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Pudu Technology raises over $15 million for ‘contact-free’ autonomous delivery robots

Shenzhen-based robotics R&D startup Pudu Technology today announced an over $15 million round. The company claims over 2,000 hotel, restaurant, and hospital customers — including Sheraton and JD.com — across 20 countries. It will use the funds to develop new products, expand sales, and explore markets overseas.

The pandemic has accelerated the demand for robotic solutions, as they’re inherently contactless. Because customers and delivery workers are exposed to disinfected robots rather than each other, robots promise to limit the spread of infection while addressing gaps in on-demand delivery capacity.

Pudu sells a number of low-speed, autonomous, self-charging robots designed to ferry goods and interact with customers in hospitality and service settings. BellaBot, which the company describes as a “full-dimensional sensory” delivery robot, features a linkage suspension system for added stability and a modular chassis with built-in obstacle avoidance sensors. Holabot is designed to collect plates, with a high carrying capacity (120 liters), water-resistant design, and gesture recognition.

During the health crises, Pudu says its robots have provided contact-free delivery services in hundreds of hospitals worldwide, chiefly in Seoul, Beijing, and Wuhan. The company claims a single one of its robots can deliver up to 300 trays of meals a day, exceeding 400 at peak volume.

All of Pudu’s robots sport Pudu X EAI, a custom-designed lidar sensor that samples light at 18,000 times per second. It’s part of the company’s proprietary simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithm that draws on a range of sensors — including cameras, lidars, inertial measurement units, depth sensors, and radar — to deliver “centimeter-level” real-time positioning and map construction.

On the software side, Pudu offers Pudu Cloud, which handles things like business, operations, and maintenance management and scenario data collection. For instance, Pudu Scheduler allows customers to let the robots directly communicate with other robots on the same network, eliminating the need for a server. An AI voice module supports hundreds of dialog contexts. And cross-platform apps enable monitoring from smartwatches, tablets, pagers, and smartphones.

Beijing-based ecommerce company Meituan-Dianping exclusively led this latest investment in Pudu. The series B follows the completion of a 50 million yuan (~$7 million) round in June 2018, bringing Pudu’s total raised to over $20 million.

Pudu’s other notable customers include Sichuan-based hot pot restaurant chain Haidilao and food delivery app operator Wowa Brothers, to which the company sold over 5,000 robots last year. Pudu says it currently employs more than 100 people across its Shenzhen headquarters, its branch in Chengdu, and its service centers in over 60 cities in China.

Source: https://venturebeat.com/2020/07/01/pudu-technology-raises-15-million-for-contact-free-autonomous-delivery-robots/

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Can catering robots plug labour shortfall in China with ability to juggle hundreds of orders and not complain?

Two years ago, Bao Xiangyi quit school and worked as a waiter in a restaurant for half a year to support himself, and the 19 year-old remembers the time vividly.

“It was crazy working in some Chinese restaurants. My WeChat steps number sometimes hit 20,000 in a day [just by delivering meals in the restaurant],” said Bao.

The WeChat steps fitness tracking function gauges how many steps you literally take and 20,000 steps per day can be compared with a whole day of outdoor activity, ranking you very high in a typical friends circle.

Bao, now a university student in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, quit the waiter job and went back to school.

“I couldn’t accept that for 365 days a year every day would be the same,” said Bao. “Those days were filled with complete darkness and I felt like my whole life would be spent as an inferior and insignificant waiter.”

Olivia Niu, a 23-year-old Hong Kong resident, quit her waiter job on the first day. “It was too busy during peak meal times. I was so hungry myself but I needed to pack meals for customers,” said Niu.

Being a waiter has never been a top career choice but it remains a big source of employment in China. Yang Chunyan, a waitress at the Lanlifang Hotel in Wenzhou in southeastern China, has two children and says she chose the job because she needs to make a living.

Today’s young generation have their sights on other areas though. Of those born after 2000, 24.5 per cent want careers related to literature and art. This is followed by education and the IT industry in second and third place, according to a recent report by Tencent QQ and China Youth Daily.

