Automation & Robotics News from Tony Zaragoza

Automation and Robotics News–Dec 13, 2009


  • Border drones,
  • Healthcare,
  • New Investments in Automation,
  • New Drones

Paste the link in your browser to read the full stories below.
# Successful emergency room automation is possible
Posted by Dana Blankenhorn, 11/9/09

The case studies are starting to come in. The naysayers are wrong. You can automate hospital operations and improve results. Even in the toughest environments, like the emergency room.


# With Payments a Big Part of Health-Care Costs, Automation Efforts Arise

(November 30, 2009) Low-hanging fruit it’s not, but health care still remains one of the biggest untapped markets for electronic payments. A new report from Celent LLC estimates that $11 billion could be saved by automating just part of the health-care payments process. And a new industry group is forming to marshal the growing interest in medical payments among banks, payments processors, and technology vendors into revenue-generating business. The report from Boston-based Celent, “Paper-to-Electronic Processing in Healthcare,” looks mainly at the complicated processes by which medical providers, insurers, and their vendors trade patient and payment information so that insurance claims may be paid and patient data linked to the correct remittance documents. While part of this process is electronic, much of it is still paper-based and highly inefficient. “In short, it’s a mess,” says the report.


# Scientists, lawyers mull effects of home robots

By BROOKE DONALD (AP) – 12/6/09

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Eric Horvitz illustrates the potential dilemmas of living with robots by telling the story of how he once got stuck in an elevator at Stanford Hospital with a droid the size of a washing machine. “I remembered thinking, `Whoa, this is scary,’ as it whirled around, almost knocking me down,” the Microsoft researcher recalled. “Then, I thought, `What if I were a patient?’ There could be big issues here.” We’re still far from the sci-fi dream of having robots whirring about and catering to our every need. But little by little, we’ll be sharing more of our space with robots in the next decade, as prices drop and new technology creates specialized machines that clean up spilled milk or even provide comfort for an elderly parent.


# DNR: Man in jammies poached robot Bambi

By <>Gus Burns | The Saginaw News, December 06, 2009, 4:30AM

After three shots struck the deer in the chest and it still didn’t drop or run, a would-be poacher knew something was wrong, a <>Department of Natural Resources conservation officer says. That’s when the man fled, said Sgt. Ron Kimmerly. Firearm deer season lasted from Nov. 15 through Nov. 30. About 9 a.m. Nov. 22, Kimmerly said, two DNR officers were ready to pull the man over. The Taymouth Township scene was an example of high-tech rules enforcement for an age-old pastime. Kimmerly’s department hasn’t completed tabulating the arrests for the season, though he said they are “about the same” as past years.


# After Tough 2009, Signs of Uptick in Investment in Material Handling Automation Going Into 2010

Cliff Holste, : December 9, 2009

While 2009 was Largely a Bust, Food, Beverage, Consumer Packaged Goods, and Parts Distribution Now Showing Strong Activity, System Providers Say; Retrofits and Upgrade Projects also Active

2009 will go down as one of the worst ever for materials handling equipment and DC automation system sales. Beyond the recession that crimped budgets and left companies hoarding cash where they could, distribution volumes dropped for most companies, reducing the volume pressures that are often the catalyst for distribution center automation projects.


# First Submersible Robot Glider to Cross Atlantic Makes Landfall in Spain

ScienceDaily (Dec. 10, 2009) — The Scarlet Knight, the first submersible robot glider to cross the Atlantic, made its formal entrance into the port of Baiona Dec. 9, received by Spanish and American government officials, school children and the people of the town.


# Robot Planes To Patrol California-Mexico Border

Monday, Dec 7, 2009

(Palmdale, CA) — The U.S. Border Patrol will unveil some drone aircraft today, that will soon take to the skies of Southern California, scouting out smugglers and illegal immigrants with radar and long-distance video cameras. The “San Diego Union-Tribune” reports the Maritime MQ-9 Predator B Guardian drones are already in use along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and Texas. They will be based at a private airport run by General Atomics east of Lake Los Angeles, in the Mojave Desert about 160 miles north of the Mexican border.


