Any sci-fi geek worth his tricorder knows that humanity’s toughest opponents are always the robot armies ruled by a collective brain or supercomputer. The hive-minded Borg from “Star Trek” and the ubiquitous Skynet in “Terminator” are but just two examples of such relentless bad guys with serious firepower. It turns out there’s a name for the technology that will be used to enslave mankind and to use our lifeforce as a nine-volt battery to feed the machines—cloud robotics.
Cloud robotics is a bit like another technology you’ve heard us describe before—the Internet of Things. IoT, as you’ll recall, connects all sorts of devices and sensors, collecting data and making real-time adjustments based on the incoming information. At home that might mean having lights, sprinklers and even a home security system all linked together via the internet and managed from one hub. The smart sprinkler system, for instance, can monitor water usage and make adjustments to the watering schedule based on the local weather forecast or even rain sensors.
In the case of cloud robotics, most of the computing power and programming needed to direct the killer robot army—or, more likely, a robotic system in a factory—is based in the cloud. The cloud, as you know, is just a euphemism for accessing computing processing and storage through remote servers. Cloud robotics, then, takes the concept and connects autonomous machines through the internet. Its brains reside not in some positronic neural network in the head of a pale-faced android but on remote computers that provide access to nearly unlimited computing power and data sharing.
Coined in 2010 by robotics scientist James Kuffner while he was working with Google, cloud robotics is already a thing. For example, Tesla’s self-driving cars are just robots that use onboard sensors and data from satellites to navigate city streets, but are wirelessly connected to the mothership. The constant flow of data back to Tesla’s machine-learning algorithms help the cars improve their performance en masse.
CloudMinds and Cloud Robotics
A Chinese startup called CloudMinds, which sounds more like a streaming service for Transcendental meditation than a robotics company, is reputedly developing an even brainier version of cloud robotics also by applying artificial intelligence. The company calls it cloud intelligence. Its lofty goal is to destroy mankind clean your home efficiently by 2025. That’s right: CloudMinds wants to produce a full-service housecleaning robot to service individual families. The robot will be connected and controlled wirelessly through cloud computing, blockchain and other technologies.
Seem like a waste of money to make a Jetson’s version of Rosie the maid? Well, CloudMinds has a lot of money to waste. The Japanese multinational telecommunications and Internet firm SoftBank Group (TYO:9984) just bankrolled a $100 million Series B in February. Softbank was also among a handful of investors in a $28 million Series A last year. Kick in another $3 million from an angel investor and CloudMinds has received $131 million in investments since it was founded in 2015.
The relationship between SoftBank and CloudMinds looks pretty cozy. It addition to handing over a ton of cash, SoftBank appointed CloudMinds CEO Bill Huang to the technical committee of its technology fund.
SoftBank and Cloud Robotics
In fact, cloud robotics and companies like CloudMinds seem to be very much at the heart of what SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son sees as the future of mankind. In a keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that just wrapped up, Son said super-intelligent robots would surpass humans in number and brainpower within the next three decades. TechCrunch quoted him as saying, “If superintelligence goes inside the moving device then the world, our lifestyle dramatically changes. … There will be many kinds [of robots]. Flying, swimming, big, micro, run, two legs, four legs, 100 legs.” Fcuk yes.
Son through SoftBank is certainly investing in that future at an exponential rate. He is anticipating the technological singularity, in which artificial superintelligence turns us into gods, freeing us to play Pokémon Go until the end of time. Of the 106 investments that SoftBank has made since 1998, about half have come since 2014, many tech heavy. Did we mention that Son is one of the 100 richest men in the world despite losing the world’s biggest fortune during the dot-com bubble in 2000? This is a risk-taking visionary and someone who probably has something to say—and we need to listen.
Though even a billionaire can’t change the world alone, SoftBank announced last year that it would create a $100 billion new global tech investment fund called SoftBank Vision Fund. It pledged to seed the fund with $25 billion of its own money. Another $45 billion was supposed to come from the public investment fund of Saudi Arabia. TechCrunch reported that the investment period for the fund is pegged at five years, meaning it will potentially be investing $20 billion into tech startups globally each year. That would definitely land it on our recent list of the top tech-minded venture capital firms that you should know about.
Full Disclosure: We’re holding shares of Softbank Group (TYO:9984). If you want to hold shares too, you’ll need to open an account with Interactive Brokers so you can buy stocks on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Click here to get started.
CloudMinds and Cloud Intelligence
Back to CloudMinds. Most of what the company has been up to has remained somewhat mysterious until late; details about its cloud robotics platform are still skimpy. The company does imply that cloud intelligence is the next evolutionary step in artificial intelligence, and that the robotic cloud brain would have the same sort of neural networks as the grey matter in our skulls. The development of cloud computing and 4G and 5G network technologies, it says, has enabled the development of cloud robotics.
It claims the biggest distinction behind its research and that of other robotics firms is that its platform will enable robotic intelligence to be controlled by human beings. It calls the concept Human Augmented Robot Intelligence or HARI. We’re not quite sure what to make of that, except maybe CloudMinds is trying to make us feel warm and fuzzy about the coming AI revolution.
CloudMinds, VR and Holograms
In terms of real products, China Money Network reported that CloudMinds unveiled a guide helmet that helps blind people navigate around a city. The Meta Guide Helmet uses simultaneous localization and mapping to provide the sightless with information about their environment and interact with their surroundings via visual and voice recognition technology. Again, we’re not quite sure what to make of that bit of information, as it seems far from the CloudMinds core vision.
A more solid and sensible piece of intel about CloudMinds came out in January. The startup announced a collaboration with Immerex, which produces lightweight VR headsets. A press release said that the two companies will “share industrial resources, technical and personnel expertise, as well as university intellectual property (IP) and development resources to build a richer, more interactive virtual reality platform enabled by CloudMinds’ secure, intelligent cloud.”
Immerex appears to be a relative newcomer to the VR scene from Silicon Valley, with a focus on movie entertainment, which is an emerging trend that we recently covered. No immediate details on who or what is backing their development, so it’s unclear how much cloud they bring to this new partnership. CloudMinds says it will leverage its “HARI architecture with Immerex’s VR and AR technology to bring robots to the cloud, while gaining access to Immerex’s distribution channels of more than 3,000 cinema partnerships.”
CEO CloudMinds Huang says,
We envision our AI technology helping consumers interact with robots and VR accessories in the most natural way—using voice via natural language processing and automatic speech recognition. We see this as only the beginning of a very exciting venture into transforming the entertainment industry.
And just as we were about to hit the magic “post” button on this article, we see that CloudMinds just announced yet another partnership on Feb. 28. The hot-off-the-presses collaboration involves holographics company LEIA. The companies will combine forces to bring 3D content to mobile applications. CloudMinds’ Huang says some of the applications include holographic video calls, 3D online shopping and interactive gaming.
Magneto-like helmets for the blind? VR headsets to control robots? Autonomous robotic housecleaners? Smart phone holograms? CloudMinds seems to be taking cloud robotics in many different directions. It certainly seems to have the financial backing to find its path forward.
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