Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Evolution Robotics EV1 - A Great Domestic Robotics Kit

For those who remember, back in late 2002 Evolution Robotics launched the EV1 home robotics kit. This is back when iRobot launched their first Roomba and Electrolux has launched their Trilobite the previous year. Evolution Robotics made this unique robotics kit that required the use of your laptop (or your grandma's) in order to run their software. The EV1 kit, without the 'gripper arm', retailed at US$499 at local retail stores. This kit was not a success for the masses but it surely was for all of us geeks, so much that some remnants are still seen in successful robotic projects as Danh Trinh's "Personal Home Robot" that won iRobot Create Challange 1st prize in 2007. This kit offered many great features as: computer vision, hearing, speech, networking, remote control, email, autonomous mobility, gripping, IR sensing capabilities all brought together with an open software system and a reconfigurable chassis. Evolution Robotics still exist, creating software for robotic systems but their efforts will be seen by the masses when Rovio comes out later this year. If you love robotics and like to tinker try to find one in EBay or CraigsList otherwise get a Lego Mindstorms NXT which is the current successor to the EV1. Get out, tinker, invent and create the next Domestic Robot to work in our homes! We need more of you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The IronMan Within You - The Ultimate Domestic Robot

Much attention has recently been given to powered/robotic exoskeletons due to the success of the Hollywood movie "Iron Man". Iron Man was based on a Marvel Comics hero that used technology and a powered/robotic exoskeleton to assist him fight the enemy. In the 'real world', a primitive version of the "Iron Man" suit exists! Powered exoskeletons by Raytheon's Sarcos and Tsukuba University's HAL5 are prototypes of things to come in the very near future. These systems can become very useful for domestic use. Imagine having one of these to assist you in lifting or moving heavy furniture around the home, working on your automobile, working on your backyard and the list can go on. This could also help out in health services and people with disabilities. There is much promise and future with this form of technology for all of us to enjoy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nikko's R2-D2 Robot Projector - A Robot Geek's Dream

For many of us, one of the most memorable Hollywood robots was R2-D2 from the Sci-Fi film series Star Wars. I am not sure why it took over 30 years for someone to come up with this great idea! Probably it was so obvious that no one tried and/or technology was not available to set up something this nice. Nikko Home Electronics (from the same company that makes RC toy cars for the past 50 years) came up to the plate and created the "R2-D2 Home Projector". This 35 Lb. and 22 in. tall robotic projector was showcased at CES 2007 and was welcomed by a very cheerful crowd. This R2-D2 has the following features that makes the inner Robot Geek want to get one as soon as you get your pay check:
  • DLP Projector (1800:1 contrast @ 1024 x 768 XGA, 1800 ANSI Lumen)
  • DVD/CD player
  • Full function Millennium Falcon remote control
  • Integrated speaker system (20 Watts) w/Virtual Surround
  • Ipod dock station (can be stored inside R2)
  • Audio/Video-in and out ports (can connect your PS3, Wii or XBox and 5.1 surround HT)
  • USB and memory card slots (To project pictures, movies and play movies)
  • Safety sensors (shuts off projector when walking in front of it)
  • Original R2-D2 sound and lights effects
To really top all these geeky goodness, this guy can be remote controlled to move around the home like your home robot floor cleaner! Could you imagine that?!!! Imagine calling in a bunch of friends to you home for a movie, have them all sit around your couch or room or whatever place has a wall and have them wait for you to turn on your TV but instead you have your R2D2 come in with all it's glorious effects and project your movie on the wall or screen!!! Just watch the Y-Tube video and you will be convinced. The setback you ask? It will set you back for just US$2,700 and an angry look from your wife or girlfriend that doesn't go away. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Uncanny Valley Syndrome In Domestic Robotics

Many of you will have a repulsive emotional response towards this type of robot. This is typical and expected human behavior. The students from Georgia Tech. were into something when they were researching as to why many Roomba owners gave their robot names and treated them as they were a living object compared to their dishwasher or toaster. This has to do much with the "Uncanny Valley" hypothesis. The Uncanny Valley is a hypothesis about robotics concerning the emotional response of humans to robots and other non-human entities. It was introduced by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. Mori's hypothesis states that as a robot is made more human like in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being's, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely-human" and "fully human" entity is called the Uncanny Valley. The name captures the idea that a robot which is "almost human" will seem overly "strange" to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathetic response required for productive human-robot interaction. Welcome to the new dawn of robotic and A.I. technologies that will exist in our homes.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Future of iRobot Home Robotics?

Recently iRobot stock has nose dived heavily due to a couple of issues (a 2008 profit guidance below predictions, loss of their Chief Financial Officer and share owners running for the hills on anything negative). iRobot is unique within the small family of businesses that deal with home robotics. It is the only one of it's kind and size to devote itself totally to robotics (home and military); it tries hard to listen to their customers and provide good customer service while providing new technologies for mass consumption. About a year ago, iRobot provided a glimpse to their vision and road map for future home robotics. As you can see, from the illustrations above, some are already known (Roomba, Scooba and Create), others came out later that year like the Verro pool cleaning robot and other are not even shown like the Looj (gutter cleaning robot). iRobot leaves room for a couple of new designs as you can see on both the road map and vision illustrations, one is a half humanoid robot to do work in your laundry room (probably to help with folding and sorting clothes), a second is an iRobot version of the lawnbot (to manicure your lawn), a third is R2D2 type of robot that most likely represents the iRobot ConnectR (virtual visiting robot) and the last are small CD-ROM sized cleaning robots (to work in group by using iRobot SwarmOS technology). There is still much to be realized for people to give up so soon on a promising company and technology that will benefit all of us in our homes.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Anybot's Monty: The New Kid In The Block

It is interesting to see new domestic robots come out each year. Anybot, from Mountain View - California, has been in the business of creating robots since 2001. Anybot is the brainchild of Trevor Blackwell, Ph.D whom is the founder and CEO. Mr. Blackwell created the first point-and-click Internet storefront system which still runs "Yahoo!Store".

Currently they only have two main robots: Monty (pictured above) and Dexter. Monty is human operated, moves with a segway-like mechanism and is fully articulated as you can see in the video. As you can see in the picture, Monty seems to be destined to be used around the home but what will make it successful is by Anybot engineers giving it a brain in order to be fully autonomous. I could see how Monty and Dexter can help out in dangerous situations where human control may be needed but in the home what rules is autonomous robots. That is why the video above is funny, Monty opening and using another non-autonomous robot like iRobot's 500 series Roomba. We expect to see Anybot make great progress with both of their robots.