Friday, February 29, 2008

Your next robot will be most likely your car!

Automobiles have been roaming the surface of our planet over 100 years! We find it such a useful transportation machine that we have taken it to the moon and plan to bring it to Mars as well. It is not odd that robotic technologies would integrate into automobiles in order to get something like KITT (as seen on the Knight Rider TV series). We have automated many aspects of our daily lives and driving is the next natural step towards having this usefull machine fully automated. We are not talking Science Fiction but instead Science FACT. Take a look at what has been accomplished at the DARPA challenges and you will easily understand how close we are in getting a robotic car to drive us around. It took less than 20 years for the Department of Defense to release GPS technology for civilian use and my it will be much less for automobile-robotic technologies to trickle out to the public. Imagine having your very own KITT taking you for a ride around town or across the country while you browse the web, video conference with family and friends or safely take that much needed sleep.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The first Robokind: "Zeno"

If you watched "A.I." and/or "Blade Runner" to ask yourself if something like those androids are possible then keep a close watch for Hanson Robotics! They are coming up with Zeno which they considered to be a 'Robokind' style robot; a character robot that is able to mix vision, speech, hearing, mobility and emotional face expressions to interact with it's human friends. Hanson's objective is to be able to have an ongoing conversation with his robot boy (17 in. / 6 Lb.) character and close the gap of the 'uncanny valley' by providing eye contact, face expressions and moods.

The interesting aspect of this robot will be it's artificial intelligence that it will hold. It will rely on wireless communication with your computer and web access in order to have lengthy conversations, 'learn' and 'remember' the world around him. Although Zeno will provide basic entertainment options, you can sense that it's current unique features will have diverse implications in future robots. Currently Zeno is still not for sale, we are waiting for Henson Robotics to have it ready soon for a full review.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sony Aibo - A glimpse to future home robotics?

Sony had great vision for the future when they introduced the Aibo back in 1999. This was before iRobot's Roomba and many other 'serious' attempt towards domestic robotics. Though designed for entertainment it soon developed into a very much used robotics experiment. Sony stopped development and sale of Aibo in 2006 but you still see these lovable robots in many robotic challenges as the globally known RoboCup. Aibo brought many features that until just recently was not found in current home robots, some include wireless communication and programmability. Aibo still had many features that I wish were found in current domestic robots like voice activation/recognition, autonomous robotics, certain level of A.I. at which the robot can learn it's environment and better forms of navigation. There is still much room for improvement in the current fleet of domestic robots but Aibo certainly had many ahead of it's time.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lego Mindstorms NXT - A Tinkerer's Dream Kit

If you like robotics and haven't heard of Lego Mindstorms NXT then wake up and smell the coffee! Lego introduced their 2nd generation programmable robotics kit back in Summer of 2006 with much fanfare. Though originally targeted for youngsters you know that sooner or later 'older' youngsters as us will get this great kit. Practically the Mindstorms NXT is a technological canvas for the creative mind, it will allow your inner designer, robotics engineer and programmer come to life. What really makes Mindstorms NXT great is that you can build something today and later take it apart to make something totally different. It will provide you endless hours of 'entertainment' but with the benefit of learning something new each time. If you like to tinker, like robotics and always wanted to mix it with some nice programming then get this kit today! It will provide you with a basic foundation to future robotics that will run around your home.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

iRobot's Roomba 500 Series

It has been about half a year since iRobot came out with the 500 series Roomba. The 5th generation robot vacuum cleaner brought many new features but as well stayed with certain known issues from previous generations. One of the most interesting features is that the 500 series are modular, this means that all the parts can be replaced easily by just removing a couple of screws. At the moment iRobot does not have these parts on sale but sooner or later they will. Another great feature is the 'Light House' technology, which is practically a beacon styled system to assist the 500 series (models 535 and above) navigate around your home and back to it's charging base. This robot also brings an avoidance system in the front bumper so it doesn't hit the walls and furniture like a blind bat and wake you up in the middle of the night when it's cleaning. It's much quieter, is able to clean high pile carpets and area rugs with fringes! The cleaning mechanism is still somewhat unchanged since the original Roomba (circa 2002) and you still have to manually clean it out after each cleaning session in order for the robot to survive more than 1 year. It's a nice small step forwards but it's just that, a small step. iRobot should push towards more durable robots (better materials, designs that withstand dust and hair accumulation, etc.) and lean towards fully automated robotics (something like Karcher's idea). Only time will tell us if iRobot learns and push for better robotics in the near future.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What is inside WhiteBox Robot?

