Category Archives: Automation

Amazon’s drone-based package delivery business said to be collapsing

The program is said to be in disarray; its unclear if the technology can actually work in the real world (versus demo flights).

Amazon has triggered mass redundancies and transfers as it winds down a huge part of its UK drone delivery business

Source: The slow collapse of Amazon’s drone delivery dream | WIRED UK

Insiders claim it is now years away from being a reality, if ever.

Remember that shortage of software developers?

Low-code platforms allow ordinary people to develop extraordinary apps that solve everyday business problems.

Source: The untapped potential of citizen developers

This has been underway for quite some time as tools have become simpler to use, and the necessity of efficient algorithm designs became less as hardware became much faster. Pretty soon, lots of apps can be created using simpler tools, opening app creation to a larger audience of non-specialists.

All of a sudden, we may not need all those “boot camp” web site developers.

A year ago, I said smart phone tracing apps had numerous problems and were not suited for contact detection … then this happened

Last week, the UK contact dection phone system “pinged” one half million residents who were then forced into isolation for ten days.

Even the Prime Minister, who was hospitalized for Covid, and is also fully vaccinated, was forced in to 10 day quarantine because of a smart phone ping. Utterly pointless.

The system grew so out of control, that supermarkets are running out of food, and petrol stations are running out of gasoline, because so many workers were forced to isolate at home.

This fiasco has been a major screw up. Smart phone tracing apps sound wonderful, in theory, but in practice they find few cases that were not found with other methods, and in here in the UK, the system has proved a disaster. They have a high false negative and high false positive rate as well.

LONDON, July 22 (Reuters) – Daily contact testing will be rolled out to workplaces in Britain’s food sector so staff who have been ‘pinged’ by the COVID-19 app can keep working if they test negative rather than isolating, the government said on Thursday.

Supermarkets have said some products are in short supply and petrol stations have been forced to close after the official health app told hundreds of thousands of workers to isolate following contact with someone with the virus. read more

Source: UK to launch daily COVID tests in food sector to tackle ‘pingdemic’ | Reuters

The proper description of this begins with “cluster” and ends with a word rhyming with “duck”.

Smart phone contact detection and tracing is as useful as most of the NPIs, which is to say – basically useless.

How will the UK fix this? By doing Covid-tests daily for all food sector workers. Thanks to Bayes Theorem, it is likely the majority of “positive” results will be false positive.

The experts have learned nothing.

Executive Order on “right to repair” may have broader “ripple” effects

US President Joe Biden will soon sign an executive order that will give farmers the right to repair their own tractors, said Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary in a press briefing on Tuesday. This is a shot in the arm for the activists who have been seeking legal protection for individuals engaging in repairs at local stores instead of having to send them back to manufacturers every time.

Source: biden executive order to allow self tractor repairs

Lidar versus visual processing for automated driving

Lidar, or laser-based radar, is a key enabling technology for most auto makers’ self-driving cars. Lidar is good at identifying objects far down the road and determining speed. Unlike traditional cameras, the technology doesn’t get blinded coming out of tunnels or in other tough driving conditions. For example, the autonomous taxis that operate in Phoenix and Las Vegas are equipped with lidars, in addition to cameras and traditional radars.

Source: Lidar Needs to Get Cheaper and Better. Why This Stock Could Benefit. | Barron’s

Tesla has relied on visual processing systems rather than lidar. Lidar has, historically, been expensive.

I suspect the Lidar versus vision processing is going to be similar to what occurred in photography for automatic focus systems. In photography, much of the camera world went with phase detect auto focus while Olympus and Panasonic stayed with contrast detect auto focus, or Panasonic’s newer tech, Depth From Defocus (DfD). Indications are that eventually, most cameras will use phase detect technology (in addition to contrast detection).

I wonder if future self driving vehicles will end up using both lidar and image processing. I think that is where it is headed.

Fast-food industry accelerates use of automation as wages go higher

I have written about this trend on many occasions for several years: Source: Former McDonald’s CEO warns $15 minimum wage directly contributing to fast-food industry’s automation push | Fox Business

Automation was always going to happen – but the push for higher minimum wages accelerates that trend.

We’ve seen the trend in self service fill-your-own-drinks, self-order entry, and the use of phone apps to place orders. A very few places have experimented with mostly automated services without any visible human interactions.

The push for higher wages occurred as the price of automation went down, and the capabilities of automation have gone up. We will end up with a smaller number of higher paid workers, likely belonging to a union. The workers without jobs will get no union representation, unfortunately.

Steak ‘n Shake ending table and order service, replacing with self serve kiosks

As far back as 2016, I wrote that many restaurants, especially fast food, would replace wait staff with self service kiosks and app-based ordering as a way to save on labor costs. And they have and post-pandemic, self service may become standard:

Ordering a meal at Steak ‘n Shake is about to look a little different. The popular Steakburger and shake eatery is ditching its table service and transitioning to self-serve kiosks.

Source: Steak ‘n Shake replaces table service with self-serve kiosks | NewsNation Now

Minimum wage laws drive labor costs ever higher – just as the costs of automation have plummeted. The result is a reduction in jobs inside these restaurants, and replacing them with customer self service.

Texas semiconductor factories shut down during power outage

Semiconductor plants – perhaps five of them – were ordered shut down, in Texas, due to the state’s failed electricity grid.

Semiconductors are manufactured in a chemical engineering process that can take weeks, per chip, along the line. The time required depends on the components being manufactured and can range from weeks to two months.

Thus, shutting down these lines could disrupt service for some time.

Source: Samsung, NXP, and Infineon chip fabs shut down in Texas amid record storm – DCD

There is already a global electronic components shortage that has caused most all major auto manufacturers to temporarily close or slow down auto manufacturing. This shortage is compounded by a multi-day fire at AKM Semiconductor in Japan, last fall. That firm made up to 90% of the world’s components for consumer electronics, plus Bluetooth chips and other items and was expected to cause at least six month delays in parts shipments.

I an electronic item I ordered last October has been postponed indefinitely – a key part was made by AKM. Another item I ordered in January, with expected shipment of Feb 12, was delayed until June 21, 2021.

“Hit and Run” will be a thing of the past

Microsoft joins GM in self driving vehicle initiative.

To unlock the potential of cloud computing for self-driving vehicles, Cruise will leverage Azure, Microsoft’s cloud and edge computing platform, to commercialize its unique autonomous vehicle solutions at scale. Microsoft, as Cruise’s preferred cloud provider, will also tap into Cruise’s deep industry expertise to enhance its customer-driven product innovation and serve transportation companies across the globe through continued investment in Azure.Microsoft will join General Motors, Honda and institutional investors in a combined new equity investment of more than $2 billion in Cruise, bringing the post-money valuation of Cruise to $30 billion.

Source: Cruise and GM team up with Microsoft to commercialize self-driving vehicles – Stories

This past year, the FAA wanted to track toy remote controlled model airplanes in real time, once per second. If the government thought they needed real time tracking of toys, you can be sure they will demand real time tracking of all automobiles.

Every vehicle incident will be tracked – in real time. The era of people driving away in hit-and-run accidents will come to an end. So will privacy but what ever, right? It’s probably for the children anyway.