# Robot supermarket shopping helpers being tested in Japan

December 10, 10:35 PM <>Japan Headlines Examiner Joshua Williams

Does grandma need an extra hand shopping these cold winter months, but you’re sadly unable to help? How about receiving the help of a robot? A supermarket in Kyoto, Japan is carrying out live tests of a robotic shopping helper for the elderly and the disabled for the next several months. Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), the robot’s creator, announced in a press release on Dec. 10th that the robot, named Robovie-II, will be tested at the Apita-Seikadai supermarket in Kyoto through March of 2010. Around 20 elderly testers will have the privilege of seeing how well the Robovie-II interacts with them, as well as how useful the robot actually is.


# Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland Announces Grants Funded Through America Recovery and Reinvestment Act

<>Lincoln Electric, Automation Division Posted 12/10/2009

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced that 25 Ohio solar and wind projects will receive more than $13 million in grants funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s State Energy Program. The announcement was made Nov. 29 at Lincoln Electric’s Automation Center of Excellence in Cleveland, highlighting the Company’s welding solutions for wind tower fabricators. Among those projects was $1 million awarded to Lincoln Electric to help install a wind turbine at its Cleveland manufacturing facilities. The plans call for a 2.5-megawatt turbine that will generate approximately 10 percent of the electrical needs for Lincoln’s Cleveland manufacturing operations.



<>Industrial Robots Take On Distribution Centers

Posted: December 10, 2009

If asked to name <>new markets for industrial robots you’d likely say alternative energy or pharmaceuticals. But you probably wouldn’t mention distribution centers (DCs). Strangely enough, DCs are one of the hottest new frontiers for <>robotic automation. According to an article in <>Material Handling Management (Nov.’09), distribution centers and warehouses used to be hesitant to incorporate robotic <>automation, but that’s quickly changing. Today’s material <>handling robots are more advanced, flexible, and cost-effective – the ideal fit for DCs.


# U.S. Military Joins CIA’s Drone War in Pakistan

By <>Noah Shachtman, December 10, 2009

The headquarters for the <>American military’s air war in Central Asia and the Middle East is located in a converted medical warehouse on an undisclosed base in a country the U.S. Air Force would rather not name. The lights are turned down low, so the troops can clearly see the giant screen at the far end of the in this cavernous, classified facility.  On that glowing screen is a digital map of Afghanistan, showing the position of every U.S. Air Force drone, every fighter jet, every bomber and every tanker aircraft with a teal dot. Most of the dots are positioned near the hotspots of the Afghanistan war — places like Kandahar, Helmand and Nangarhar provinces. But there are three dots, representing Air Force unmanned aerial vehicles, that aren’t above Afghanistan at all. These dots have moved to the east of the Afghan border; these drones are flying missions over Pakistan.


# Mysteries Surround Afghanistan’s Stealth Drone (Updated)

<>David Hambling, December 4, 2009

Earlier this year, blurry pictures were released by the French magazine <>Air & Cosmos of a previously unknown stealth drone taken at Kandahar in Afghanistan. The photos, snapped in 2007, prompted a wave of speculation about the classified aircraft. That speculation <>grew even more intense this week, when a blog belonging to the French newspaper Libération released an even better <>photograph. But while the new picture may answers some questions, it also creates a heap of new mysteries. Chief among them: Why use such a fancy, stealthy aircraft in Afghanistan? The Taliban have neither the radar to spot the plane, nor the weaponry to shoot it down. The lines of the drone clearly indicate a stealth design slightly reminiscent of the B-2A Spirit bomber, but smaller. <“>Over on Ares, veteran aviation expert Bill Sweetman describes the wingspan as being perhaps eighty feet, and notes “One important detail: the overwing fairings are not B-2-like inlets, but cover some kind of equipment – satcoms on one side, perhaps, and a sensor on the other.”