Help may now be at hand though for restaurants struggling to find qualified table staff who are able to withstand the daily stress of juggling hundreds of orders of food. The answer comes in the form of robots.

Shenzhen Pudu Technology, a three-year-old Shenzhen start-up, is among the tech companies offering catering robots to thousands of restaurant owners who are scrambling to try to plug a labour shortfall with new tech such as machines, artificial intelligence and online ordering systems. It has deployed robots in China, Singapore, Korea and Germany.

With Pudu’s robot, kitchen staff can put meals on the robot, enter the table number, and the robot will deliver it to the consumer. While an average human waiter can deliver 200 meals per day – the robots can manage 300 to 400 orders.

“Nearly every restaurant owner [in China] says it’s hard to recruit people to [work as a waiter],” Zhang Tao, the founder and CEO of Pudu tech said in an interview this week. “China’s food market is huge and delivering meals is a process with high demand and frequency.”

Pudu’s robots can be used for ten years and cost between 40,000 yuan (US$5,650) and 50,000 yuan. That’s less than the average yearly salary of restaurant and hotel workers in China’s southern Guangdong province, which is roughly 60,000 yuan, according to a report co-authored by the South China Market of Human Resources and other organisations.

As such, it is no surprise that more restaurants want to use catering robots.According to research firm Verified Market Research, the global robotics services market was valued at US$11.62 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach US$35.67 billion by 2026. Haidilao, China’s top hotpot restaurant, has not only adopted service robots but also introduced a smart restaurant with a mechanised kitchen in Beijing last year. And in China’s tech hub of Shenzhen, it is hard to pay without an app as most of the restaurants have deployed an online order service.

China’s labour force advantage has also shrank in recent years. The working-age population, people between 16 and 59 years’ old, has reduced by 40 million since 2012 to 897 million, accounting for 64 per cent of China’s roughly 1.4 billion people in 2018, according to the national bureau of statistics.

By comparison, those of working age accounted for 69 per cent of the total population in 2012.

Other Chinese robotic companies are also entering the market. SIASUN Robot & Automation Co, a hi-tech listed enterprise belonging to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, introduced their catering robots to China’s restaurants in 2017. Delivery robots developed by Shanghai-based Keenon Robotics Co., founded in 2010, are serving people in China and overseas markets such as the US, Italy and Spain.

Pudu projects it will turn a profit this year and it is in talks with venture capital firms to raise a new round of funding, which will be announced as early as October, according to Zhang. Last year it raised 50 million yuan in a round led by Shenzhen-based QC capital.

To be sure, the service industry is still the biggest employer in China, with 359 million workers and accounting for 46.3 per cent of a working population of 776 million people in 2018, according to the national bureau of statistics.

And new technology sometimes offers up new problems – in this case, service with a smile.

“When we go out for dinner, what we want is service. It is not as simple as just delivering meals,” said Wong Kam-Fai, a professor in engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a national expert appointed by the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence. “If they [robot makers] can add an emotional side in future, it might work better.”

Technology companies also face some practical issues like unusual restaurant layouts.

“Having a [catering robot] traffic jam on the way to the kitchen is normal. Some passageways are very narrow with many zigzags,” Zhang said. “But this can be improved in future with more standardised layouts.”

Multi-floor restaurants can also be a problem.

Dai Qi, a sales manager at the Lanlifang Hotel, said it is impossible for her restaurant to adopt the robot. “Our kitchen is on the third floor, and we have boxes on the second, third, and fourth floor. So the robots can’t work [to deliver meals to downstairs/upstairs],” Dai said.

But Bao says he has no plans to return to being a waiter, so the robots may have the edge.

“Why are human beings doing something robots can do? Let’s do something they [robots] can’t,” Bao said.

View source version on
South China Morning Post: https://www.scmp.com/tech/start-ups/article/3027128/can-catering-robots-plug-labour-shortfall-china-ability-juggle

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In COVID-19, Pudu Robotics Provides Non-contact Delivery Service in Hundreds of Hospitals Worldwide – (Yahoo)

During COVID-19, hundreds of Pudu Robotics’ robot Pudubot is offering delivery service in hospitals worldwide. This non-contact delivery service by Pudubot helps avoid the spread of virus.

