West Hollywood City in the U.S. Approves Delivery Robots

Chris Albrecht wrote . . . . . . . . .

In addition to random celebrity sightings, residents of West Hollywood, CA will soon be spotting autonomous delivery robots in their neighborhood. Last night the West Hollywood city council approved the use of delivery robots on its city streets (hat tip to WeHoVille).

A trial of the program will start next month with Postmates’ Serve robot and run for 90 days. Serve is a cooler-sized robot that scurries around on four wheels, and while it can run autonomously using sensors and cameras to avoid people and obstacles, the city council is requiring a human chaperone during the trial. Additionally, only three robots can be in operation at once, they can only run during the day, and they aren’t allowed on sidewalks deemed substandard.

Serve has already been making deliveries in the Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles since the tail end of last year, and the West Hollywood expansion illustrates how cautious local regulators are being when it comes to robots.

Across the country from West Hollywood, state lawmakers in Missouri introduced their own bill to regulate sidewalk delivery robots. The proposed legislation would limit a robot’s weight to 200 lbs, have autonomous driving capabilities, and require an insurance policy of $100,000 to cover any damages.

State and local governments across the country are grappling with rapid innovation like sidewalk robots essentially in real time. Lawmakers have to weigh the convenience of something like an autonomous sidewalk robot with the costs. Sidewalk robots could help reduce traffic congestion by getting delivery cars off the road, but then you have fleets of ‘bots crowding sidewalks. Robots could make meal delivery more affordable, but you have to make sure they are distributed in an equitable fashion. Then there are questions around liability and privacy when running robots on public streets, and more fundamental questions like where robots can recharge.

The point is, autonomous robot delivery technology is available and ready, now we just to wait and see how it will be integrated into our everyday lives.

Source: The Spoon

New Tech Takes Radiation Out of Breast Cancer Screening

Researchers have developed a new, inexpensive technology that could save lives and money by routinely screening women for breast cancer without exposure to radiation.

The system, developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo, uses harmless microwaves and artificial intelligence (AI) software to detect even small, early-stage tumors within minutes.

“Our top priorities were to make this detection-based modality fast and inexpensive,” said Omar Ramahi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Waterloo. “We have incredibly encouraging results and we believe that is because of its simplicity.”

A prototype device – the culmination of 15 years of work on the use of microwaves for tumor detection, not imaging – cost less than $5,000 to build.

It consists of a small sensor in an adjustable box about 15 centimeters square that is situated under an opening in a padded examination table.

Patients lie face-down on the table so that one breast at a time is positioned in the box. The sensor emits microwaves that bounce back and are then processed by AI software on a laptop computer.

By comparing the tissue composition of one breast with the other, the system is sensitive enough to detect anomalies less than one centimeter in diameter.

Ramahi said a negative result could quickly rule out cancer, while a positive result would trigger referral for more expensive tests using mammography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“If women were screened regularly with this, potential problems would be caught much sooner – in the early stages of cancer,” he said. “Our system can complement existing technology, reserving much more expensive options for when they’re really needed.

“We need a mixture, a combination of technologies. When our device sent up a red flag, it would mean more investigation was warranted.”

In addition to reducing patient wait times and enabling earlier diagnosis, Ramahi said, the device would eliminate radiation exposure, improve patient comfort and work on particularly dense breasts, a problem with mammograms.

It would also save health-care systems enormous amounts of money and, because of its low cost and ease of use, dramatically increase access to screening in the developing world.

Researchers have applied for a patent and started a company, Wave Intelligence Inc. of Waterloo, to commercialize the system and hope to begin trials on patients within six months. Three rounds of preliminary testing included the use of artificial human torsos known as phantoms.

Source: University of Waterloo


Today’s Comic

Amazon Opens No-cashier Grocery Store

Joseph Pisani wrote . . . . . . . . .

Amazon wants to kill the supermarket checkout line.

The online retailing giant is opening its first cashier-less supermarket, where shoppers can grab milk or eggs and walk out without waiting in line or ever opening their wallets. It’s the latest sign that Amazon is serious about shaking up the US$800 billion grocery industry.

