Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ConnectR : iRobot's Ongoing Experiment

It has been almost a year since iRobot introduced ConnectR to the world and still there is no final product to sell. Recently iRobot has been sending E-mail, to a select group of iRobot domestic robot owners, that a field test is imminent. Does this field test signify that iRobot will introduce ConnectR in early 2009? It all depends on many variables (market conditions, demand, costs, design, production, etc.) and how it can compete with the sexy looking WowWee Rovio. I hope that iRobot releases ConnectR; competition always will benefit the consumer with better and economical technologies. Let us know if you are part of this research group or have received iRobot's E-mail.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Robots That Can Really See You!

Tomaso Poggio, professor at the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is very close in understanding on how the human brain is able to process certain kinds of visual information from a series of pictures. Mr. Poggio and his team created a computer model that is able to quickly recognize certain kinds of complex scenes and objects with a high success rate of 70% or higher. This system turned out to be as good, if not much better, than existing computer-vision systems and can be even compared with our own visual system! This is a huge quantum leap forwards if implemented to autonomous domestic robots to help with daily tasks. No need for complicated methods to map rooms out and have it recognize hazards if something like this great visual system is used. One step closer to HAL9000 and a huge leap for the evolution of robots.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What Does Your Robot Run On?

There are new domestic robots coming each year, all of them do wonderful things to help us out but they all need some type of power to run. Many domestic robots run on batteries since they do not emit deadly fumes while running and are inexpensive to maintain. Currently three types of rechargeable batteries are found in domestic robots:

Nickel Cadmium Battery (NiCd) - One of the oldest rechargeable technologies, very inexpensive, has a low capacity, suffers from "Memory Effect" and is deadly to the environment.

Nickel-Metal Hydride Battery (NiMH) - Currently the most used, inexpensive, 50% more capacity compared to NiCd, suffers from "Memory Effect" but less noticeable and discharges faster when not in use and has a limited service compared to NiCd.

Lithium-ion Battery (LiION) - Latest commercial rechargeable technology, expensive, best energy-to-mass ratio, no "Memory Effect" and slow loss of charge when not used.

So the next time you open up your robot you will surely find one of these battery technologies. Each has its pros and cons but all provide the juice that your robot needs to get the job done. It is good to know how to take care of your batteries if you wish to extend the life as much as you can from them; I will provide some tips on a future post to help you out. There are many other interesting ways to power your robot, some mix different technologies as solar and methanol fuel cells all from which provide the fuel to run our robots for the near future!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Robots of Summer Fun : iRobot Verro

Cleaning pool robots have existed for years but iRobot has recently took swim with them. iRobot introduced the Verro to help you keep your pool clean and healthy for the family to enjoy during these hot summer days. There are three available models: Verro 100, 300 and 500 series. Each able to perform the job of pool cleaning with the following differences:

  • Verro 100: Designed to clean above ground pools, 60-90 min. cleaning time, vacuum cleaning system, 40 ft. power cable. Cost US$400
  • Verro 300: Designed to clean in-ground gunite pools, 60-90 min. cleaning time, hydro jet cleaning system, 51 ft. power cable. Cost US$700
  • Verro 500: Designed to cleaning in-ground vinyl/fiberglass/tile pools, 3 hours cleaning time, pva-brushes cleaning system, 60 ft. power cable. Cost US$1000
These robots do their job as designed at a reasonable price. What would be interesting to see is the next generation of pool cleaning robots that are self contained and fully autonomous so they can always keep your pool clean without human intervention. A Karcher RC3000 styled system but water proofed would be ideal. Next generation pool cleaning robots should be able to run on batteries, self dock charge, able to dump collected debris and able to know when to clean the pool. The technologies exists to make it happen, it is just a matter of engineering and design.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Swarm Robotics for Domestic Use

Since 2002 it is becoming more common for homes to have more than one robot doing the same task. Floor cleaning robots as the Roomba are sometimes used in packs to cover large areas to clean but the problem is that they do not work together, each has it's own algorithm and sensor input to follow so inevitably they will cover the same area more than once without providing efficiency. Swarm robotics changes this problem by having robots work together in order to perform a single task, similar to how insects as ants and bees work together. James McLurkin is on the forefront of developing distributed algorithms for swarm robots. He was the lead research scientist at iRobot when swarm robotics was being created and is predicting the use of swarm robotics for use in the home, search & rescue and scientific research (space, deep sea, AI, etc.). It would be great to see iRobot merge this technology into their future domestic robots, have them all work together in order to clean your home, secure it and make sure all is working 100%.