Saturday, March 29, 2008

QRIO: Sony's Dream Robot

Back in 2002 Sony seemed to be in the forefront of robotic technologies. With Aibo already in the market for 3 years (1999) and having a cult following of owners it seemed right to continue creating domestic robots. So in that same year Sony officially announced the development of the "SDR-4X" which later became known as QRIO (Quest for cuRIOsity). Advanced for it's time this small entertainment robot had the following:

  • Adaption motion control
  • Real-time Gait Pattern Generation Control
  • Real-world Space Perception Technology (visual/sound)
  • Individual person detection
  • Continuous speech recognition
  • Unknown vocabulary acquisition
  • Conversation, performance control technology based on its short-term and long-term memorySpeech synthesis and singing voice production
  • Safe design for interaction with people
  • Improved expression by adding more degrees of freedom
  • Improved performance of small actuators
But in 2006 Sony put an end to their domestic robotics line (Aibo and Qrio) and development. Sony was well ahead of the game and the market was not there until iRobot and Wow Wee paved the way for mass production and acceptance of home robotics. Sony should get back on the saddle and pursue their Robotics development and products. Imagine just what great products they may introduce to us if they wanted, they could be the Apple Computer of home robotics!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Will Dyson Ever Get Back To Their DC06 Robot?

It seemed that the engineers at Dyson were moving towards a robotic vacuum cleaner until news came at mid 2005 that they canceled the project. Somehow they imply that they may come back to this robotic project code named "DC06" with the following reply from a Dyson Customer Liaison:

"Dyson has developed an autonomous vacuum cleaner that is powerful enough to clean efficiently and is sufficiently intelligent to take a methodical path around the room. However, given current technologies, it is impossible to achieve high pick-up performance without pushing the cost of the machine above acceptable levels. Therefore Dyson will not be releasing this model at the present time.

Producing something that bounced aimlessly off the furniture and picked up very little dust would have been easy, but James Dyson insisted the Dyson DC06 robot should not only clean properly but should also guide itself more logically than a human would."

That reply was almost 3 years ago, could James Dyson and team be back on track with their robot? Very much hope so since they may create the almost perfect vacuum robot! Knowing their attention to detail and efficiency, this robot may be the prince of robotic vacuum cleaners at the right price! Just one thing Mr. Dyson, make this guy Autonomous with minimal human intervention! We don't need another Roomba that just picks up dust/dirt much better.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Project Nao : One Step Closer Towards Humanoid Robotics

It seems that within the past 3 years there has been an underground movement towards creating humanoid robotics. Many have thought that it was only the Japanese but other countries (Spain, USA, France, etc.) have been moving very fast towards making their own humanoid robot. Bruno Maisonnier, founder of Aldebaran Robotics, founded and launched his company in 2005 to create affordable autonomous humanoid robots. Based out from Paris - France, this small group of just 25 members are set to create the most wanted robot at any home! This great effort is called "Project Nao", a project that is currently creating their first prototype with many interesting features as: intuitive programming interface, evolving behavior via human interaction (similar to MIT's MDS project), WiFi connectivity, LINUX platform, speech synthesis, speech recognition, gripping hands, digital camera and 25 degrees of freedom. The first series will be designed for edu-tainment (educational / entertainment) purposes but eventually these robots will become an autonomous companion for your family! General public release is scheduled for Q4 2008. Oh! By the way, Aldebaran Robotics is looking for some great talent to join their team. These are great times to live!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mobile Dexterous Social (MDS) Robotics : The Future is Now!

Robot engineers at the Personal Robots Group at MIT, Xitome Design and UMASS Amhurst have been working hard to develop something very important and new for domestic robotics. They have found a way to mix a relatively mobile, skillful physical movements and unique social human interaction in a single robotic platform named MDS (Mobile Dexterous Social Robotics). Their efforts will concentrate in having robots socially interact with humans in order to have artificial intelligence surface from it. These robots will be about the size of a 3 year old, move around similar to a Segway and able to carry a 10 Lb. object with natural human gestures. The MDS face will be very articulated in order to achieve a high level of expressions. The head will carry multiple sensors (movable camera for each eye, 3D depth mapping IR cameras, high gain microphones for audio localization and speaker for speech synthesis). The ramifications from this project alone will have major impact on future domestic robotic products. The MDS robot is exactly what I have been waiting for to have in the home or office. This type of robot will close the gap between humanoid (Asia general design) and task oriented (America/Europe general design) robotics.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Trilobite - The First True Robotic Cleaner

Back in 1996 Electrolux introduced the world's first true robotic cleaner, this is 6 years before iRobot's Roomba! Electrolux, a Swedish appliance company, worked with the geeks at Avantel to create the Trilobite. A work of art in itself, the Trilobite provides advanced navigation for a consumer robot as well as great cleaning power packaged in a relatively 'small' enclosure. Currently it is still the only home floor cleaning robot that uses ultra sound to navigate around your home in order to clean efficiently. The Trilobite v2.0 provides IR cliff sensors and a scheduler option but it remains very similar to the original design that was showcased back 12 years ago! I don't blame them for keeping the same design since I consider it beautiful. This robot is not cheap (US $1800) and it has certain flaws (unable to clean edges, sonar not effective on sharp edges, etc.) but it is a hit for those who can afford it and have high pile carpets. You may find some v1.0 used or refurbished models at Ebay for about US$300~500 or at your local Sam's Club (USA) if you were lucky! Hope to see a v3.0 soon from Electrolux at a more reasonable price range.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Move over Scooba, say HELLO to the READYBOT project!