At the new store, which opened Tuesday in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle, shoppers scan a smartphone app to enter the store. Cameras and sensors track what’s taken off shelves. Items are charged to an Amazon account after leaving.

“I love the convenience of literally grabbing and going” said Art Kuniyuki, a payroll and benefits manager from Seattle, who spent US$15 on Barilla pasta, Dove chocolate and other groceries shortly after the store opened.

Called Amazon Go Grocery, the new store is an expansion of its two-year-old chain of 25 Amazon Go convenience stores. It’s 10,400 square feet — more than five times the size of the convenience stores — and stocks much more beyond the sodas and sandwiches found at Amazon Go.

Cameron Janes, who helps oversee Amazon’s physical stores, said the technology had to be tweaked to account for how people squeeze tomatoes to test for ripeness or rummage through avocados to find just the right one. Nothing at the store is weighed. One blood orange goes for 53 cents; a banana is 19 cents.

Amazon is not new to groceries. It made a splash in 2017 when it bought Whole Foods and its 500 stores. It’s also been expanding its online grocery delivery service. But it’s still far behind rival Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer, which has more than 4,700 stores. Walmart’s online grocery service has also been popular with customers, who buy online and then drive to a store to pick up their order.

Amazon also plans to open another type of grocery store in Los Angeles sometime this year, but the company said it won’t use the cashier-less technology at that location and has kept other details under wraps. The company declined to say if it plans to open more Amazon Go Grocery stores, and said there are no plans to bring the technology to Whole Foods stores.

Much of the fruits and vegetables come from the same suppliers at Whole Foods, Janes said. And it has products from the Whole Foods store brand 365, such as organic oatmeal and bagged baby carrots. But it also sells Oreos, Cheez-Its and other stuff banned from the natural grocer.

Families can shop together with just one phone scanning everyone in. Anything they grab and leave the store with will be added to the tab of the person who signed them in. But shoppers shouldn’t help out a stranger reaching for the top shelf: Amazon warns that grabbing an item for someone else means you’ll be charged for it.

Hoping to catch up to Amazon, other retailers and startups are racing to bring similar cashierless technology to stores. Earlier this month, 7-Eleven said it is testing a cashier-less store for employees inside its offices in Irving, Texas.

But cashier-less stores have come under scrutiny from lawmakers and advocates who say they discriminate against low-income people who may not have a credit card or bank account. Amazon has since let customers pay with cash at its convenience stores, and the company said shoppers can do the same at the grocery store by alerting a worker to let them in through the turnstile.

The stores also eliminates the job of cashiers. Janes declined to say exactly how many people the store employs, only saying it is “several dozen.” Workers greet customers and walk around aisles restocking shelves. One employee stands by the alcohol section, checking IDs of shoppers who want wine or beer.

While cashier-less stores remove the annoyance of waiting in line to pay, it also kills some joys of the supermarket. There’s no one to bag groceries. Instead, Amazon gives out reusable bags so shoppers can fill them as they shop. And there’s no deli counter, butcher or fishmonger. Instead, sliced ham, steaks and salmon fillets are already packaged and found in refrigerated shelves.

“Just walk out technology is kind of cool, in theory,” said David Bishop, a partner at retail consultancy Brick Meets Click, but shoppers decide where to shop based on other factors besides how quickly they can get in and out of the store.

He said those who want thinly sliced ham may skip Amazon Go Grocery and walk two blocks away to the Kroger-owned QFC supermarket, which is about five times the size.

Still, Bishop said, it’s hard for the grocery industry to ignore Amazon, which has the cash and technology to experiment with groceries. “They’re not giving up,” he said of Amazon.

Source : Winnipeg Free Press

Company Rolls Out Smart Chillers that Let Customers Buy Food with WhatsApp and WeChat

Michael Wolf wrote . . . . . . . . .

Ray Nathan had a problem.

The longtime technology entrepreneur and investor had spent years and a significant amount of his own capital to create a line of fresh, direct-to-consumer Indian food under the brand NÜTY, only to find traditional Indian retailers were not well equipped for the type of cold-chain continuity required for such a premium product.

One solution would be to use a fresh-food vending machine like Farmer’s Fridge or Bite Kiosk but, as it turns out, these automated cashierless food retail machines had yet to make their way to India. So Nathan did what any self-respecting food company founder who had also built his own tech company in a previous life would do: He built his own solution.

