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Australian Miner Found Employing Driverless Trucks

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In an all-time first, Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is using two fully automated driverless truck fleets at its massive iron ore mines. It has to be said that the trucks themselves are massive as well, besides operating without a driver!

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While Europe decides to regulate driverless trucks on roads with Mercedes-Benz providing a proof-of-concept on a real German highway, a mining company in Western Australia is already using driverless trucks to haul iron ore around its mining sites. These trucks are engaged and operated remotely, in an operations center in the city of Perth. 750 miles away.

RioTinto trucks

Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore chief executive, Andrew Harding has his reasons for employing driverless trucks instead of drivers.

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Our autonomous fleet outperforms the named fleet by an average of 12 per cent, primarily by eliminating required breaks, absenteeism and shift changes.

He adds that “innovation and technology is critical in our efforts to improve safety,” speaking to the Financial Times.

It’s a time to cut costs for iron ore mines after the slowing economy of China and a relentless oversupply of the rocks from which metallic iron is extracted.

Iron ore prices have crashed to $53 currently from a peak of $190, a little under four times the current value. Citing these factors, the world’s biggest miners are looking at technology to lower costs. A driverless truck running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year does not require four drivers operating between shifts. When the numbers add up, each truck saves over 500 work hours every year.

Riotinto truck

Rio Tinto is the first miner to actively use the driverless tech-driven trucks in its mining operations. The company has 69 automated trucks in total, a fifth of which are in the Pilbara in Western Australia where its iron ore mines are. Altogether, the trucks move 20 million tonnes of iron ore a month from the mines in the 122 degrees heat.

The driverless trucks are already driving costs down, according to the mining company’s CEO Sam Walsh, who notes that the iron ore cash cost of $16.2 a tonne in the first half of this year is already down 21 percent from the corresponding period last year.

RioTinto Train

The company is also trialing a new technology with driverless trains as well as autonomous drills in its mining operations.

Images Copyright © 2015 Rio Tinto

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Business

Mazor Robotics: The Next Intuitive Surgical

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Conventional wisdom in choppy markets is to avoid high valuation stocks. The volatility will give you nightmares. If properly prepared, volatility can also give you opportunity.

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In a correction good young companies often see the price of their equity fall more than average. This is what successful investors look for in the overall strategy.  Let me give you an example.

Start with a long time favorite in the healthcare field: Intuitive Surgical (ISRG:NASDAQ).  I ran across ISRG in April 2008.  Wow that was right in the middle of the financial crisis when Bear Stearns was going out: volatile times back then.  

Intuitive Surgical  are the guys that pioneered robotic surgery.  Their Di Vinci surgical suite specializes in procedures like prostatectomies and hysterectomies.  

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From a patient perspective, Di Vinci offered faster, less invasive and quicker recovery times than conventional surgery.  For physicians it meant being able to offer a better service and a happier customer.  For Intuitive Surgical it meant big upfront revenues on the sale of the equipment and even more continuous income from sale of disposable products consumed during the surgery.  A true win win situation.

Back in 2008 when I discovered ISRG it was selling at nearly 100 times a token level of earnings.  The total market cap was somewhere around $500 million.  To rich for my blood at the time.  After all, it was the middle of the financial crisis.  Not a time to take chances.

Today Intuitive Surgical is worth just over $45 billion.  They are far and away the leader in robotic surgery.  The lesson: if there is a long term investment thesis, even a major financial crisis is a short term hurdle.

Along Comes Mazor Robotics For Spinal Surgery

Mazor Robotics (MZOR:NASDAQ) created the Renaissance Robotic Surgical System.   This dramatically simplifies the very nature of spinal surgery.  The system is 98%-99% accurate, reduces complications by more than two-thirds and reduces exposure to harmful radiation by 35%-50%.  Finally, it reduces recovery time and that makes for happy patients.  When it comes to alleviating back pain a satisfied customer is a walking endorsement for the Renaissance System.

Promising Agreement with Medtronic

The fun got started back in 2016 when Mazor signed a marketing and distribution agreement with Medtronic (MDT:NYSE) that represented a breakthrough for the Renaissance System.  Mazor is an Israeli company strong on technology but weak in global distribution.

The selling and distribution of surgical suites like Renaissance is long and involves entire project teams of medical experts and IT professionals to train hospital physicians and their surgical teams.  Once trained, it practically takes an Act of Congress to force doctors to change their habits.  So the long selling cycle tends to lead to long-term customer relationships.

How Mazor Makes Money

The company makes money from three sources.  The Renaissance Surgical suite sells for about $850,000.  With the sale, Mazor offers maintenance and service under contracts.  This is like annuity income that is highly profitable.  Disposables at a cost of $1,500 per operation are the second most important revenue stream.  The gross profit on these items is over $1,350.