The folks at WhiteBox Robotics have something good at their hands. Their 914 PC-Bot is the closest thing to a real R2D2 as we can get at the moment. In essence, the 914 PC-Bot is a personal computer on wheels. Not a bad idea since it leaves much open for anyone to tinker (probably a great way to get that IEEE Robotics award!) and create what ever they wish with it. We probably will not see major accomplishment with this platform for some years to come but I could just imagine the possibilities with this robot. At the cost of a nice PC rig, you can make that dream come true and probably get closer to creating a fully autonomous robot to assist you with daily home chores, information management, home security and personal assistant. Now if the engineers at WhiteBox Robotics can solve the problem of having the 914 PC-Bot climb the stairs, that would be the day!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

IEEE Recognizes Geeks That Tinker With Robots

The IEEE may give you a nice medal and certificate if you and/or a group of friends come up with a nice idea that contributes to the field of robotics. The IEEE is a non-profit organization that consists of the world's leading professionals that want the advancement of technology. This award was established in 2002 (same year that iRobot's Roomba debuted) and has been given out each year since. Here is a bit more detail if anyone is interested in getting this nice award and recognition:

The award is presented for contributions in the field of robotics and automation. It can be presented to an individual or team of up to three in number.

It includes but is not limited to: Manufacturing automation, Robotics and Automation in Unstructured Environments, Sensor Design, Integration and Fusion, Robot Design, Modeling, Planning and Control, Methodologies for Robotics and Automation.

This award is administered by the Technical Field Awards Council of the IEEE Awards Board.

In the evaluation process, the following criteria are considered: manufacturing automation, robotics and automation in unstructured environments, sensor design, integration and fusion, robot design, modeling, planning and control, methodologies for robotics and automation, and the quality of the nomination.

The Award consists of a bronze medal, certificate and honorarium.

So what are you waiting for?!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

iRobot's ConnectR seems to be live and kicking!

Received news from iRobot that ConnectR is live and kicking. Not too long ago I asked the whereabouts of this interesting robot and personally thought it may have been stillborn knowing that Wowwee had a very similar product with great features. It seems that ConnectR will be re-designed to be the "boss" robot in your home, it will give the owner the ability to control the other robots and probably other devices. iRobot is leaning towards giving current and future robots the ability to communicate with each other and be connected to the web (could it be the beginning of skynet?) . All of this sounds great but no cigar until we see the first ConnectR out in the field for testing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Microrobot Ubot a Hybrid?

Korea has been catching up very quickly in the robotics field. Microrobot introduced their Ubot at CES 2007 - Las Vegas. This home cleaning robot is unique because it can sweep and mop your floors at the same time! It also can support a very interesting IR barcode navigation system. No need to use messy toxic liquids and purchase two separate robots to do both jobs, Ubot take care of these issues with ease. Currently you can find a USA / English speaking version from Microrobot less than the price of a Roomba and Scooba! Only downfall is that it's taller than other cleaning robots so it may have difficulty getting under some furniture. Look for an upcoming review of this nice robot.

Monday, February 11, 2008

True Robotics - Karcher RC3000

In my opinion robotics should provide semi or full automation with minimal human intervention. That should be the goal for all home robotic products. What good is it to have a robotic floor cleaner if the owner still has to pickup after it has cleaned the floors? Wouldn't it be wonderful just to come home and have the floors always clean? It would seem as magic since you wouldn't have to worry, in a daily basis, to empty the dirt bin, clean out the air filter and wound up hair. Currently there is a robot that can meet those expectations, the Karcher RC3000. Not cheap but it's worth each dollar/Euro (US$1200) for it's almost full automation. This robotic floor sweeper will maintain your floors clean and your only worry would be to exchange the dust bag (in the charge base) once every couple of weeks or months (depending on your home dust/dirt conditions). I am not sure as to why other home robot companies haven't pushed towards more fully automatic robots, it should be one of the basic features. Look for an upcoming review of this nice robot.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The King of Lawn Robots: LawnBott LB3500