This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200605005095/en/

After the outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic with the characteristic of human-to-human transmission, a large number of hospitals and restaurants are seeking help from Pudu Robotics out of an urgent need for non-contact delivery.

Pudu Robotics responded positively by devoting robots to several hospitals in Seoul, South Korea, Beijing, China, Wuhan, China and so on. Because Pudu Robotics’ robots are fully automatic, they can achieve the delivery process all by themselves, which reduces contact between people and effectively prevents the spread of the virus.

Pudubot is equipped with multi-sensor and positioning and navigation technology. With large-capacity tray, Pudubot can deliver lots of medicines, meals, and other supplies to patients in the hospital to reduce the burden on medical staff.

In fact, this robot also delivers food in the restaurant before COVID-19.

At present, more than 2,000 international companies, such as Wowa Brothers, the largest food delivery app operator in Korea; Sheraton, a leader of high-star chain hotel; Haidilao, the Chinese hot pot giant; JD.com, the Chinese e-commerce giant have adopted this robot in non-contact delivery services.

Pudu Robotics CEO Zhang Tao said: “non-human physical contact means safety, and automation means saving human efforts. In the event of human life, these two advantages will be magnified. Many technology companies have played an important role in intelligent disinfection, unmanned delivery and intelligent diagnosis during COVID-19, which made an irreversible influence to the public health system.”

Established in 2016, Pudu Robotics Co. Ltd. is a National High-tech Enterprise that is devoted to R&D, design, manufacture and sales of delivery robots, with headquarter in Shenzhen, the city globally famous for innovative hardware, and R&D center in Beijing and Chengdu along with branches and service center in over 60 cities in China.

Pudu’s main products are delivery robots which are widely used in restaurant, hotel, office building, hospital and Karaoke. Our products are sold in over 200 cities in more than 20 countries. In 2019 alone we have sold over 5000 sets of robots. In 2019, the company has sold over 5000 robots, ranking the top in this industry.

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200605005095/en/

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The rush to deploy robots in China amid the coronavirus outbreak – (CNBC)

Marvin Sepe, senior vice president of Irvine, California-based CTC Global, has been scrambling to get his company’s Chinese factory operating again after losing one month of production due to the coronavirus outbreak.

To reopen the company’s plant in the eastern Chinese city of Huaian, he must submit documents to the Chinese government for his 62 employees in China, listing their health status, recent travels, dates, quarantine and isolation periods. All but two workers have cleared the government-mandated health check. He also must make sure that the hi-tech plant, which makes conductor wires for the electric power grid, is disinfected.

When work restarts on the planned date of March 2, employee temperatures will be monitored twice a day and workers outfitted with masks and gloves. Production will be ramped up slowly as employees return to work, and output is carefully monitored. All staff have been paid their full salary during the production shutdown, which overlapped with the two-week long Chinese New Year holiday starting Jan. 25.

CTC Global’s plant in China is more than 400 miles away from Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, but it’s not immune from the highly contagious virus. Still, the company has been able to tackle the issues better than many labor-intensive companies that are struggling to restart operations because they lack staff due to the quarantines, isolated periods, road blockages and checkpoints.

At CTC Global, fortunately, its Chinese plant is “highly automated already,” said Sepe. “Our plant is designed to be machine dominated, with low labor content.” CTC Global, which has a joint venture in China with large electric utility, State Grid Corp. of China, also operates a plant in Indonesia. For this reason, CTC Global is less vulnerable to the virus because its production is diversified geographically.

Getting back to work

As some 100 million factory workers return to China’s automotive, consumer electronics and smartphone makers, one clear, longer-term impact will be an emphasis on robotics and automation. Robotics can reduce labor costs and increase productivity — and prevent a recurrence of future plant shutdowns.

The COVID-19 disease has infected more than 87,000 people worldwide, with China accounting for 91% of cases. Globally the death toll has surpassed 3,000, according to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization.