Conceived as a sister company to NÜTY Foods, Nathan decided to start NÜTY Technology to make IoT powered smart chillers which would keep his food at the right temperature until purchased by the consumer.

The chillers, which Nathan and his company had on display this month at the IoT Fair in India, give customers the ability to buy in person using NFC or through social apps. In India, that means Whatsapp, which allow consumers to buy food through the chat function.

To buy food from a NÜTY chiller with WhatsApp, the user simply opens the app and starts a conversation with NÜTY, finds a chiller near them and orders by texting the word pay. From there the chatbot sends a pay link. Once they pay, the consumer is free to pick up their food at the designated chiller.

The company is also testing their food chillers in China with WeChat as the conversational commerce platform. WeChat has become an entire commerce ecosystem in and of itself over the past few years with its mini-program platform, which NÜTY’s ordering and payment app is built upon.

The food inventory is tracked using RFID. Each chiller is outfitted with an “RFID set top” and has internal RFID sensors can track up to 30 or 40 products at a time.

Today Nathan’s chillers are in 80 locations, including across office parks, coworking spaces, cafeterias and shared living spaces, and he has plans to roll them out across India and in certain cities in China and, eventually, into the US market.

While mobile payments are taking off in every region, countries that embraced superapps like WeChat and WhatsApp for payment have moved faster than other regions. China in particular has pulled ahead of pretty much everyone else, where some estimates have mobile payments adoption above 80% of transactions.

As we’ve written here for some time on The Spoon, interest in next-generation vending machines and kiosks has been growing in recent years, with self-service fresh food kiosks being as one of the more interesting categories. In the US, players like Byte and Farmer’s Fridge have emerged as an alternative to cafeterias, local deli or the fresh food aisle at your grocery store, but in markets like India options like the NÜTY chiller could help to actually serve as a critical platform to enable the availability of high quality packaged fresh food.

Source: The Spoon

This Swiss Company Can Now 3D Print Tons of Personalized Chocolate

Catherine Lamb wrote . . . . . . . . .

It’s February 14, which means there’s a good chance you’ll give or receive chocolate at some point today. The chances that that chocolate will be 3D printed? Slim to nil.

But all that could soon change thanks to Barry Callebaut AG, a company that makes roughly one-fourth of all the world’s chocolate, including that used by well-known brands like Hershey’s and Nestlé. According to a press release from the Swiss corporation, it will work with gourmet clients to let them print personalized chocolate designs en masse through Mona Lisa, its chocolate decoration brand. In short — Barry Callebaut will help brands print customized chocolate creations.

Business partners can develop their own custom designs and specify size parameters for their chocolate. They’ll then share those with Barry Callebaut, which will print the custom chocolates in large quantities at its Mona Lisa 3D Studio. Barry Callebaut can print thousands of a particular design succession thanks to its new 3D printing tech, which keeps melted chocolate at the perfect temperature for speedy printing.

Chocoholics will have to wait a while before they can buy these 3D printed creations in stores, though. Barry Callebaut will first work with high-end clients, like hotels, pastry chefs and coffee chains. Its first customer will be Dutch hotel chain Van der Valk. Down the road, Barry Callebaut will open up its tech to use with manufacturers such as Nestlé and Hershey.

For aspiring chocolatiers who don’t want to wait, there are some home options. Mycusini is a countertop chocolate printer (though it’s only available in Europe). The Mayku Formbox lets you print DIY chocolate molds at home. And while it’s not available yet, but the Cocoterra lets you make bean-to-bar chocolate right in your kitchen.

Barry Callebaut’s tech is perfectly situated to tap into a trend we at the Spoon have been seeing everywhere lately: personalization. The chocolate-maker can’t produce individualized chocolates for every person, obviously — the Mona Lisa 3D Studio will be printing chocolates on a large scale. But with this new 3D printing service, businesses can get more creative with their sugary marketing and branding efforts. For example, Starbucks could make a line of hot chocolate sticks (it’s a thing!) in the shape of their signature coffee cups. Or your favorite hotel line could make pillow chocolates shaped like pillows!

Source: The Spoon