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Austin robotics company Apptronik signed NASA deal

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Apptronik, a robotics company that aims to create a new generation of robots, has received a boost in its quest thanks to a new partnership with NASA.

Founded in 2016, Apptronik was an offshoot of the University of Texas Human-Centered Robotics Laboratory. The company says it wants to produce robots capable of changing the way we work and live.

Apptronik has built a number of robotics products over the years, from exoskeletons to humanoid robots, and the technology is being used by customers including several Fortune 500 companies.

Now the company is working to commercialize its first general-purpose robot, called Apollo, which it says is capable of adapting to a variety of environments.

Apptronik said its Apollo robot will be among the first mass-produced humanoid robots in the industry and will be part of a larger platform that will scale to create a variety of robots. The company plans to introduce Apollo at South by Southwest in March 2023.

The move to mainstream marketing follows the raising of $14.6 million earlier this year.

Unlike special purpose robots that are only capable of performing a single repetitive task, Apollo is designed as a general purpose robot capable of performing a wide range of tasks in various work environments.

Once in production, Apollo will work in industries ranging from logistics, retail, hospitality, aerospace and more, the company said.

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Can robots help humanity ‘explore the stars’?

NASA first partnered with Apptronik in 2013 during the DARPA Robotics Challenge, where the founders were selected to work on NASA’s Valkyrie Robot.

NASA has now selected Apptronik as a business partner to launch a new generation of general-purpose robots, starting with Apollo. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“NASA’s continued investment validates the work we’re doing at Apptronik,” said Jeff Cardenas, co-founder and CEO of Apptronik. “The robots we have all dreamed of are now here and ready to go out into the world. These robots will first become tools for us here on earth and ultimately help us go further and explore the stars.”

Apptronik considers its products to be “human-centric” or designed with humans in mind, meaning robotic devices capable of working alongside humans in a number of environments.

Cardenas said the company has focused on making robots that are safe, high-performance and capable of performing a range of tasks, but also affordable and robust enough to meet mass-market demand.

Apollo will be a general-purpose robot that can lift roughly the amount of weight that humans can and is designed to work in spaces designed for humans. Apptronik’s larger-scale robotic system is capable of performing the same tasks, but can also lift heavier payloads. Both will be equipped with artificial intelligence and will be able to adapt and respond to their environment, according to the company.

Cárdenas said that Apptronik’s first-generation robots are designed to begin filling the labor gap in the logistics industry, which includes work in warehouses, the energy industry, facility inspection, defense and manufacturing, among others.

The products build on work the company has done over the years building both humanoid robots and exoskeletons, which are robotic devices designed to be worn by humans. As the company enters its new phase, it will focus entirely on humanoid robots.

Cardenas said the company’s work over the years has helped teach Approniks, getting the team thinking about a variety of technical problems, improving engineering and showcasing the capabilities of the technologies.

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“Each project we did gave us a piece of the puzzle. What we’re focusing on today is this idea of ​​mobile manipulation, or mobile robots that can work,” Cárdenas said. “You don’t really know what a robot is going to do until you build it. We had to build a lot of different systems over time to really learn how to build robots and scale.”

 

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Tesla autopilot recalls: 2 million vehicles need to have their defective systems fixed

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Tesla autopilot recalls: 2 million vehicles need to have their defective systems fixed

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla is recalling nearly all vehicles sold in the U.S., more than 2 million, to update software and fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when using Autopilot.

Documents posted Wednesday by U.S. safety regulators say the update will increase warnings and alerts to drivers and even limit the areas where basic versions of Autopilot can operate.

The recall comes after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

The agency says its investigation found Autopilot’s method of making sure that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system.”

The added controls and alerts will “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility,” the documents said.

But safety experts said that, while the recall is a good step, it still makes the driver responsible and doesn’t fix the underlying problem that Tesla’s automated systems have with spotting and stopping for obstacles in their path.

The recall covers models Y, S, 3 and X produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year. The update was to be sent to certain affected vehicles on Tuesday, with the rest getting it later.

Shares of Tesla slid more than 3% in earlier trading Wednesday but recovered amid a broad stock market rally to end the day up 1%.

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The attempt to address the flaws in Autopilot seemed like a case of too little, too late to Dillon Angulo, who was seriously injured in 2019 crash involving a Tesla that was using the technology along a rural stretch of Florida highway where the software isn’t supposed to be deployed.

“This technology is not safe, we have to get it off the road,” said Angulo, who is suing Tesla as he recovers from injuries that included brain trauma and broken bones. “The government has to do something about it. We can’t be experimenting like this.”

Autopilot includes features called Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with Autosteer intended for use on limited access freeways when it’s not operating with a more sophisticated feature called Autosteer on City Streets.

The software update will limit where Autosteer can be used. “If the driver attempts to engage Autosteer when conditions are not met for engagement, the feature will alert the driver it is unavailable through visual and audible alerts, and Autosteer will not engage,” the recall documents said.

Depending on a Tesla’s hardware, the added controls include “increasing prominence” of visual alerts, simplifying how Autosteer is turned on and off, and additional checks on whether Autosteer is being used outside of controlled access roads and when approaching traffic control devices. A driver could be suspended from using Autosteer if they repeatedly fail “to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility,” the documents say.

