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Apple's hiring of ex-Segway robotics expert fuels speculation of 'fantastic' future products

post #1 of 67
Thread Starter 
A robotics expert who was a key figure behind the creation of the Segway personal transportation device now works at Apple, leading some to speculate he could be involved in a top-secret advanced product at the company.

Morrell
John Morrell, left, helped invent the Segway personal transporter. Now he works at Apple.


John Morrell was due to become the director of Yale University's Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, but he left his position last year for a position at Apple, according to Bloomberg. The fact that Morrell was apparently willing to turn down the position at Yale led some to speculate to author Ashlee Vance that he may have been wooed away by a "pretty fantastic" project in the works at Apple.

While at Yale, Morrell oversaw research on robots that were able to climb stairs and open doors. He was also an expert on interactions between machines and humans, a topic particularly key to the core philosophy of Apple.

Morrell has apparently been reunited with other members of the Segway team, including Doug Field, who previously served as the company's chief technology officer before joining Apple in 2008. But to date, there's been no outside indication that Apple is working on any Segway-type or robotics-oriented devices, which led Vance to admit in his report that it's possible Morrell may have "become just another member of a giant consumer electronics company."

According to Vance, most of the ex-Segway team that has found work at Apple works on Apple's existing flagship devices, while Morrell himself allegedly works in the Mac software group.

While there's no evidence that Morrell or anyone else are in fact working on secretive projects, Vance made the case that it could be in Apple's best interest to invest in a "moonshot" project, noting that with $137 billion in cash, the company spends only $3.4 billion per year on research and development. Some of Apple's chief competitors have garnered public buzz with their own "moonshot" products, such as Google's Glass and self-driving cars and Microsoft's handsfree Kinect controller.

"It would be a shame if a company with hundreds of all-stars, such as Morrell, isn't working on something more daring than the next gadget," Vance concluded.

Apple's legendary secrecy leads to all kinds of fanciful rumors about what the company could be working on inside its mysterious labs. Of late, speculation has centered on the prospect of an Apple television set or smart wristwatch accessory.

Years ago, rumors about Apple became particularly elaborate once it was revealed that the company had obtained the exclusive rights to a super-durable custom metal alloy known as Liquidmetal. Speculation saw Apple developing everything from iPhones to much larger MacBooks out of the material, but to date the only evidence of Liquidmetal in any Apple product is in the ejector tool used to remove SIM cards from older iPhones.
post #2 of 67
I would like to see Apple work on embedded systems but I suspect that will not happen.
post #3 of 67
Hopefully the MacPro will be released before I can ride my iPod Touch to work.
post #4 of 67
Behold the iWalker!

WS spin: critics pan rumored iWalker. No one needs an automated walker.
post #5 of 67
Off Topic but it does involve Steve Jobs and Segway and gives a great insight into how Jobs works: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3533.html

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

 

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post #6 of 67
Could be that he will have nothing to do with products but a lot to do with production.

Robots don't commit suicide (or if they do, nobody cares).
post #7 of 67
Apple is building an iRobot!
post #8 of 67
Google Glass, self-driving cars and Microsoft Kinect are all cool, interesting and innovative in their own ways. But let's not call them moon shots, let alone moon shots by these companies. First of all, a moon shot is one that has catastrophic consequences in the event of a miss. Second, all three technologies were developed and proven in the academic realm and/or other industrial skunk works projects because these companies initiated their own efforts. Third, if these technologies are moon shots, so too were the Mac and iPhone.

Having said all this, it would be way cool to see Apple take a step sideways and launch something that is not principally *just* a computer.
post #9 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

Robots don't commit suicide (or if they do, nobody cares).

Not yet but in 1000 years it would be all too common.
post #10 of 67

The Segway is cool. But its cool factor really sank when its CEO died while falling off one.

post #11 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by winstein2010 View Post

Apple is building an iRobot!


I doubt the company iRobot would give up its name.

post #12 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by MacBook Pro View Post

I would like to see Apple work on embedded systems but I suspect that will not happen.