# U.S. Spec Ops Adviser: Widen the Drone War in Pakistan

<>Noah Shachtman, December 4, 2009

The most important escalation of the war might be the one the President didn’t mention at West Point. The White House “<>has authorized an expansion” of the <>CIA-lead killer drone campaign in Pakistan, to “parallel” the troop surge in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. “American officials are talking to Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan [province] for the first time… because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.” You bet U.S. officials are talking. They’re talking right on the Times’ op-ed page. <>Seth Jones is a RAND Corporation analyst who now works in Kabul for <>Brigadier General Edward Reeder, the head of Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command. In an opinion piece in today’s Times, Jones argues that “<>the United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan.”


# Next-Generation of Global Hawk Unmanned Aircraft Takes Flight

Dec 06, By Robotics Trends Staff

Northrop Grumman and U.S. Air Force’s Block 40 configuration RQ-4 of Global Hawk has successfully completed its first flight. The Block 40 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft will carry an advanced, all-weather multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) sensor that will help warfighters detect, track and identify stationary and moving targets. World’s first fully autonomous high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, the Global Hawk will carry the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) active electronically scanned array radar making well suited for designed for persistent ISR.



Give Thanks for/to the Drug Cartels

[The Guardian has published an article stating that drug money has kept the world financial systems afloat.  According to a UN official, that was about the only liquidity available to the financial markets during the depths of the crisis. Bankers dispute this however.]

Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor

Drugs and crime chief says $352bn in criminal proceeds was effectively laundered by financial institutions

Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations‘ drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

This will raise questions about crime’s influence on the economic system at times of crisis. It will also prompt further examination of the banking sector as world leaders, including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, call for new International Monetary Fund regulations. Speaking from his office in Vienna, Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. “In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor,” he said.

Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.

“Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities… There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.” Costa declined to identify countries or banks that may have received any drugs money, saying that would be inappropriate because his office is supposed to address the problem, not apportion blame. But he said the money is now a part of the official system and had been effectively laundered.

“That was the moment [last year] when the system was basically paralysed because of the unwillingness of banks to lend money to one another. The progressive liquidisation to the system and the progressive improvement by some banks of their share values [has meant that] the problem [of illegal money] has become much less serious than it was,” he said.

The IMF estimated that large US and European banks lost more than $1tn on toxic assets and from bad loans from January 2007 to September 2009 and more than 200 mortgage lenders went bankrupt. Many major institutions either failed, were acquired under duress, or were subject to government takeover.

Gangs are now believed to make most of their profits from the drugs trade and are estimated to be worth £352bn, the UN says. They have traditionally kept proceeds in cash or moved it offshore to hide it from the authorities. It is understood that evidence that drug money has flowed into banks came from officials in Britain, Switzerland, Italy and the US.

British bankers would want to see any evidence that Costa has to back his claims. A British Bankers’ Association spokesman said: “We have not been party to any regulatory dialogue that would support a theory of this kind. There was clearly a lack of liquidity in the system and to a large degree this was filled by the intervention of central banks.”

Feel Good Education — Daniel Wolff comments in Counterpunch

[published on line in Counterpunch]



It only makes sense that the article appeared in the Style section of the New York Times. Sure, it’s about hedge fund managers supporting New York  City’s charter schools. But if we are to believe the breezy slant of the piece (Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009, “Scholarly Investments”), these young turks pick out charters the way their fathers shopped for the latest fedora. Cause it’s fashionable. Cause it reflects their inner selves. Cause it makes them feel good.

The author, Nancy Hass, admits that thirty-something multimillionaires embracing public education “may seem odd.” Their kids, after all, are far more likely to go to Greenwich Country Day. But the explanation is simple enough if you know what she calls “the sociology of Wall Street.” These guys from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have a certain level of “nerdiness,” and charter schools appeal to their “maverick instincts.”