The coronavirus has been a wake-up call for supply chain managers and risk managers in both China and the U.S., said Rosemary Coates, executive director of the Reshoring Institute in Silicon Valley. She points to how manufacturers such as agricultural and construction equipment maker Deere & Co. are assembling crisis teams to deal with product shortages.

Identifying ways to keep factory production going in those Chinese factories that have re-opened may include the use of more robots and other automation that substitute for humans. “China bought more robots last year than any country, and now is the time to put them to work,” Coates said.

Over the past several years, the world’s second-largest economy has been undergoing a so-called “robotics revolution.” Now, the impetus is greater than ever to embrace automation or be left behind. China has become the world’s largest market for industrial robotics and the fastest-growing market worldwide, surging 21% to $5.4 billion in 2019, while global sales hit $16.5 billion, according to the International Federation of Robotics in Frankfurt.

China’s robot revolution

China counts more than 800 robot makers, including major players SIASUN and DJI Innovations. Development of robotics is part of an ambitious Made in China 2025 master plan to upgrade the nation’s manufacturing technologies.

China is on track to account for 45% of all industrial robot shipments by 2021, up from 39% in 2019, predicts the robotics research group. In the past, China has lagged behind other nations in robotic workforces, counting 97 industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers, half as many industrial robots as the U.S. and one-seventh as many as South Korea, according to the robotics group.

Clearly, the virus outbreak has put a “renewed urgency behind the trend towards increased automation and use of robotics in China,” says Emil Hauch Jensen, vice president of sales at Mobile Industrial Robots in Shanghai, which is fielding dozens of requests. The company’s autonomous robots, which can move pallets and heavy loads across warehouse and factories, are being used across a wide range of industries by large players such as Ford, Airbus, Flex, Honeywell and DHL.

Jensen points out the cost benefits: one robot that can work a 24-hour shift can replace three workers and cost in the range of $43,000 to $72,000. With salaries in China going up as much as 20% annually in recent years, China business consultant Bill Edwards, CEO of Edwards Global Services in Irvine, California, foresees an inevitable push to robotics. “Wages in China are no longer cheap,” he observed.

Getting production back on stream

U.S. companies with operations in China have been hit hard by the virus. A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce Shanghai found nearly half of the 109 companies polled in that city and metro area said lack of staff is their biggest challenge over the next few weeks, while two-thirds noted they don’t have sufficient staff to run a full production line. Another one-third indicated that logistics issues will be their biggest concern while nearly all the companies said they expected their supply chains to be impacted within the next month.

Industries that are most impacted are those with large assembly operations such as auto manufacturers and electronic component makers.

Tesla’s new multi-billion-dollar plant in Shanghai resumed operation Feb. 10 after a near two-week shutdown. The assembly line at the Chinese operation is less automated than at its main plant in Fremont, partly because local labor costs in China are lower than full automation. Strategizing to prevent further disruptions, Tesla is looking to completely localize its China supply chain by the end of this year but did not respond to an inquiry about any plans to increase automation.

Apple supplier Foxconn has been moving to automate 30% of its one million factory jobs in China by 2020, which could prove fortuitous. Foxconn cut 60,000 factory jobs from its 1.2 million China workforce in 2016, but further reductions have been slow to develop. The company has acknowledged that industrial robots can’t match the cognitive ability of humans. In the current crisis, plans to reboot the use of robots could be under review, but Foxconn hasn’t signaled such a move yet.

Apple said it doesn’t expect to hit its quarterly revenue targets because its iPhone manufacturing partners are located near the outbreak center in Hubei province and it has taken longer than expected to get operations back up and running.

Multinational automotive manufacturers in China, the world’s largest car market with sales of 28 million autos in 2019, are severely impacted. Wuhan, known as the Detroit of China, is a base for auto plants including General Motors, Honda, Nissan, Peugeot and Renault. With employees staying home and supply chain disrupted, getting back into production has been a struggle at many of these plants.