It's exciting to see these types of challenges coming up from the folks at Silicon Valley. A group of seasoned engineers and designers created a non-profit 'club' in order to setup a unique challenge to build a general purpose service robot for the home. The robot will be designed to be multi-purpose unit unlike iRobot's Scooba and Roomba that can only sweep or scrub your floors. Just imagine one or two robots that can take care of multiple repetitive and mundane jobs at your home instead of having an army of single-purpose robots to take care of. I much welcome this step towards better robotics for the home and hope that others follow as well. Two thumbs up for the folks at ReadyBot!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The first and only robotic cleaner: iRobot's Looj

Back in September 2007, at the 'Digital Life' technology event, iRobot introduced the very first and only gutter cleaning robot. Though considered a "robot" by iRobot, it is just a remote controlled gadget that has to be manually guided. Unlike the Roomba and Scooba, the Looj is totally dependent on the user in order to clean the gutters. The only thing it saves the owner is the hassle of being no the latter all the time to clean the gutters so some people may find it worth the price on that alone. I would rather see iRobot or anyone else create a gutter cleaner that is able to sense it's surroundings so it can clean by itself without human guidance. Better yet would be to build this robot in a way that it can bend at the corners to continue cleaning and have a way that it can dock back into a charging base. This way a Looj style robot can live in the gutters each season in order to keep your gutters cleaned each day, now that is what I call a good idea!

Friday, March 7, 2008

1st Hybrid Domestic Robot : "Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid"

Times are changing for the health of our planet and ultimately for us. The engineers at Husqvarna (Sweden) have been working very hard to design the very first production made Hybrid powered Lawnbot called "Automower Solar Hybrid". This robot is very 'green': 90% is made of recyclable materials, has no direct exhaust emissions, is almost silent since it uses solar panels and rechargeable batteries to run, eliminates the use of fertilizers (uses cut grass instead) and it's fully autonomous. Going for US$4000, this Lawnbot is the Rolls Royce of the pack but it surely puts the sun into good use each day when it goes out to cut your lawn. It would be great to see other robot companies to take note of this great effort set forth by the Husqvarna folks. My two thumbs up for the engineers at Husqvarna!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The era for the creative minds in robotics

These are the days for you to have the chance and place a mark within history of robotics. Never before has much been provided to the general public to make into reality what ever idea they have in their minds for a robotics project and/or invention. Something I give credit to iRobot is that they have extended their hand out to students, inventors, tinkerers and robotics enthusiasts with their "Create" developers kit. A basic platform has been provided since 2007 and we have seen some very interesting ideas put into practice. This kit has been geared towards the more 'seasoned' users but do not let that stop you from checking it out if you really wish to experiment with it. There are plenty of owners that are willing to help you out to start you off. For about the same price you can try a more user friendly Lego's Mindstorm NXT kit if that is more your cup of tea. Eitherway, get a kit and push your idea forward! At worse, you will gain knowledge, experience and at best you could turn out to be a successful inventor!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Humanoid Robotics: Reem B vs. Asimo = Progress !

Something I like about competition (directly or indirectly) is that we all benefit from it directly in terms of better products at mass consumer prices. When you see groups like the PAL Team (PAL Technology Robotics), from Barcelona-Spain, making bi-pedal/humanoid robots at the quality level (or higher) of Honda's Asimo it just brings a smile to my face. The guys and gals from PAL will showcase "REEM B" on April 2008 at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Designed to be working/service class humanoid robot to aide humans at complex tasks and/or as a development platform for students and engineers will only push this type of robotics forwards. Though there are others, like iRobot's CEO/Co-founder Colin Angle, that do not see the benefit of humanoid robotics in the home, business or research I and many others believe the contrary. Humanoid robots will truly be the extension for it's creators at hazardous situations or where our human limitations are already at their designed limitations. Honda, take a very close look at REEM B, they will give your Asimo a nice run for his money!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Robots : Autonomous machines?

There has always been the discussion of what a robot is or what it should be. Robots are/can be an electromechanical machine that has human manual intervention or a fully autonomous system with no or very minimal human intervention. A good example is the difference between Irobot's Roomba and Karcher's Robo Cleaner 3000, both clean your floors in a similar fashion but that is were the similarities stop. The Roomba needs constant human intervention, the owner has to clean out the dust/particle bin, air filter and remove accumulated hair from it's burshes in order for the robot to function efficiently. The Robo Cleaner 3000 only needs for the owner to start it and change the dust/particle bag from it's charging base once every so often. The Robo Cleaner 3000 is able to clean the same floors, get back to it's base to dump the collected dust/particles while it charges it's batteries so it can return cleaning. The owners of the Karcher robot do not need to be bothered often and their floors will remain as clean as the iRobot Roomba. Robotics for mundane tasks should be fully automated, otherwise the mundane tasks just change form and no progress has been gained by using robotics. Karcher engineers are in the right track for domestic robotics, hope that others follow this path as well.