According to recall documents, agency investigators met with Tesla starting in October to explain “tentative conclusions” about the fixing the monitoring system. Tesla did not concur with NHTSA’s analysis but agreed to the recall on Dec. 5 in an effort to resolve the investigation.

Auto safety advocates for years have been calling for stronger regulation of the driver monitoring system, which mainly detects whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel. They have called for cameras to make sure a driver is paying attention, which are used by other automakers with similar systems.

Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who studies autonomous vehicle safety, called the software update a compromise that doesn’t address a lack of night vision cameras to watch drivers’ eyes, as well as Teslas failing to spot and stop for obstacles.

“The compromise is disappointing because it does not fix the problem that the older cars do not have adequate hardware for driver monitoring,” Koopman said.

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Koopman and Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, contend that crashing into emergency vehicles is a safety defect that isn’t addressed. “It’s not digging at the root of what the investigation is looking at,” Brooks said. “It’s not answering the question of why are Teslas on Autopilot not detecting and responding to emergency activity?”

Koopman said NHTSA apparently decided that the software change was the most it could get from the company, “and the benefits of doing this now outweigh the costs of spending another year wrangling with Tesla.”

In its statement Wednesday, NHTSA said the investigation remains open “as we monitor the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety.”

Autopilot can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane, but is a driver-assist system and cannot drive itself, despite its name. Independent tests have found that the monitoring system is easy to fool, so much that drivers have been caught while driving drunk or even sitting in the back seat.

In its defect report filed with the safety agency, Tesla said Autopilot’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”

A message was left early Wednesday seeking further comment from the Austin, Texas, company.

Tesla says on its website that Autopilot and a more sophisticated Full Self Driving system are meant to help drivers who have to be ready to intervene at all times. Full Self Driving is being tested by Tesla owners on public roads.

In a statement posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter, Tesla said safety is stronger when Autopilot is engaged.

NHTSA has dispatched investigators to 35 Tesla crashes since 2016 in which the agency suspects the vehicles were running on an automated system. At least 17 people have been killed.

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The investigations are part of a larger probe by the NHTSA into multiple instances of Teslas using Autopilot crashing into emergency vehicles. NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety problems with Teslas, including a recall of Full Self Driving software.

In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said Tesla shouldn’t be calling the system Autopilot because it can’t drive itself.

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AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this story.

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink probed over material shipments

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Elon Musk’s brain-implant company Neuralink is being probed over its shipping methods after an animal rights group contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. officials said.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said that public records show untrained Neuralink employees transported “contaminated” devices that were removed from the brains of “infected” monkeys without safely packaging them. The incidents are said to have taken place in 2019 at the University of California, Davis, where experiments on rhesus macaques were performed.

Neuralink is one of many groups working on linking brains to computers, efforts aimed at helping treat brain disorders, overcoming brain injuries and other applications.

The origins of the technology dates back to the 1960s, but significant advances have been made in recent years.

Late last year, in a livestreamed “show and tell” presentation, Musk said his team is in the process of seeking approval from U.S. regulators to test his company’s device. He said at the time that the company should be able to put the implant in a human brain as part of a clinical trial in about six months, though that timeline is far from certain.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said medical files it obtained for the monkeys suggest that transported neural devices may have been contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens including Staphylococcus and Klebsiella, which can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. The group said the devices have also have been contaminated with Corynebacterium ulcerans, an “emerging human pathogen” that can produce fatal diphtheria. The devices may also have come from monkeys infected with Herpes B.

“The records suggest that Neuralink’s sloppy practices pose a danger to public health and safety,” Deborah Dubow Press, Esq., associate general counsel with the Physicians Committee, said.

Neuralink, based in Fremont, California did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

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The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is conducting the investigation.

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Musk, top Biden aides meet in Washington, talk electric cars

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Musk, top Biden aides meet in Washington, talk electric cars

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a pair of top aides to President Joe Biden met in Washington on Friday to discuss the electric vehicle industry and the broader goal of electrification.

Musk and Biden did not meet, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The two haven’t had the smoothest of relationships, with Biden, a big supporter of labor unions, disappointed by Musk’s refusal to allow them into his factories.

White House aides Mitch Landrieu and John Podesta sat down with the Tesla chief — who also owns Twitter and SpaceX — at Tesla’s office in downtown Washington to discuss shared goals around electrification.

Their discussion touched on how infrastructure and climate legislation that Biden signed into law last year can help boost the production of electric vehicles and charging stations, and encourage more people to switch from gas-fueled to electric-powered vehicles and to choose more electric appliances, like heat pumps and stoves. Rebates and tax credits are available to encourage that shift.

Landrieu oversees federal spending on infrastructure, which included financial help for the electric vehicle industry. Podesta is the president’s point man on spending on Biden’s climate and clean energy initiatives.

Asked whether the meeting signaled a new phase in White House relations with Musk, Jean-Pierre said it “says a lot” about how Biden sees the importance of both pieces of legislation.

“I think it’s important that his team, senior members of his team, had a meeting with Elon Musk,” she said.

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