Saturday, January 31, 2009

Will Domestic Robots Have Feelings?

Now here is a provocative thought, will robots one day have feelings? Will they know how to give back what many of us already do unconsciously? Not too long ago two students from Georgia Institute of Technology conducted a study on the relationship between Roomba/Scooba and their owners called "My Roomba is Rambo: Intimate Home Appliances". What they discovered was that Roomba owners do form an emotional attachment to their robots. Many owners treated their Roomba as a life-like object by giving them names, talking to them, petting them and feeling guilty for making them work too much.

But the issue will be if Robots, one day, develop "feelings" in order to provide us with emotional feedback. Will providing feelings to robots result on better and/or more efficient machines? Will it be necessary for human interaction? What will the implications be? These questions may seem too much like something out of a SciFi movie but they are important for future robot development since we are interacting with them much more in our daily lives (in our homes, battlefield, scientific research, exploration, human medicine/care and entertainment). So do not be surprised if one day your home robot will get angry at you because you forgot to pay the electric bill.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ideas Into Reality: I-Shovel 1st Domestic Robot Shovel

I have been saying this for some time now, let your imagination guide your ideas and then make them come to life. Here is another example on how a group of people imagined, designed and created a unique useful domestic robot called the "I-Shovel". At the moment this is just a prototype but the potential is huge of becoming the Roomba of robotic snow shovels! The design is simple, economical and effective. There are some things that I-Shovel can improve on or get added later on its final production version like: auto charging, better use of robotic navigation (IR, Sonar, Optics, etc.), more powerful DC motors, a method to distribute freezing point depressors (Sodium Chloride (Salt) or Magnesium Chloride) to help remove snow/ice, a better A.I., the use of anti corrosive materials for the robot chassis, self protection mechanisms, etc. Currently the I-Shovel prototype is able to detect accumulation of snow and is able to automatically clear your driveway and/or sidewalks while staying within the pre-set perimeter. This domestic robot uses a shovel since it is one method of removing snow that uses a minimal amount of energy while still being effective and economical to take care of the job.

I-Shovel proves that things always happen twice, once in your mind and another in what we call reality. I-Shovel is looking for people that are interested in joining them and/or want to invest into this innovative domestic robot. Check out the video to get a better sense on how I-Shovel works and how it can inspire you to make your own robot to solve a problem or help out at home!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tip of The Month: Lego Mindstorms NXT Storage

If you are lucky enough to own the retail Lego Mindstorms NXT kit like this one:

Then you could easily understand my initial frustration when I needed to store my parts away! The retail cardboard box was never designed by Lego to store you shinny new robotics kit so you end up having pieces fall out from the box and potentially get lost. Lego does have nice plastic storage boxes like this kit:

All nice pretty and organized to last eons for generations to come! But they cost a nice $$ or two and are not found at your local store (could this be intended by Lego?). But with a bit of imagination and a few dollars you can get you something better. While at my local all-in-one store I found the following "fishing bait box" for under US$8.00 !! They had many other models and the price ranged from US$5 - $20 but I like this one the best since everything fits perfectly with room to spare for future parts and sensors.

Visit your local "all-in-one" store and look for a similar styled storage box (better designs can be found) if you have not found a home for your Mindstorms NXT kit or got tired of looking for missing legos that came out from the retail box. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paving The Way For Humanoid Robots

We have just arrived to 2009 and still see Roomba, Karcher RC3000 and Lawnbot type of robots running around our homes giving us a hand. Domestic robots have been in the market for the past 7 years and this is the best they offer? Where are the humanoid robots? True, WowWee and Sony have impressed us with their Homosapien and Qrio "toys" to entertain us but nothing more. There is a need in the home for humanoid robots, just ask the Japanese and Koreans, they will need them within a decade in order to assist their growing population of the elderly.

Elumotion could very well be the group of visionaries from the UK that will pave the way for humanoid robots. Heck, many may think of them as the real world Cyberdyne Systems Corporation (hope not) due to their expertise in designing and creating robotic hardware that replicate human or biological motion. This group of people are pushing the design envelope in order to create robots that can physically access any place a human being could with the added benefits of strength, does not get tired and able to work in environments that can prove deadly to us.

Elumotion and other similar small companies have the potential to surpass what ever exists in the market today by providing innovative products like shown here while iRobot, Karcher, WowWee, Friendly Robotics, Metapo and all other "popular" robotic companies play around with the same old design. Imagine the benefits, it is not limited for domestic or industrial use, it can provide prostheses to many in need (arms, legs, hands, etc.) and further the exploration of planets and/or environments without the risk of endangering human life.

