Travis Kalanick’s Secret Robot Lab
Amazon Fresh still stale, AI hallucinations, Cruise cutbacks
Good bot, bad bot… we’ve got both this week, with huge news coming out of CloudKitchens, Amazon and more.
Meet Travis Kalanick’s Lab37
Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, has made significant strides with his latest venture, CloudKitchens. Operated under parent company City Storage Systems (CSS), CloudKitchens' newest offshoot, Lab37, is spearheading an innovative approach to restaurant automation and robotics. Under the leadership of Eric Meyhofer, known for his expertise in automation from his tenure leading Uber’s self-driving car unit, Lab37 has unveiled its first creation - the Bowl Builder robot. This cutting-edge technology is designed to fully automate the preparation of bowl-based meals, capable of efficiently producing hundreds of bowls daily, both hot and cold.
The Bowl Builder robot has been developed and rigorously tested in Lab37's facility located on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. This facility houses various labs dedicated to different stages of development, including a commercial R&D kitchen. The current trials of the Bowl Builder, conducted by the Hungry Group, a virtual restaurant division of Lab37, have shown promising results. The current version of the machine can dispense from 18 different modules, can package utensils and occupies less than 60 square feet per bowl.
One issue with large learning module style AIs is that they can “hallucinate” information that isn’t true. While it can be hard to notice in written text, it’s more obvious when you tell the computer to draw, especially if it’s meant to represent a real world item. Twitter users have noted that Uber Eats seems to be generating images for menu items without photos, but in the process the system is creating terrifying looking food with tentacles, and a ranch dressing brand called “Lelnach.”
Amazon Fresh Still Feels Stale
Amazon has rebooted its grocery efforts, as it hopes that refreshing the look of its grocery stores, and adding more in-house items, will draw additional foot traffic. OttOmate stopped by an LA-area location on Sunday evening, typically a busy hour for supermarkets, and found this Fresh to be eerily quiet. The stores continue to feel like the world’s least occupied panopticon — not just in terms of the overwhelming array of cameras, but the odd choice of black for the shelving gives off the look of being locked behind bars.
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Amazon’s Latest Robot Deal Languishes
The European Union's antitrust authority has raised serious concerns about another one of Amazon's autonomous ambitions, its proposed $1.7 billion acquisition of iRobot, leading to a sharp 17% drop in the latter company’s stock. The European Commission, which has been investigating the deal since July, fears the acquisition could restrict competition in the robotic vacuum cleaner market. While Amazon asserts that the acquisition will foster innovation and reduce consumer prices, the Commission is concerned Amazon might limit competitors' access on its platform. This development has also attracted scrutiny from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, although the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority previously assessed the deal as not significantly reducing competition in the U.K. Amazon's stock rose by about 1.4% following the announcement.
A Very Slow Cruise
GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra has outlined a revised, more cautious strategy for Cruise, its self-driving vehicle subsidiary, following operational setbacks. This approach includes significant spending cuts in 2024, potentially leading to widespread layoffs at the company, which employs around 3,800 people. This decision follows recent permit suspensions and safety concerns. Alongside Cruise's restructuring, GM is also navigating broader challenges, such as labor strike impacts and revised financial outlooks for 2023, while focusing on rebuilding trust with regulators and communities for its autonomous vehicle operations. Barra emphasized the need for enhanced safety, transparency, and accountability in Cruise's future endeavors.
In Other News
Shrinkage at self-checkout may be worse than expected. Presto Automation names new COO. Online grocery shopping more popular with men than women. Did consumers know their Better Days meals were made by robots? Universal Robots unveils cobot arm with 30 kg capacity. Autonomous drone startup Kyte takes flight in Norway. Robot Wars and Star Wars mastermind Marc Thorpe passes away.