Italians are well known worldwide for their love with design. Not much has been given credit for their engineering until Zucchetti came up with their latest Lawn Robot named "LawnBott LB3500". By far this is THE lawn robot to get! It is a robot that was designed to last 7-10 years of use with standard features that are not found on other current lawn robots. The LB3500 is able to handle 1 acre (43000 sq. ft.) of grass out of the box and up to 2 acres with additional batteries, it can detect areas were it has cut (so it can move to the next area), carries safety features (proximity sensors and lift detectors), has a theft alarm system, runs whisper quiet, uses Li-Ion batteries, has self programming system that detects how fast the grass is growing to adjust how many times it has to cut the grass, can handle 30 degree slopes and uses bluetooth technology for the owner to program the robot! It is the most advanced lawn robot to date but at a price, good things do not come out cheap but it can become a good investment for those who have the cash. At the moment you can purchase one for about US$3,000 to do justice to your lawn.

Friday, February 8, 2008

What ever happened to iRobot's ConnectR?

It has been almost a half a year since iRobot introduced their tele-presence robot named "ConnectR" at the Digital Life 2007 event. Not much has been heard since besides that they are still recruiting beta testers for the ConnectR project at US$200! The idea was interesting but some of the details was not. The robot was projected to retail at US$400 and there was going to be a monthly charge for using their remote services. Also, by the looks of it, the robot is practically a Roomba with a video camera that is controlled/guided via the web just as you do with your Roomba and it's remote control. iRobot has much work to do if they wish to compete with Wowwee's Rovio that will start selling Q2/Q3 2008 at US$300 and does practically everything that ConnectR is said to do but without the monthly service fee!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

More on our little robo-friend "Rovio"

Recently I posted about Wow Wee's upcoming robot called Rovio. I find it to be a very interesting robot since it uses a unique method to move around a home. WowWee partnered with Evolution Robotics to implement the 'Northstar' indoor navigation system which makes it possible for Rovio to move around your home without bumping around like a blind mouse! There is much potential with this navigation technology for other future home robots, let us see (hope) that other home robot companies partner with Evolution Robotics to bring us better and efficient robot navigation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Home Robotics

Home robotics is hitting us all in the past 6 years in one form or the other. You will find robots that can take care of your mowing your lawn, cleaning your pool, cleaning your floors, entertaining your kids and/or your mind, guard your home and even acting as an extension of yourself. No longer just a SciFi dream but a fact of daily living. Home robotics is the next technological wave; if you missed the computer one then get ready to ride this one out or just sit and enjoy the view. Tech geeks as Bill Gates has acknowledged and embraced robotics as the next tech revolution (check out his article at Popular Science, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, etc.). There are still ways to go with current home robotics but it is surely interesting to see how it evolves and continues to improve each year. Definitely many of use find them helpful in our daily lives and others as a new technology to conquer.

So what are you thoughts on this? Do you welcome this new technological revolution?

Monday, February 4, 2008

WowWee's CES2008 Surprise Robot

Showcased at CES2008 this past January, WowWee presented one of their latest creation called "Rovio". This creation was a result of a partnership between Revolution Robotics (creators of "ER1:Personal Robot System") and WowWee (creators of "RoboSapien"). Rovio will start selling on Q2 / Q3 2007 for US$300. What makes this robot very interesting is that it can navigate around your home without bumping like the iRobot Roomba! It uses a "GPS like" system called Northstar which projects an infrared beam on your ceiling for the Rovio to 'see' and navigate from room to room. At the moment the only thing the Rovio can do is act as a tele-presence robot, sending video and sound via the internet as well as act like a VOIP device. Look for it at your local retail store when it comes out later this year! There is much potential for future products that use similar combination.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

So it began, the robotics revolution.

Robotics have existed in one form or the other for many years. It wasn't until iRobot created the Roomba that domestic robotics was born. Over 2 million units sold since 2002 and still growing can show the importance that robotics is playing in our daily lives. I have started this site to share and learn about the latest information and news of domestic robotics. Hope that anyone who visits gains something from this site. Enjoy the ride of this new technological revolution!