Blade & Razor Business Model

The interesting thing about Mazor’s business model is the disposables business. One only needs to consider the potential 100,000 US procedures and 500,000 worldwide might do for the company. Of course there is a lot of blue sky thinking here.  For example, not every surgical procedure will be appropriate.  Sometime, patient characteristics like obesity etc. preclude the use of various surgical techniques. Also cost and reimbursement issues have to be taken into consideration. Having stated all these caveats the opportunities for Mazor are interesting, so say the least.

Constant Comparisons

Along the way Mazor’s potential will constantly be compared with Intuitive Surgical.

The most recent data shows Da Vinci was used in over 650,000 procedures last year employing 3597 machines.  That works out to one surgery suite for every 180 procedures.  If we use this as a proxy, Mazor will need to sell roundly 2800 Renaissance Systems to service 500,000, and that is just half the global market.

Will Mazor succeed or will something trip them up along the way. On the positive side, it has regulatory approval for use in the United States and most everywhere else in the world. However, the healthcare business is littered with promising companies that flamed out so the risks are there. For all their success, Intuitive Surgical’s path encountered a few bumps.

There are already over 200 systems in place worldwide.  Mazor is starting to catch on. The company expects to report full year 2017 revenues of about $65 million in mid February.  We think near term order backlogs could be a little soft.  If so the stock could be impacted and that is an opportunity to watch for.

Something to remember, Mazor’s current value at about $1.7 billion may sound sizable but Intuitive Surgical is a far more lofty $45+ billion. We are neither doctors nor investment advisors so we won’t give you advice on your aching back or you financial portfolio.  However, we will keep you informed as more information on Mazor becomes available about this technology.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.4 stars on average, based on 76 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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Artificial Intelligence

Beware Uber Drivers! The Robot Cars Are Coming

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Uber Self-Driving Car

Uber announced that that the world’s first self-driving Uber cars are on the road in Pittsburgh, the Steel City. The road ahead is still long, but the implications are staggering.

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Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.




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Biotech

Interview: The Makers of a Robotic Hand That Can ‘Feel’

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Human engineering is often seen as the pinnacle for technological achievement, be it the wheel, the steam engine or the space rocket. Human-engineering has also come a long way, especially in recent times. While the reality of fiction such as RoboCop is still beyond this present time, significant strides are currently being made in the field of understanding biomechanics and developing robotic biomechanics.

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Research and innovation are key ingredients in innovative breakthroughs with key life-enriching applications that science and technology can bring to our lives. For instance, it was due to the endeavors of Gavriil Ilizarov, the Soviet doctor who developed the Illizarov fixator apparatus in the 1950s, that this writer’s leg could be saved from a destructive road accident. Such innovation can help improve or even save lives.

Hacked spoke to Vikram Pandit, a prosthetics research engineer and operations manager at Los Angeles-based SynTouch, a company at the forefront of sensory technology that empowers robots to literally replicate our sense of touchVikram is also a congenital amputee, born with a single hand and is deemed “instrumental in informing SynTouch’s prosthetics research strategy,” with the unique insight and perspective he offers.

 

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vikram55

The company was recently awarded two federal research grants that total over $2.5 million over the next few years to develop advanced tactile sensing applications, or, as SynTouch calls it – Machine Touch®.

The company notes:

SynTouch’s products make it possible to do everything you’ve come to expect from your own sense of touch: they enable perception, improve dexterity, prevent damage, and provide awareness.

How does it feel to be your company’s prototype, Vikram?

Vikram: I enjoy being at the cutting edge of prosthetic research. Being patient zero where all of the technology is being tested is awesome and definitely makes me feel like I am using my amputation to help others in my place.

Do you see such innovation generally pushing forward at a faster rate for robotic applications, more-so than for humans?

Vikram: Absolutely. Humans are far more complex than robots. We are barely scratching the service of the human neurological system while we are making leaps in robotic advancement. While we like to think humans can do two things or more at once, we really are only capable of doing one thing and monitoring our second activity passively. A robot, with its onboard computer can be programmed to recognize and accomplish many tasks at once.

vikram44

 

Could you explain how the fingertips detect what they feel?

Vikram: The BioTac has three sensing modalities: force, vibration, and temperature. The sensor is a flexible circuit molded in epoxy with 19 sensing electrodes surrounded by a silicone skin and inflated with a fluid. Force is calculated from the electrodes, which use impedance in the conductive fluid to measure the distance between the skin and the electrode – as the BioTac is pushed on a table, the distance between the skin and the electrodes is smaller.

A pressure sensor embedded in the epoxy core picks up vibrations in the skin transmitted through the fluid. The fingerprints on the outside the skin actually amplify these vibration signals enormously. Temperature is sensed through a thermistor placed at the tip of the BioTac.

 vikram11

Are there sensors externally located on a residual limb that will help control the prosthesis? If so, does that relay then tell you that you’re holding a super hot cup of coffee?