Operations such as Cadillac’s new Shanghai plant that are automated have a head start. Opened in 2016, the factory features 386 robots and two fully automated production lines that do welding and painting.

A national call to action

One overriding factor that could stall further use of robotics at operations within China is controversy about robots displacing blue collar jobs. The concern is about widespread unemployment, and potentially, social unrest. With an economic slowdown in China, that issue will be prominent.

Meanwhile, with travel and transportation bans in effect in China and stores, restaurants and schools closed, robots are being deployed for a wide variety of crucial services, from disinfecting hospitals and streets to delivering food, drugs and supplies.

Delivery robots are in high demand. In Wuhan, Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com is using a fleet of autonomous robotic vehicles to deliver essential goods to residents stuck at home homes and shopping online. The company’s automated warehouses have seen daily orders nearly double from 600,000 in one week during the crisis period.

In true quick-to-implement China style — and responding to multiple requests from manufacturers, retailers and offices — Chinese robot maker Youibot created a sterilization robot, start to finish in just 14 days, said Duncan Turner, managing director of the HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen. Youibot has just signed a contract with a huge manufacturer in Suzhou to disinfect the plant and has already delivered three robots and is starting to deploy 35 robots in Shenzhen by early March, he added.

Several other robotics start-ups have been called into service, said David Sullivan, managing director of business consultancy Alliance Development Group in Silicon Valley. He named Shenzhen-based startup Pudu Technology, which aims to reduce cross infection by home delivery of drugs and meals.

The large Chinese tech conglomerates also have been called into action. Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao, which opened China’s largest automated warehouse in Wuxi in 2018, uses 700 robots to streamline and speed up order fulfillment. It has recently launched a channel to deliver medical aid donations to areas in China hit by the highly contagious virus. These include Wuhan and neighboring cities in Hubei province.

Since the virus hit, Tencent has rolled out a feature in its popular WeChat messaging app that assigns health ratings to people via QR code. Chinese citizens have to scan their codes at subway stations, malls and office buildings, and can be turned away if they’re at high risk of carrying the virus.

In this environment, China tech innovation is being tested and reimagined at new levels.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/02/the-rush-to-deploy-robots-in-china-amid-the-coronavirus-outbreak.html

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Coronavirus: China’s tech fights back – (BBC News)

Disinfecting robots, smart helmets, thermal camera-equipped drones and advanced facial recognition software are all being deployed in the fight against Covid-19 at the heart of the outbreak in China.

President Xi Jinping has called on the country’s tech sector to help battle the epidemic.

Healthcare tech is also being used to identify coronavirus symptoms, find new treatments and monitor the spread of the disease, which has so far infected more than 90,000 people worldwide.

But is it up to the job?

Robots to the rescue

Several Chinese firms have developed automated technologies for contactless delivery, spraying disinfectants and performing basic diagnostic functions, in order to minimise the risk of cross-infection.

Shenzhen-based Pudu Technology, which usually makes robots for the catering industry, has reportedly installed its machines in more than 40 hospitals around the country to help medical staff.

MicroMultiCopter, also in Shenzhen, is deploying drones to transport medical samples and conduct thermal imaging.

Meanwhile, advanced AI has been used to help diagnose the disease and accelerate the development of a vaccine.

Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, claims its new AI-powered diagnosis system can identify coronavirus infections with 96% accuracy.

Its founder Jack Ma has just announced that his charity, the Jack Ma Foundation, will donate $2.15m (£1.6m) towards the development of a vaccine.

“In the battle against Covid-19, emerging technologies have stood out by making immense contributions in an unexpected, creative and amazingly responsive way,” said Lu Chuanying, a senior official at Shanghai-based Global Cyberspace Governance.

They have helped “arrest or contain the spread of the deadly virus, thus becoming one of the most reliable and trustworthy means of combating Covid-19,” he wrote in an article for state-run China Daily newspaper.

But is all this just for show?

“The state media apparatus, even under normal circumstances, takes every opportunity to send a message about China’s technological sophistication, even if a story has little substance to it,” notes Elliott Zaagman, who covers China’s technology industry and co-hosts the China Tech-Investor podcast.

