, with the film’s constant undercutting of the dramatic tension powering some of its best moments, most of which consists of fourth-wall-breaking references from Deadpool that poke fun at an assortment of pop culture, from running gags involving the DC universe and Frozen, the terminology and origins of X-Men, calling Josh Brolin’s new character Thanos because he played him in Avengers: Infinity War, to even the success of the first film and the past failures of Reynolds himself (right until the very end in a mid-credits scene). Where the original skewered superhero business, the sequel also skewers the idea of superhero team-ups in the humorous fashion you’d expect a Deadpool film to do. Having travelled the world as a global assassin since the events of the first film, Deadpool returns home and suffers a close blow, and it falls to Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) to revive his spirits by making him an X-Men trainee.

But he soon gets himself into more trouble, and when a time-travelling cybernetic soldier Cable (Brolin) travels back in time to hunt a young pyrokinetic mutant Russell (Julian Dennison, from Hunt for the Wilderpeople), he has no choice but to get involved. Realising he’ll need more than his own abilities, Deadpool recruits other mutants to fight alongside him – they include the likes of Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), Bill Skarsgard (It), Lewis Tan (Iron Fist), Rob Delaney (Catastrophe) and a split-second cameo from a famous actor we don’t wish to spoil – and gives the group a gender-neutral name: X-Force. But it’s not the cast and the characters they play that are interesting – except in the case of Beetz, whose role as Domino is fun thanks to her unusual not-so-super superpower: luck – but rather how hilariously Deadpool 2 upends what you expect from a superhero team montage, paving the way for one of its most unexpected moments.

Zazie Beetz as Domino in Deadpool 2
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox [Mild spoilers ahead] Unfortunately, for all of the film’s efforts to subvert the formula, Deadpool 2 is still quite routine fare in other places.

For one, the plot and the way it progresses is straightforward; it borrows from Rian Johnson’s 2012 sci-fi thriller Looper, which executed it better. Two, the sequel deals in overused tropes, cliches, and outdated stereotypes: there are cases of fridging, middle-aged white men carrying deep scars, and backgrounding the inclusive supporting cast. Though Negasonic is shown as openly lesbian this time around, she’s barely in the film; and her Japanese girlfriend is given three words to speak on repeat.

Three, despite having Leitch as the director, a former stuntman whose previous films are better known for their stylistic action choreography rather than plot intricacies and character work, Deadpool 2 fails to light up in that particular aspect. Except a couple of sequences involving Domino showcasing how lucky she is and a face-off between Deadpool and Cable, much of the action is generic. And four, the sequel, just like its predecessor, has little to say thematically and takes the most on-the-nose approach of conveying its message via narration: it’s about the family you choose, just as in the Fast and Furious franchise, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.

2. Thankfully, the film isn’t made worse in India by the CBFC (or the censor board, as it’s often called). In the face of everyone’s expectations – including this critic – Deadpool 2 is nowhere as badly censored in India as the first one, which is great.

The first non-muted delivery of the f-word was greeted with shock and surprise at the premiere screening, and the film also keeps much of its gore and violence, with very few noticeable cases of things being blurred or outright cuts. That audiences in India can enjoy an A-rated movie on the big screen the way it’s meant to be seen is rare indeed. Even with its aforementioned problems, Deadpool 2 is an improvement upon the original.

That’s thanks to its understanding of what makes the character so likeable – the blend of humour thanks to constant self-awareness – despite his bloody actions, in combination with Reynolds’ mastery of the character that feels like his second skin, and a willingness to be emotionally sincere at times amidst all the joking. There are a few things all that meta-referencing can’t solve – a bland CG fight or narrative shortcut is still that, even if Deadpool points to it – but when it’s such fun for the most part (minus a rough second act), it’s hard not to be swept away. Deadpool 2 is out May 18 in India and across the world.

There are two mid-credits scenes, feel free to leave after those.


We discussed Deadpool 2 in-depth with and without spoilers (starting at 26:15) on Transition, Gadgets 360’s pop culture podcast.

You can listen to it via Apple Podcasts or RSS, or just hit the play button below.

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