There was a time when an OS on a phone was considered an embedded OS. Strictly speaking, it still is. But most people don't associate embedded systems with consumer products.

post #13 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

Could be that he will have nothing to do with products but a lot to do with production.

Robots don't commit suicide (or if they do, nobody cares).

An interesting thought and not impossible. But there is considerable distance between development of manufacturing robots and ambulatory robots. Considerable. It would be like asking a Siri developer to do the UI for Maps. It's all programming to the uninitiated, but ...

 

As for robots committing suicide, a historical joke in robotics is about programming a robot to push its own E-stop.


Edited by stelligent - 4/2/13 at 2:45pm
post #14 of 67
Factory automation.
post #15 of 67

post #16 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Off Topic but it does involve Steve Jobs and Segway and gives a great insight into how Jobs works: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3533.html

Thanks for the link. I'm very fond of that story and enjoyed reading it again. It is rare to be a fly on the wall of a room with Kamen, Jobs, Doerr and Bezos, and all of them wrong about the fate of a product.

post #17 of 67

Apple hired CEO John Scully from Pepsi but that didn't mean Apple was going to make soft drinks.

post #18 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogJack View Post

Hopefully the MacPro will be released before I can ride my iPod Touch to work.

Your wish will come true this year. There is a pretty serious rumor going around (but not here?) that Apple has already approached some former MP users who have switched to Windows.

post #19 of 67

Now this is a rumor that people can finally get excited by. Who gives a crap about cheap iPhones and other insignificant rumors that aren't likely to produce any exciting products, unless somebody is a fan of the race to the bottom method of doing business, like most other companies are.

 

While other companies are "innovating", and making their next phone a half an inch larger than their previous phone, Apple will be working on the next set of groundbreaking devices that will blow everybody away and disrupt entire industries. In an office in Korea, in Samsung's HQ, people will be openly weeping when they see what Apple has released.

post #20 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

Robots don't commit suicide (or if they do, nobody cares).

Actually, if one did -- on its own volition, somehow -- that would be HUGE news.
post #21 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

An interesting thought and not impossible. But there is considerable distance between development of manufacturing robots and ambulatory robots. Considerable. It would be like asking a Siri developer to do the UI for Maps. It's all programming to the uninitiated, but ...

 

As for robots committing suicide, a historical joke in robotics is about programming a robot to push its own E-stop.

I understand your point, but consider this: a major complication (if not THE major complication) with robotic manufacturing is how humans and robots work together. How will robots perceive and learn human intentions and vice versa are huge conceptual, theoretical and engineering questions. We are far from the point that robots can take over all of the manufacture of an Apple product, so how is safety, efficiency, and QA maximized in a human/robot production milieu?

 

A major skill and, by extension, objective of Cook as CEO is to maximize product manufacture efficiencies. Project out a decade or two and consider how massive the markets for Apple products will be, especially smaller and harder-to-manufacture portable devices. Another thing about Cook is that he understands better than anyone on the planet, IMO, that although competitors may be able to copy some of Apple's UI ideas and form factors, it will be very, very difficult for them to copy high-efficiency operational and manufacturing processes that help yield their over-the-top profit margins. Apple's next big thing may not be a product, but very well be a set of revolutionary robot/human manufacturing processes.

For your sake, I hope you're right.
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For your sake, I hope you're right.
Reply
post #22 of 67
isn't this the company whereby the owner himself rolls off the cliff with his own segaway...
post #23 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by wharzhee View Post

isn't this the company whereby the owner himself rolls off the cliff with his own segaway...

I've never tried a Segway, but I'd like to someday.

 

As for the owner who died, he didn't have anything to do with the development of Segway, he was just some rich guy who had bought the company and had owned it for less than a year before the accident.

 

I guess the moral of the story is that it's probably not a good idea to ride anything close to the edges of a cliff, including bicycles, cars, Segways etc.

 

What about automobiles? More than a million people die each year in road related deaths.

