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Robotics and Additive Manufacturing in 2023

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Robotics and Additive Manufacturing

It has been a great year for technological advancement, with breakthroughs made in quantum computing and 5G to AR/VR, large language models, and artificial intelligence (AI). The tech landscape has been changed dramatically by these groundbreaking innovations.

Today, we are going to cover two prominent industries, Robotics and Additive Manufacturing, to see where we are moving.

Robotics enjoyed a particularly exciting 2023 with the rise of new technologies as developers continued to push the boundaries of what robots can do. All these advancements in the sector point to robotics being the dominant technology in the ever-changing technological landscape as they revolutionize how we work, live, and play to become an essential part of our lives.

Then there's additive manufacturing (AM) or additive layer manufacturing (ALM), which is all about 3D printing. It is a computer-controlled process to deposit materials, usually in layers, to create objects from three-dimensional model data.

So, let's see the most prominent developments made in these two industries in 2023!

Humanoid Robots Lead Robotics 

Robotics is the field that deals with the conception, design, construction, and use of robots to perform tasks typically done by human beings. Here, robots are automatically operated machines that often carry out simple, repetitive tasks independently.

This year, we saw several human-like robots called humanoid robots making headlines. These are called humanoid robots because they are similar to a human body's shape and typically have a torso, head, arms, and two legs. Primarily, these robots are built to interact with human tools and are used for inspection and maintenance as well. The latest iterations of these robots can talk, walk, and work like humans.

Some of the popular humanoid robots include Nadine from the Japanese company Kokoro, which is an empathetic robot with personality, mood, and emotions that makes eye contact and returns greetings. Geminoid DK is another ultra-realistic humanoid that looks like a human. Humanoid Junco Chihira is created by Toshiba, works in a tourist information center, and possesses speech recognition capabilities. Then there's Jia Jia, who can hold a normal conversation with microbial facial expressions with the help of speech-generation algorithms and facial recognition technologies.

We can't forget about Sophia, which is considered the most advanced humanoid robot. Debuted in 2016 and designed by Hanson Robotics, Sophia is the first robot citizen of the world and is also the robot innovation ambassador for the UN development program. She was created with the goal of making a robot capable of gaining social skills, hence, embedded with neural networks and AI to recognize human faces and understand their gestures and emotions.

Space agency NASA has also developed its own humanoid robot called Valkyrie, which is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 300 pounds (136 kg). This bipedal humanoid robot has now entered the final stages of testing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas. The robot is designed to work in damaged or degraded environments, which means areas hit by natural disasters.

Robots like Valkyrie can also operate in space one day, with Shaun Azimi, NASA Dexterous Robotics Team Leader, saying that in space, humanoid robots could potentially handle risky tasks so astronauts can focus on exploration and discovery. With this, the idea is not to replace human crews but rather have humanoid robots do the “dull, dirty, and dangerous” work like cleaning solar panels or inspecting spacecraft's malfunctioning equipment while humans focus on “higher-level activities.”

For this, NASA has partnered with robotics companies like Texas-based Apptronik, which is developing Apollo with a capacity for being “online 22 hours a day” for performing supply chain-oriented tasks in warehouses and manufacturing plants and, in the future, moving into retail to delivery and, then space. Apptronik plans to start providing these robots to companies in the year after.

Besides all this, other humanoid robots that emerged this year included Tesla's Optimus, Unitree's H1, Sanctuary AI's sixth-generation Phoenix, and Figure AI's Figure 01. In fact, China recently announced its plans to mass-produce humanoid robots by 2025. Meanwhile, Agility Robotics is building a factory, “RoboFab,” to produce up to 10,000 robots per year. E-commerce giant Amazon has also begun conducting the first commercial testing of a humanoid robot.

Boston Dynamics is doing some great work in this space. So let's learn about them.

1. Boston Dynamics 

In the world of humanoid robots, Boston Dynamics is the most well-known name, which earlier this year posted videos of its Atlas robot running around, picking planks, and throwing a bag of tools in a simulated construction site. According to Atlas control's lead, Ben Stephens, there's still a “long way off” for bipedal robots to be able to work alongside humans reliably, but “this is the future of robotics.”