According to this benign scenario, the same analysts who spend all day in cut-throat financial competition toss away their Blackberries come dusk and do the right thing by joining the boards of charter schools. Privately run and often non-union, charters are seen by their advocates as the free market alternative to traditional public schools. Or, as the article puts it, “an entrepreneurial answer to the nation’s education woes.”

Typically, we’re told, a charter board consists of a dozen or so members who are asked to donate or raise $1.3 million over three years. Let’s see … that’s around $36,000 a board member per year. Certainly sizable but not gigantic given their annual “eight-figure incomes.” Especially since donations to organizations like Democrats for Education Reform are tax deductible.

Whitney Tilson, on the board of a company that manages charter schools, says they “present the kind of opportunity that ‘electrifies’ hedge fund managers.” Tilson calls it “the most important cause in the nation, obviously.” He adds, “With the state providing so much of the money, outside contributions are insanely well leveraged.”

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere. New York State provides 75 to 90 percent of the per-student cost at a charter school. That’s because schools like the Harlem Success Academies are still technically public and draw from public funds. So if the young analysts look at their donations as an investment – which the article insists they do not … or not that kind of investment – then their dollars are heavily backed by tax dollars. That is to say, by our dollars.

Ravenal Boykin Curry IV of Eagle Capital Management has co-founded two girls prep schools and is head of the board of a third. He explains that he’s been “knee deep in educational issues” since his 20’s. Almost in passing he adds that these schools are: “exactly the kind of investment people in our industry spend our days trying to stumble on, with incredible cash flow, even if in this case we don’t ourselves get any of it.”

So maybe the Blackberries and the financial acumen don’t disappear at night? Perhaps charter schools appeal to the investors’ “maverick instincts” because they look a lot like the instruments these guys fight over (or in Mr. Curry’s more benevolent term “stumble on”) during the day? That has certainly proven the case across the country, where start-up management firms see charters as prime, for-profit ventures. Through various real estate deals and cost-cutting practices (like paying teachers less), these private/public schools have already shown themselves to be potential money makers. One real estate trust recently sunk $170 million into 22 charters. Said its CEO: “The charter public schools offer lenders/leaseholders a dependable revenue stream backed by a government payer. It’s a very desirable equation.”

The young turks may not profit directly from their board work. But as the Style article makes clear, New York City’s charter school network is the new country club. It’s where the elite meet, where potential business connections are made. And even if these Masters of the Universe don’t “get any” from the schools they back, they’re in on the ground floor of a growth industry. Their experience in New York City may well influence their financial recommendations and investments elsewhere.

“The underlying drive,” as John Petry, partner at Gotham Capital and member of the Success Charter Network, puts it, “is to build something that can spread, can be recreated in different cities; otherwise it’s not as meaningful to us.” Only 2.5% of the city’s public school students are in charters, the article states, but that’s more like 20% in Harlem and parts of Brooklyn. And the movement gets that much more “meaningful” in New Orleans, for example, where over half the kids are in newly formed charters. A national string of hedge-fund-backed, privately run schools begins to look like a real option: a chain competing with and siphoning funding from standard public schools. As Robert Reffkin, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, puts it his peers now “understand what’s at stake and what the return can be.”

Except the educational return is still unclear. There’s no conclusive evidence that charters do a better job than traditional public schools. Meanwhile, the investments these young tycoons have made are already changing public education – and changing it to more closely resemble the financial models they work with during the day. Those models, as we’ve learned over the last couple years, don’t always pan out.

If they don’t? If the charter bubble bursts? Where does that leave the kids who’ve switched over from the less sexy, less well-funded, regular system? Charter schools, the article states, are today’s “hot cause.” But what happens tomorrow, when styles change?