 

When I do eventually get to try a Segway for the first time, I'll be sure to stay away from any cliffs.lol.gif

post #24 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by Carthusia View Post

I understand your point, but consider this: a major complication (if not THE major complication) with robotic manufacturing is how humans and robots work together. How will robots perceive and learn human intentions and vice versa are huge conceptual, theoretical and engineering questions. We are far from the point that robots can take over all of the manufacture of an Apple product, so how is safety, efficiency, and QA maximized in a human/robot production milieu?

A major skill and, by extension, objective of Cook as CEO is to maximize product manufacture efficiencies. Project out a decade or two and consider how massive the markets for Apple products will be, especially smaller and harder-to-manufacture portable devices. Another thing about Cook is that he understands better than anyone on the planet, IMO, that although competitors may be able to copy some of Apple's UI ideas and form factors, it will be very, very difficult for them to copy high-efficiency operational and manufacturing processes that help yield their over-the-top profit margins. Apple's next big thing may not be a product, but very well be a set of revolutionary robot/human manufacturing processes.

This may be what you guess the major automation challenge to be. But it does not reflect reallity.
post #25 of 67

Tomorrow Samsung publishes pictures of their vision of Segway that happened to be in works for several years.

post #26 of 67
I think I read it on AI, but there was an article at some point last year that revealed Jobs' vision for Apple to someday design and build cars. Not that it could be related to this guys experience in robotics. I would love to see an apple designed car.
post #27 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by j1334 View Post

Factory automation.
That's the most plausible explanation I've heard!
post #28 of 67
Ever since Apple announced the new building, that they were going to keep the current campus and the construction of all the server farms, I have speculated that Apple was going to enter completely new business areas and one primary area would be robotics.

My prediction is that in 15-20 years, Apple's primary business will be robotics.
post #29 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

Your wish will come true this year. There is a pretty serious rumor going around (but not here?) that Apple has already approached some former MP users who have switched to Windows.
It was CNet's April fools joke rumor. AI covered it but then took the post of the main page when the gag was revealed.
post #30 of 67
Kamen: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Cook: Yes, sir.
Kamen: Are you listening?
Cook: Yes, I am.
Kamen: 'Ginger.'
Cook: Exactly how do you mean?
Kamen: There's a great future in 'Ginger.' Think about it. Will you think about it?
post #31 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post


Kamen: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Cook: Yes, sir.

Kamen: Are you listening?

Cook: Yes, I am.

Kamen: 'Ginger.'

Cook: Exactly how do you mean?

Kamen: There's a great future in 'Ginger.' Think about it. Will you think about it?



Not what you meant but I'm posting it anyway…. 1biggrin.gif

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

 

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

 

Goodbyeee jragosta :: http://forums.appleinsider.com/t/160864/jragosta-joseph-michael-ragosta

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post #32 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by ankleskater View Post


This may be what you guess the major automation challenge to be. But it does not reflect reallity.

Because you know the reality? I genuinely am curious about your ideas.

For your sake, I hope you're right.
Reply
For your sake, I hope you're right.
Reply
post #33 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

Not what you meant but I'm posting it anyway…. 1biggrin.gif

 

In truth, I am a person who lives with the condition known as, "Gingervitis!"

post #34 of 67
icar, electric cars.
post #35 of 67
Cue the rumors. This confirms the iCar. V1.0 single seater
post #36 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by jungmark View Post


Not yet but in 1000 years it would be all too common.

 

Nope. In 1000 years if they feel mistreated they will kill the bosses. Skynet overrules Asimov

post #37 of 67
post #38 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

Your wish will come true this year. There is a pretty serious rumor going around (but not here?) that Apple has already approached some former MP users who have switched to Windows.

 

 

April fools day joke however Tim Cook himself leaked that something is coming this year. We jut don't know what or when 

post #39 of 67
Solipsismx.... That was a cool article!! Thanx for posting the link

For those who missed it... Here is the link again

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3533.html
post #40 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by ankleskater View Post

This may be what you guess the major automation challenge to be. But it does not reflect reallity.
And could you give a plausible and credible argument against it? I can't, his theory makes a lot of sense.
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