So for all you robotics start ups, enthusiasts, dreamers, kids, retirees or whatever you may be just let your imagination and dream guide you to create something new, something that will help all around you and in the same time make a living out of it. Imagination one of the most important factors to innovation and sometimes it seems to be a species in extinction these days.

Monday, January 12, 2009

WowWee's Angels for 2009

WoWWee recently introduced three new and interesting "Toy" robots for 2009:

JOEBOT - Is Robosapien's walking, talking, interacting cousin with a better sense of humor and rhythm! Joebot is commanded by voice key phrases. He can dance to whatever beat you blast from your speakers. His movements are more fluid and faster than his other family members (Robosapien and Fembot). He has pre-programmed modes like Patrol, Wandering, Talk, Guard and Battle modes to start you off. Joebot seems to follow in the steps of his predecessors as a funny entertainment domestic robot.

ROBOROVER - Follows the steps of WowWee's "Tribot" and "Mr. Personality" as a talking, tread based, exploring domestic toy robot with an inquisitive personality. RoboRover's personality evolves as he becomes more "confident" with his human friends (something new in the A.I. area for WowWee). RoboRover's head, arms and waist are poseable as well as he is operated via a remote control like his other family members (Robodog, Roboraptor, Robosapien, etc.).

SPYBALL - For me this is the most interesting domestic "toy" robot that will come out from WowWee on 2009. This guy is remote controlled, Wi-Fi enabled and true-life transforming robot! Spyball is designed to be affordable (most likely more economical than his Rovio brother), playful, easy-to-use, rechargeable, on-board retractable spy-cam (shoots stills and video) and sleek wheels that can provide smooth movements with 360 degree turns. The Spyball is able to be setup with access to the web or ad-hoc connection using your home Wi-Fi network to control it (laptop, PC, game console and even your cell phone). This unique robot may reaise the bar to its competitors currently in the market.

It is great to see domestic robotics companies like WowWee bringing out new or revised version robots to the market in 2009. Some are new version of tried and true designs and others bring new ideas to the table. Let us hope that other domestic robotic companies bring out new ideas as well in 2009.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

ConnectR Project Canceled

On January 9, iRobot sent a letter to all of their ConnectR project enthusiasts to notify them that the virtual visiting robot was canceled. iRobot has found out, through a year of beta testing, that the ConnectR in its current form needed enhancements and modifications to meet customer expectations for virtual visiting. iRobot will focus on developing a new virtual visiting robot that will include customer feedback (Read Nov 17, 2008 post).

Though it is sad to know that the ConnectR robot project was canceled it was obvious from its very beginning that it was failure due to issues as iRobot wanted to charge monthly session fees for the virtual visiting, the cost of the robot was over US$500, low definition camera, no session encryption, manual remote control of the robot, etc. After iRobot looked at its competitors like the Rovio and Spykee they decided to get back to the drawing board and give it another try. Hope that this time around iRobot has a great product to offer the consumer that will be practical, easy to use and with many implemented features that robot beta testers requested.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Robotic Twins Turn 5 years Old

It has been 5 years this month that the twin robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, landed successfully on the planet Mars. They were originally designed to just last 3 months but they both have proved to be worthy working robots for the past 5 years! The nice thing about this is all the research and discoveries that is being gathered from both of them but as well the benefits we will sooner or later see in the domestic robotics market. Think of it, these robots withstood harsh environments for years on end, dust storms, extreme temperatures and even malfunctioning parts but continued working. The engineering behind them and materials used can be passed down to the private sector and be used on your next floor cleaning robot in one form or the other. My congratulations to the team at JPL that are working to keep these to special robots alive and whom have designed them to bring us all this wonderful science and robotics.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Domestic Robotics for 2009

We have arrived to 2009 with high hopes for new advances in domestic robotics and great products that will provide us with a helping hand. A great place to grab a sense of what will arrive in the coming months of 2009 is at the CES 2009 at Las Vegas, Nevada - USA. New products and ideas will be introduced and sooner or later will be sold to the public. Will there be domestic robots for entertainment? cleaning? security? innovator kits? will iRobot introduce their lawn robot and/or finally bring out the long awaited ConnectR? Will other floor cleaning robots compete directly against iRobot in Europe and the USA? There are many things to see and learn for 2009 but you can bet that you will learn many of them right here at DomesRO!