Vikram: Myoelectric hands universally function off of sensing electrodes located on the residual limb. Their location is based on what muscles on the residual limb produce the strongest signals. The sensors are located on top of the skin, and pick up the electrical activity in a muscle when it flexes. Almost all myoelectric users have two of these sensors, one for opening the terminal device, and the other closing.

At SynTouch we have performed experiments where the sensations from the BioTac were relayed to me through a number of devices we call tactors. The three tactors were placed on my upper arm or bicep and each was correlated with a specific modality of the BioTac. An air pressure cuff similar to a sphygmomanometer was used to squeeze my arm to mirror a force applied to the BioTac. A small cellphone vibrator buzzed on my skin to emulate the sensor picking up vibration, while a small peltier chip relayed temperatures to me. I was able to distinguish hot soup vs cold soup among other things but I didn’t find these tactors useful.

As a unilateral amputee, my sound hand is better and faster than anything available with current technology in sending sensations to my brain, and the foreign signals were more distracting than helpful. Please review the following paper to find out more. Link [PDF].


Is it overwhelming and distracting when with the feedback from the prosthesis? How would you compare it with your other arm?

Vikram: See above. The current methods of relaying sensation as crude and I can only describe them as being annoying.

Is there a means to use the prosthesis on its own, i.e. let it compute and operate on its own without having to let you know what it feels?

Vikram: After coming to the conclusion that the tactors worked, but were distracting and actually took away from the experience of using a prosthetic hand, we moved in a new direction. I found through the experiments that I liked contact detection for fragile grasping. We then developed a new sensor that distilled down the features of the BioTac, called the NumaTac. An air filled open celled foam, the sensor can detect changes in pressure signaling a contact event.

Three of these sensors have been customized into the fingers of a prosthetic hand and can signal the hand that an object has been grabbed. This allows the hand to move quickly and responsively while empty, but slow down the fingers once an object has been grasped to enable low contact forces. This allows a prosthetic user to consistently pick delicate objects like eggs, consistently and reliably.

(It is at this point that Matthew Borzage P.hd., a founding partner SynTouch and operations manager weighed in to add to the answer.)

Matt: The idea that the hand has some local intelligence guiding its interactions may seem odd, but keep in mind that your hands do thousands of adjustments every second you perform tasks with them, all without you consciously thinking about each movement. It takes humans years to learn to do tasks seamlessly, but once we do the mechanics of pouring a glass of water, using a fork and knife, playing an instrument, typing, and, picking up eggs, all become reflexive, and possible to do using the sense of touch alone.

The information the sense of touch acquires is used in reflexive and automatic ways, that the brain expects to be present. Most prosthetic hands remove these reflexes, and require that amputees use their full attention to perform these simple tasks, which is frustrating! The simplified sensor and the reflex Vikram mentions allows users to do these tasks without requiring as much attention, just like you expect to be able to do.

vikram22

If BioTac was presumably developed for robotic applications, how far away is BioTac from being integrated with an amputee’s prosthesis?

Vikram: Our sensors are 4 years away from becoming commercially available. We are working with the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to integrate our technology into prosthetic devices.

In order to truly feel and sense touch, are we decades away from having the technology and tools to have it merge with the human body’s nervous system?

Vikram: Yes. The nervous system is massively complex and a considerable amount of research must occur before “cyborg” technology is viable. We are decades away from a prosthesis being seamlessly integrated into a human’s nervous system.

vikram33

How frequently do you use the prosthesis and when do you put away the hook-arm for good?

Vikram: I only have one myoelectric arm right now. Unfortunately at the office and on a hot day I do not wear my prosthesis. Hot days make the socket uncomfortable and sweaty. At the office, I type on a computer and using my prosthesis would be clunky and slow.

What other innovations are SynTouch working on? Are there ideas and concepts in the drawing board that you can reveal?

Vikram: Yes definitely. SynTouch’s most interesting technology up and coming technology is our texture characterization technology. The BioTac was designed with the human finger in mind and can feel everything it can sense (except pain for obvious reason.) SynTouch has built a device integrating the BioTac that can quantify texture. Since the BioTac is designed to feel like a human, it is perfect for this application. Take a look at our client list as an example of who we have worked with.You can liken it to color matching at Home Depot to a degree. Consumer Goods companies are very interested in this technology, as the feel of a product is important to a consumer.

An example is in R&D. Company X wants cloth of a certain texture. Company X produces a number of cloth samples with different formulations in an attempt to achieve the desired texture. Our machine can actually quantify each sample’s texture and the company can use this information to make an informed decision on their cloth production.

Editor’s Note: Hacked thanks Vikram and Matthew for their time and answers.
Images from SynTouch.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.




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