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Data Sheet—Friday, June 24, 2016

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but Rosie the Robot will not clean your house, rake leaves in your backyard, or water your plants anytime soon.

Although the technology industry is in a robotics boom, the type of robots portrayed in popular entertainment—like Rosie, the lovable robotic maid in the cartoon series The Jetsons—are likely to remain fiction for some time.

It’s true that the cost of building robots has shrunk considerably over the past few years, as the hardware required to bring them to life has gotten simultaneously more powerful and less expensive. Couple that with the rise of open-source (in laymen’s terms, free) robotic software development tools, and engineers have been able to build robots more easily than ever.

And what machines these roboticists are making.

For instance, owners of the Baxter industrial robot don’t need to fiddle with software code in order to program it for simple tasks like packing boxes on an assembly line. One just needs to grab one of Baxter’s arms, demonstrate what needs to be picked up and placed, and the robot can take it from there.

But, as any roboticist will tell you, machines like typically perform only one task because it’s still incredibly difficult to make a robot that does many things, let alone one thing, well.

Hollywood, however, makes robotics seem easy. In Rocky IV, a hulking robot servant not only delivers a birthday cake to Rocky’s brother-in-law without a hiccup, but—perhaps more wondrously—has no problem understanding and responding to Sylvester Stallone’s mumbling voice. Compared with the Italian Stallion’s electronic sidekick, voice recognition assistants like Siri and Alexa have their work cut out for them.

This isn’t a knock on the robotics industry for taking seemingly forever to deliver the future. Instead, it’s a call to reality for those who believe we’re on the verge of robots that can handle our every demand. One popular “robot failure” video on YouTube will give you a sense of how hard it is to build a robot that can accomplish the simple task of pouring ketchup on a burger.

So if you’re looking for a robot to take care of all of your monotonous household chores, keep dreaming. Or instead, take a second and think about how far robotics has come. We now have robots that can vacuum your house on their own without any human help.

That’s one chore you can scratch off your to-do list.

Jonathan Vanian is a writer at Fortune. Follow him on Twitter or reach him via email.

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What ‘Brexit’ means for tech. The citizens of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union. Although the separation will actually take at least two years to play out, the move is likely to mean the EU’s stance on issues such as data privacy and antitrust enforcement against tech companies (hello, Google) will become even more aggressive. It will definitely make U.S. tech companies think twice before investing in new offices or facilities there. Microsoft, for one, has already declared that position. (Fortune)

Twilio gives hope to unicorns. The communications software company soared 92% in its first day of trading, closing at $28.79 compared with its $15 IPO price. The debut ended a drought in initial public offerings among so-called “unicorn” companies, startups valued at more than $1 billion. While many questioned the timing on the day of the “Brexit” vote, Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson told Fortune: “There’s always something going on, somewhere in the world, that changes the markets.” (Fortune, New York Times)

Cisco wins big patent victory over Arista. The International Trade Commission upheld a ruling finding that the upstart networking equipment company had violated Cisco’s intellectual property. It recommended an import ban against the infringing Arista products. Next up: another review by the U.S. trade representative. The two companies will also meet in court in November over a copyright dispute. (Reuters, Bloomberg)

Insider will succeed Ursula Burns at Xerox CEO. After the company splits later this year, current Xerox Technology President Jeff Jacobson will take over as chief executive of the copier and printing business. Xerox last week named an outsider to lead the business process outsourcing and services organization that will also be created by the breakup. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)


Silicon Valley and Detroit race to build the next great car company. Back in 2012 the idea of self-driving cars looked, to Ford’s leadership, like a frivolous Silicon Valley moonshot. Four years later things have dramatically changed. Today Ford’s vehicle lineup features more than 30 options for semiautonomous features, and the company is aggressively working on cars that fully drive themselves. By year-end the company expects to have the largest fleet of autonomous test vehicles of any automaker.

Ford is not alone. The entire automotive industry is in the midst of a radical transformation that is reshaping the very definition of what it means to be a car company. There is hype, hope, fear, and insecurity—and at the center of it all is the self-driving car. Thanks to cheap sensors, powerful machine-learning technology, and a kick in the butt from the likes of Google and Tesla Motors, driverless vehicles are becoming a sooner-than-you-think reality. General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, Fiat-Chrysler, BMW, and just about every other auto company are wading—some cautiously and some with big, headline-grabbing moves—into territory that executives in Detroit and elsewhere not long ago considered a science-fiction fantasy.

Everything changed in March, when GM spent $1 billion on a tiny self-driving startup called Cruise Automation. As Erin Griffith reports in Fortune‘s latest cover story, tech companies, startups, and automakers circled one another for months, unsure of whether and how to partner. But that hesitancy ended after GM’s deal.

Plus, did you know that Apple has enough cash to buy the Big Three car companies?


Why Twilio’s CEO had the guts to go public by Heather Clancy

Robots will soon be milking thousands of cows in Chile by Jonathan Vanian

Instagram is adding automatic translation to your feeds by Madeline Farber

Uber’s CEO calls his company a labor ‘safety net’ by Kia Kokalitcheva

Airbnb and discrimination: Why it’s all so confusing by Jeremy Quittner

Tesla just lost one of its biggest supporters on Wall Street by Lucinda Shen

Love them or hate them, Facebook and Twitter have democratized media by Mathew Ingram

How digital map company ESRI will use the Microsoft cloud to get Google-like scale by Barb Darrow

Amazon adds text-to-speech features to latest Kindle by Madeline Farber


Why Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is betting on this smart Midwest city.  Columbus, Ohio, is the winner of the Smart City Challenge—recognized for its use of technology to curb traffic, reduce emissions, and provide greater access to public transportation. Columbus will receive $40 million in federal funds and $10 million from Allen’s Vulcan investment firm to supplement the $90 million it already raised to carry out its plans. (Fortune)



Red Hat Summit: The premier open source technology event. (June 27-30; San Francisco)

MongoDB World: For giant ideas. (June 28-29; New York)

NewVoiceMedia Connect: Rethink sales and service. (June 30; San Francisco)

Inforum: Infor’s annual user conference. (July 10-13; New York)

Fortune Brainstorm Tech: The world’s top tech and media thinkers, operators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and influencers. (July 11-13; Aspen, Colo.)

Sage Summit: For fast-growth businesses. (July 25-28; Chicago)

Gartner Catalyst: Takeways for technical professionals. (Aug. 15-18; San Diego)

Oktane 16: Explore the role identity plays in connecting people and technology. (Aug. 29-31; Las Vegas)

Oracle OpenWorld: The future of the cloud is now. (Sept. 18-22; San Francisco)

Gigaom Change: 7 transformational technologies. (Sept. 21-23; Austin)

Workday Rising: Talent management in the cloud. (Sept. 26-29; Chicago)

Microsoft Ignite: Product road maps and innovation. (Sept. 26-30; Atlanta)

Dreamforce: The Salesforce ecosystem gathers. (Oct. 4-7; San Francisco)

DellWorld: Dell’s annual global customer conference. (Oct. 18-20; Austin, Texas)

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing: The world’s largest gathering of women technologists. (Oct. 19-21; Houston)

TBM Conference: Manage the business of IT. (Nov. 7-10; San Diego)

Drone World Expo: Commercial apps for unmanned aircraft. (Nov. 15-16; San Jose, Calif.)

AWS re:Invent: Amazon’s annual cloud conference. (Nov. 28-Dec. 2; Las Vegas)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.