Founded in 1992 as a spin-off from MIT, Boston Dynamics is a robotics design company that also develops software for human simulation and training. The company's mission is to conceptualize and create exceptional robots that reduce the danger and physically difficult aspects of work and enrich people's lives. 

Its humanoid robot Atlas, which it defines as “the world's most dynamic humanoid robot,” allows Boston Dynamics to push the limits of whole-body mobility and bimanual manipulation. Atlas is used to explore the potential of the humanoid form factor and demonstrates the company's efforts to develop the next generation of robots with mobility, perception, and intelligence.

AI for Human-robot Interaction

Artificial intelligence, or AI, which is the intelligence of machines or software, witnessed tremendous progress this year to become a driving force in transforming many industries, including robotics. Through machine learning, AI is enabling robots to learn and perform specific tasks. 

AI techniques are actually necessary for robots to be able to understand human behavior, gestures, and body language and express emotions. Researchers are using techniques like emotion recognition, speech recognition, and predictive language models to not only improve robot communication but even interact in a more emotionally intelligent manner.

Advances in AI give robots cognitive capabilities that were previously not possible, making AI-powered robots indispensable in a variety of industries. This intersection of robotics and AI is also giving rise to other industries with the AI Robotics market currently having a size of just over $15 billion and is expected to rise to $36.78 bln by the end of this decade. 

AI is actually being applied in robotics in many ways, starting with machine learning. By learning from data and experiences, which is essential for tasks requiring pattern recognition, robots' performance can be enhanced. Robots also utilize AI-powered computer vision to analyze visual information, which is essential for recognizing objects, people, and obstacles that help them navigate. 

AI algorithms further support robots in formulating the best paths in order to navigate their complex surroundings, enhancing their finesse by enabling precise control of arms and grippers and making autonomous decisions to adapt to dynamic situations without requiring continual human intervention. 

Integrating Natural Language Processing (NLP) empowers robots to understand human commands and respond to them better, enhancing their value in human-robot interactions and making them more user-friendly. In this sphere, OpenAI's ChatGPT, the biggest story in robotics, automation, and AI this year, signaled a new era in human-computer interaction. 

ChatGPT is an NLP tool driven by AI tech that allows you to have human-like conversations with a chatbot. In a matter of a couple of months, ChatGPT gained 100 million users, which led to a number of companies releasing their own generative AI programs. Other Large Language Models (LLMs) — that make generative AI or conversational AI — include Google's Gemini LLM, which powers Bard, Amazon's Olympus, and Meta's Llama 2.

This development in generative AI opened new possibilities in the robotics industry. For example, earlier this year, Microsoft enhanced ChatGPT to operate a robotic arm and navigate an aerial drone. The company also announced plans to develop GPT-powered robots and use generative AI in robot creation. Simultaneously, researchers in Switzerland and the Netherlands used insights from ChatGPT to develop a tomato-picking robot. Then there is Agility Robotics, which explored the use of LLMs to control its mobile manipulation robot, Digit.

As we saw, AI is helping elevate robots' abilities to make them more flexible, intelligent, and proficient in executing various tasks. It is also making it possible for robots to recognize human gestures, understand intentions, and make appropriate responses, allowing for more efficient and secure collaboration between humans and robots.

Click here for the list of best robotics surgery stocks.

2. Hanson Robotics

This AI and robotics company creates socially intelligent machines and is behind the renowned Sophia the Robot. Hanson Robotics is involved in material science, robotics, the research and development of AI, and experiential design to ‘bring robots to life' as not just useful products but also engaging characters.

In Nov. 2023, the Hong Kong-based robotics company developed the world's first AI humanoid robot, Mika, in collaboration with luxury lifestyle company Dictador. Mika joined Dictador as its CEO to be “responsible for Arthouse Spirits DAO project and communication with the DAO community” on behalf of the company. 

This is not all. Mika also received the title of Honorary Professor during the 2023/24 Collegium Humanum University Inauguration and gave a speech highlighting the advancements happening in the field of AI. David Hanson, the Hanson Robotics CEO, has emphasized the importance of “humanizing” AI tech and that AI needs to be taught to “care about people.” 