Daniel Wolff lives in Nyack, N.Y. His newest book is How Lincoln Learned to Read. His other books include “4th of July/Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land.” He is a co-producer of the forthcoming Jonathan Demme documentary about New Orleans, “Right to Return.” He can be reached at:

Private Insurers to Profit from Senate Bill on Health Care

[ Mark Sapir, one of the Mad As Hell Doctors who caravaned across the country supporting single-payer health care, forwarded this post to me, an article by Robert Reich on AlterNet.  Mark points out: “One of the important points made by Reich which was also raised by UCSF researcher Jim Kahn in a presentation this week is that the exemptions of the Health Insurance Industry from anti-trust prosecution which is a part of the Senate bill will allow the Industry both to monopolize–as they are already doing in small states–and to collude in inflated price fixing and that will doom the effort to stop the never end cost spiral in health care.”]

How a Few Private Health Insurers Are on the Way to Controlling Health Care

By Robert Reich. Posted on AlterNet December 12, 2009.

If you think an expanded Medicare makes up for the lack of a public option in the Senate bill, you’re smoking medical marijuana.
The public option is dead, killed by a handful of senators from small states who are mostly bought off by Big Insurance and Big Pharma or intimidated by these industries’ deep pockets and power to run political ads against them. Some might say it’s no great loss at this point because the Senate bill Harry Reid came up with contained a public option available only to 4 million people, which would have been far too small to exert any competitive pressure on private insurers, anyway.

To provide political cover to senators who want to tell their constituents that the intent behind a robust public option lives on, the emerging Senate bill makes Medicare available to younger folk (age 55), and lets people who aren’t covered by their employers buy in to a system that’s similar to the plan that federal employees now have, where the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management selects from among private insurers.

But we still end up with a system that’s based on private insurers that have no incentive whatsoever to control their costs or the costs of pharmaceutical companies and medical providers. If you think the federal employee benefit plan is an answer to this, think again. Its premiums increased nearly 9 percent this year. And if you think an expanded Medicare is the answer, you’re smoking medical marijuana. The Senate bill allows an independent commission to hold back Medicare costs only if Medicare spending is rising faster than total health spending. So if health spending is soaring because private insurers have no incentive to control it, we’re all out of luck. Medicare explodes as well.

A system based on private insurers won’t control costs because private insurers barely compete against each other. According to data from the American Medical Association, only a handful of insurers dominate most states. In 9 states, 2 insurance companies control 85 percent or more of the market. In Arkansas, home to Senator Blanche Lincoln, who doesn’t dare cross Big Insurance, the Blue Cross plan controls almost 70 percent of the market; most of the rest is United Healthcare. These data, by the way, are from 2005 and 2006. Since then, private insurers have been consolidating like mad across the country. At this rate by 2014, when the new health bill kicks in and 30 million more Americans buy health insurance, Big Insurance will be really Big.

In light of all this, you’d think the insurance industry would be subject to the antitrust laws, so the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission could prevent it from combining into one or two national behemoths that suck every health dollar out of our pockets (as well as the pockets of companies paying part of the cost of their employees’ health insurance). But no. Remarkably, the Senate bill still keeps Big Insurance safe from competition by preserving its privileged exemption from the antitrust laws.

From the start, opponents of the public option have wanted to portray it as big government preying upon the market, and private insurers as the embodiment of the market. But it’s just the reverse. Private insurers are exempt from competition. As a result, they are becoming ever more powerful. And it’s not just their economic power that’s worrying. It’s also their political power, as we’ve learned over the last ten months. Economic and political power is a potent combination. Without some mechanism forcing private insurers to compete, we’re going to end up with a national health care system that’s controlled by a handful of very large corporations accountable neither to American voters nor to the market.

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President-Elect Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is Supercapitalism.

[AlterNet also has a story today entitled Why is the New York Times Helping Joe Lieberman Lie About Health Care? Read it by clicking the link at the sidebar to the right, or by pasting in this URL: ]