“I suspect that most of the stories we see about disinfecting robots, drones, etc, are mostly just performative gimmicks. However, tech’s ‘less-sexy’ role in controlling this outbreak should not be dismissed,” he told the BBC.

‘Era of big data and internet’

Beyond robots and drones, China has also mobilised its sophisticated surveillance system to keep a tab on infected individuals and enforce quarantines.

Facial recognition cameras are commonplace across China, and now companies are upgrading their technology to scan crowds for fever and identify individuals not wearing masks.

SenseTime, a leading AI firm, says its contactless temperature detection software has been deployed at underground stations, schools and community centres in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The company also claims to have a tool that can recognise faces, even if they are wearing masks, with a “relatively high degree of accuracy”.

Another Chinese AI firm, Megvii, boasts a similar temperature detection product, which has been deployed in Beijing.

“During this challenging time, we see this not as an opportunity, but our responsibility to do our part to tackle Covid-19 using our technology,” a SenseTime spokesperson told the BBC.

Chinese newspaper Global Times reports that officials in Chengdu city, Sichuan province, have been issued with smart helmets that can measure the temperature of anyone within a 5m radius, sounding an alarm if they are found to have a fever.

As Chinese citizens slowly return to work despite the virus outbreak, mobile phones have also emerged as a key tool to track the spread of the coronavirus.

An app called Alipay Health Code assigns individuals the colour green, yellow or red, depending on whether they should be allowed into public spaces or quarantined at home.

It uses big data to identify potential virus carriers, according to its developer Ant Financial. It has already been adopted in more than 200 Chinese cities.

Tencent, the company behind popular messaging app WeChat, has launched a similar QR-code-based tracking feature.

The “close contact detector” app notifies the user if they have been in close contact with a virus carrier.

“In the era of big data and internet, the movements of each person can be clearly seen. So we are different from the Sars time now,” Li Lanjuan, an adviser to the National Health Commission, said in an interview with Chinese state TV.

“With such new technologies, we should make full use of them to find and contain the source of infection.”

Privacy issues

While these new surveillance tools may be considered efficient – and perhaps necessary during a health crisis – they have prompted concerns about privacy.

Many of these health apps require users to register with their name, national identification number and phone number. Authorities have also sourced data from phone carriers, health and transport agencies and state-owned firms.

There is little transparency on how the government plans to cross-check the data, and there have been reports about personal health data being leaked on the internet.

report by the New York Times, for example, said that Alipay Health Code also appears to share information with the police.

As the apps become more popular, there’s the added fear that it could exacerbate paranoia and lead to discrimination against coronavirus patients.

Critics say China could use the health crisis as a justification to expand its already vast surveillance system, which human rights bodies have described as dystopian.

“If there’s one lesson that Chinese authorities are learning here, it’s where the ‘weak spots’ are in their surveillance apparatus,” notes Mr Zaagman.

“Privacy was already becoming a thing of the past in China. An outbreak like this will only expedite that process”.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-51717164

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Korean Scientists Develop COVID-19 Testing Bots As Health Care Workers Substitute: Watch How It Works

A group of scientists from Korea has developed a robot for administering nasal swab coronavirus tests for patients. To avoid transmitting the virus from patients to health care workers and vice versa, scientists believe that this machine could soon be a standard in hospitals worldwide.

The system is controlled by a joystick, which allows the staff to maneuver the machine from another room, watching through a screen. The machine then probes the nose with a long nasal swab to grab samples from deep within the nasal cavity.

The machine setup includes a head stabilizer, which allows the patient to rest their head on during the slightly uncomfortable procedure. The joystick also comes with a “force feedback” that helps the machine operator “feel” what they are doing to ensure proper performance of the procedure.

According to Dr. Seo Joon-ho from the Medical Device Lab of The Daegu Convergence Technology Research Center, they hope that their technology will soon be used as one of the methods in performing coronavirus diagnostic tests. Aside from COVID-19, the researchers from the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials believe that their machine would help reduce the transmission of other infectious diseases in a secure medical environment.

