Trying to find the nearest Starbucks in a city without Google Maps might not cause a person to go caffeine free in the future, as robots may soon be bright enough to navigate uncharted territory.  

Facebook’s artificial intelligence team this week introduced its new algo which guides robots through unfamiliar real-world settings and uses the shortest route start to finish.

The DD-PPO algorithm moves autonomous delivery a step closer, and brings within reach personal assistants for the visually impaired. It’s currently being tested on Carnegie Mellon University’s robots, which have robotic arms for a range of applications from industrial to navigational uses.

Training robots on the algo will last about three days, a task that previously took one to six months. The robots need to be equipped with GPS, compass data and a camera that provides information on depth and color. Facebook is developing the next generation system that uses only information from the camera, so that the robots will be able to work inside factories and office buildings where GPS data is not available.

Tech giants are ramping up robotics research, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai this week said AI will have a more profound impact on humanity than the discovery of fire or electricity. 

Facebook made its open source PyRobot, a Python-based interface of the Robot Operating System, available last June. Similarly, Amazon launched developer toolkit AWS Robomaker in 2018, and Microsoft integrated ROS into Windows 10 after acquiring machine learning startup Bonsai the same year. 

  • Private investor interest in AI-powered robotics surged in the last two years. PitchBook identified 80 companies in “robotic process automation;” funding soared to $925 million last year from $42 million in 2017. 
  • Two of the biggest deals happened last year. New York-based UiPath raised $568 million series D last April led by Coatue Management. Automation Anywhere from San Jose, California scored $290 million series B last November led by Salesforce Ventures. 
  • Accel and Google’s Capital G venture arm are the most active investors in the space, according to PitchBook.