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Robots walk, talk, pour beer and take over CES tech show

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Matt O’Brien And Joseph Pisani, The Associated Press


Published Thursday, January 10, 2019 12:37PM EST

LAS VEGAS — Robots that walk, talk, pour beer and play pingpong have taken over the CES gadget show in Las Vegas again. Just don’t expect to find one in your home any time soon.

Most home robot ventures have failed, in part because they’re so difficult and expensive to design to a level of intelligence that consumers will find useful, says Bilal Zuberi, a robotics-oriented venture capitalist at Lux Capital. But that doesn’t keep companies from trying.

“Roboticists, I guess, will never give up their dream to build Rosie,” says Zuberi, referring to the humanoid maid from “The Jetsons.”

But there’s some hope for others. Frank Gillett, a tech analyst at Forrester, says robots with more focused missions such as mowing the lawn or delivering cheeseburgers stand a better shot at finding a useful niche.

ROBOTS THAT DELIVER

There are so many delivery robots at CES that it’s easy to imagine that we’ll all be stumbling over them on the sidewalk — or in the elevator — before long. Zuberi says it’s among the new robot trends with the most promise because the field is drawing on some of the same advances that power self-driving cars.

But it’s hard to tell which — if any — will still be around in a few years.

Segway Robotics, part of the same company that makes electric rental scooters for Lime, Jump and Bird, is the latest to get into the delivery game with a new machine it calls Loomo. The wheeled office robot can avoid obstacles, board elevators and deliver documents to another floor.

A similar office courier called the Holabot was unveiled by Chinese startup Shenzhen Pudu Technology. CEO Felix Zhang says his company already has a track record in China, where its Pudubot robot — which looks like shelves on wheels — navigates busy restaurants as a kind of robotic waiter.

Nearly all of these robots use a technology called visual SLAM, short for simultaneous localization and mapping. Most are wheeled, though there are outliers — such as one from German automotive company Continental, which wants to deploy walking robotic dogs to carry packages from self-driving delivery vans to residential front doors.

A delivery robot will need both sophisticated autonomy and a focused mission to stand out from the pack, says Saumil Nanavati, head of business development for Robby Technology. His company’s namesake robot travels down sidewalks as a “store on wheels.” The company recently partnered with PepsiCo to deliver snacks around a California university campus.

ROBOTS FOR DOGS

Does man’s best friend need a robotic pal of its own? Some startups think so.

“There’s a big problem with separation anxiety, obesity and depression in pets,” says Bee-oh Kim, a marketing manager for robotics firm Varram.

The company’s $99 robot is essentially a moving treat dispenser that motivates pets to chase it around. A herd of the small, dumbbell-shaped robots zoomed around a pen at the show — though there were no canine or feline conference attendees to show how the machines really work.

Varram’s robot takes two hours to charge and can run for 10 hours — just enough time to allow a pet’s guilt-ridden human companion to get home from work.

ROBOTS ON GRANDPARENT WATCH

Samsung is coming out with a robot that can keep its eye on grandparents.

The rolling robot can talk and has two digital eyes on a black screen. It’s designed to track the medicines seniors take, measure blood pressure and call 911 if it detects a fall.

The company didn’t say when Samsung Bot Care would be available. Samsung says it’s also working on a robot for retail shops and another for testing and purifying the air in homes.

ROBOT FRIENDS

Lovot is a simple robot with just one aim — to make its owner happy.

It can’t carry on long conversations, but it’s still social — approaching people so they can interact, moving around a space to create a digital map, responding to being embraced.

Lovot’s horn-shaped antenna — featuring a 360-degree camera — recognizes its surroundings and detects the direction of sound and voices.

Lovot is the brainchild of Groove X CEO Kaname Hayashi, who previously worked on SoftBank’s Pepper, a humanoid robot that briefly appeared in a few U.S. shopping malls two years ago. Hayashi wanted to create a real connection between people and robots.

“This is just supporting your heart, our motivation,” he says.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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