How Does the Nasal Swab Test for COVID-19 Work?

According to Dr. Micah M, Bhatti, an assistant professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, the nasal swab test for coronavirus involves a long stick inserted deep inside the nostril.

At the end of the stick is a very soft and tiny brush, somewhat similar to a pipe cleaner. The nurse or health technician will then twirl it inside for a few seconds once deep enough in the nasal cavity.

The soft bristles will then collect a sample of secretions for analysis. It could somewhat be compared to a pap smear. To obtain a good specimen, the probe must go pretty far back to get to where the concentrated cells and fluid are. Once a sample is obtained, it will then be sent to the lab for analysis.

Machines and Robots Helping to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, many scientists and researchers have tried to develop innovations to involve robotics to lessen the human transmission of the virus. For instance, in Wuhan, some hospitals used robots to deliver medications to patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

Moreover, technological solutions go beyond hospitals, as many people were left quarantined in their homes due to lockdowns. To address the problem, the Chinese government provided logistics robots to deliver essential goods such as food and medical supplies to homes in Wuhan.

Meanwhile, at the Wuchang field hospital, a ward was staffed with 5G-powered robots. It not only lessened the strain on human staff but also helped contain the contagion.

To add to the list, a delivery app called Meituan Dianping also inclined their “contactless delivery” options through robots and autonomous vehicles. Pudu Technology, a Shenzhen-based startup, wanted to reduce the infection rate by implementing home delivery of meals and drugs through a robot.

Finally, a Danish company also shipped robots to Chinese hospitals that would disinfect rooms occupied by coronavirus positive patients. The robots sterilized the facility by emitting ultraviolet light. The bot could be controlled by a remote, which ensures that healthcare workers remain safe while maneuvering them.

Source: https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/26223/20200626/korean-scientists-develop-covid-19-testing-bots-replace-health-care.htm

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Pudu Tech Raised More than $15M as the Server Robot Space Heats Up

Pudu Technology, which makes autonomous server robots used in hospitality settings, announced yesterday a funding round of more than $15 million, according to VentureBeat.

The Shenzen, China-based Pudu makes a number of self-driving robots equipped with a rack of trays to shuttle food and drinks to and from customers inside a restaurant. Pudu introduced the BellaBot, which sports cat-like features and even makes a cute LED-face when you pet it, at this year’s CES.

Pudu’s funding comes at the right time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced restaurants and bars to reduce the amount of human contact during table service. Server robots like Pudu’s provide a way to reduce at least one point of human-to-human interaction while dining out.

But Pudu will also need the funding because the robot server space is getting increasingly crowded. In the VentureBeat story, Pudu claims has 2,000 customers including Sheraton and JD.com, across 20 countries. Rival Keenon Robotics, server bot company based in China, says that it has 6,000 robots in action and that it can produce 30,000 robots a year.

Over in Korea, Woowa Bros. partnered with consumer electronics giant LG to develop and expand its robot waiter program. In Spain, Macco Robotics launched its Dbot modular server robot. And here in the U.S., Bear Robotics, raised $32 million earlier this year for its Penny robot server.

All of this is to say that there are a lot of companies looking to bring robot servers to your restaurant. So much so, that as I wrote back in February, they could become a commodity:

It feels like restaurant server robots are on their way to becoming less of a novelty and will soon be a commodity. They all do the same thing — carry food. They are meant to do the grunt work so humans don’t have to. So the feature set will be the same: Take food to table > carry food without spilling > avoid humans and other obstacles along the way.

Sure, there are enhancements that can be made, or perhaps there’s a unique way to move food from the robot to the table. But there really isn’t much else for the robot to do. Server robots will become a commodity, and whichever company creates the cheapest robot that does a decent job will win.

Given the debate and debacle around re-opening restaurants here in the U.S., and restaurant workers test positive for COVID, we could see a rise in demand for restaurant robots. And it looks like there are plenty of companies ready if that demand comes.

Source: https://thespoon.tech/pudu-tech-raised-more-than-15m-as-the-server-robot-space-heats-up/