Advanced 3D Printers

While the first 3D printing tech was invented back in the early 1980s, it has grown significantly in recent years, with its global market size worth $18.33 bln in 2022. This market is projected to grow to nearly $100 bln by 2032.

As companies started offering cheap consumer-level 3D printers in the 2010s in combination with the media frenzy, giants like General Electric and Hewlett Packard entered the space, and now the industry is seeing real-world applications in areas like:

  • Prototyping and product development
  • Manufacturing
  • Medical
  • Aerospace
  • Construction
  • Automotive
  • Education
  • Research and more

This way, it is disrupting traditional markets to help other companies accelerate design finalization, produce more, and innovate faster. 

In the world of additive manufacturing or 3D printing, companies are working on enhancing the performance of 3D printers to allow for specific processes and use cases. Advances in this field are reducing the energy requirements for additive manufacturing processes and improving printer movement. These advancements lead to a reduction in the cost of 3D printing and help the technology gain wider accessibility. 

Given the popularity of 3D printers and innovation being the standard in additive manufacturing, many startups are working on improving the tech. For instance, Finnish startup Brinter has created a modular bioprinter for the medical and life sciences industries. Their bioprinter supports a range of bioinks and comes with built-in UV light for the purpose of disinfection, allowing researchers to print organs, cancer models, and personalized drugs. 

In the US, startup Verde Mantis has developed a desktop 3D printer that is easy to use and provides plug-and-print mode. This printer also features an in-built camera, a self-leveling platform, and a Raspberry Pi module.

Other advancements in 3D printers include Hybrid PhotoSynthesis (HPS) technology that combines SLA (laser) and DLP tech to take advantage of their resolution and speed, helping achieve better results in resin 3D printing. Besides advancing the 3D printer itself, companies are developing new materials as well. 

UpNano is one such company that created UpFlow for first-of-its-kind micro 3D printing microfluidic devices on its printer, enabling medtech startup Fertilis to develop a cell-culture device for the IVF market.

Automation, advancements in software, metal 3D printing, and the rise of the digital supply chain are other trends in this sector. However, challenges remain in the form of scaling difficulty, technology limitations, and cost of equipment, materials, and pre- and post-processing.

3D printing is finally getting the limelight after being in the shadows for long, which, according to its advocates, can ultimately mass produce everything from airline components to medical equipment.

3. Stratasys

Founded in 1989, Stratasys is known for producing solutions for various industries and boasts of its founder creating one of the very first 3D printers. The publicly listed company has a market cap of $1 billion as its shares trade at $14.51, up 22.34% this year. The company's revenue trailing 12 months (TTM) is 630.579 million while having an EPS (TTM) of -1.61, P/E (TTM) of -9.03, and ROE (TTM) of -4.82%.

finviz dynamic chart for  SSYS

Recently, the company received an unsolicited takeover offer from Nano Dimension Ltd. for all shares that it doesn't currently own for $16.50 a share in cash, giving the company a valuation of $1.1 billion. This came after Stratasys terminated the $1.8 bln proposed merger with Desktop Metal due to the majority of shareholders rejecting the deal. Nano Dimension owns about 14% of the company's shares and has made multiple attempts this year to acquire the remaining shares. 

When it comes to the company's latest Fusion Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer, F3300, which is designed for scalability, Stratasys worked with ATI to build a custom tool changer that allows the user to deploy one of four extruders at a time. It gives the user more flexibility in regards to extruder redundancy as well as the ability to print multiple colors in one part and incorporate two different resolutions. The company has announced that Toyota will be its first customer to purchase the new Stratasys F3300 3D printer. 

Click here for the list of best 3D printing and additive manufacturing stocks.

Conclusion

The world is changing at a fast pace, and with that, additive manufacturing companies continue to develop tailored materials and improve the performance of 3D printers, while the world of robotics is seeing breakthroughs that are making them more intelligent and allowing them to interact with humans more efficiently. 

We can expect to see even more sophisticated products in the future, with the advancements in both these fields having the potential to change many industries, provide new opportunities for employment and education, and enhance our daily lives.

Gaurav started trading cryptocurrencies in 2017 and has fallen in love with the crypto space ever since. His interest in everything crypto turned him into a writer specializing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Soon he found himself working with crypto companies and media outlets. He is also a big-time Batman fan.