Monday, February 23, 2009

Dyson's Revenge : DC06 Robotic Floor Vac

It has been a couple of years ago that Dyson reported that they were working on a robotic vac (DC06). Soon after the great news they informed the world with the following:

"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."
That was back in mid 2005 but since then technology seems to have caught up with Dyson's engineers and they have recently posted the following at their site:

"Dyson engineers are researching robotics, but it takes time. We could have launched DC06 and heralded it as the first robotic vacuum cleaner. It has three onboard computers, 2,000 electronic components, 27 separate circuit boards and 70 sensory devices. As robots go, it's highly advanced. More so in fact than robot vacuums available today. But we want one that cleans properly and guides itself more logically than a human would. A truly autonomous machine, rather than a glorified carpet sweeper. Propulsion and battery life will be key. And we're getting closer."

Dyson seems to be very aggressive with creating an intelligent robotic floor cleaner that will make the iRobot Roomba and any other current floor cleaner robot seem like a toy. With 70 sensors and 3 on board computers can bring a "smarter" robot but at what price? That is the question. How much are you willing to pay for a "truly autonomous" domestic floor cleaning robot? Personally I was willing to pay US$1200 on a Karcher RC3000 for being very close to an autonomous robot. Let us wait and see what Dyson comes up with since surely it will be something revolutionary within the domestic robotics market.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tip of The Month: The Roomba 500 Red Dot Killer

iRobot is currently the only successful company that dedicates itself completely to domestic and military robotics. At the moment there are more than 2 million Roomba robots cleaning homes around the planet but the success has a price. The price is mass production which results in cheap materials and engineering to provide all of us a chance to own a relatively economical cleaning robot. So knowing this fact and if you wish to have your little buddy running for years to come then get to know the "Red Dot Killer" found in iRobot's 500 series Roomba.

The Roomba adjusts its brush assembly to effectively clean many types of floors (carpet, rugs, tile, etc.). The way iRobot pulled it off was by having a mechanism within the main brush assembly that adjusts the height with a cable. The more resistance the main brush has the higher the brush assembly will lift off the floor and vice versa.

The cable develops a slack when the Roomba is idle and it tightens when the main brush motor turns on. The slapping of a cable that is not anchored will sooner or later lead to the tear of the brass end. You end up with a useless Cleaning Head Module with a broken off brass end.

So to make sure you save this cable you will need to do the following:

  1. Remove the bottom cover by removing the four screws
  2. Remove the Cleaning Head Module by removing the screws from the chasis
  3. Inspect the condition of the "Red Dot" sticker
  4. Replace or re-enforce the "Red Dot" with stronger adhesive tape (duct, all weather, etc.)
  5. Test your work by pushing the cable upwards to see if it pushes the tape out. Fix if needed.
  6. Re-assemble everything in reverse

This tip will prolong the life of your Roomba 500 series robot so it can continue cleaning your floors.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mind Tricks To Navigate Domestic Robots

One huge gap that currently exists in all domestic robots is the lack of intelligent navigation. At the moment all domestic robots roam around our homes worse than a blind bat without its radar-like navigation! So what we currently see are domestic robots that roam our homes for hours trying to do chores that we can do at half the time or better. Blind robots will be something of the past because a team at Ulm University, lead by Heiko Neumann and Cornelia Beck, analyzed on how the human brains respond to visual information as they move around obstacles and created a software that recreates the same thing on a robot. The robot shown in the video, built by a team led by Antonio Frisoli and Massimo Bergamasco at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, make use of the "human brain" software to move around obstacles in a similar fashion as his human creators do. So in just a short matter of time a similar and more optimized version of the software may find itself into a domestic robot that can efficiently take care of your home chores. Imagine having to just pressing CLEAN and not worry of your robot getting stuck in a corner until the batteries die out and leaving your home dirty.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Will Your Future Include Domestic Robots?

Domestic robots have been living in homes for the past 7 years by cleaning, entertaining, teaching and communicating with us. Domestic robots like the Roomba, Scooba, Karcher RC3000, Robomow, Mindstorms NXT, Rovio, Aibo and Robosapien have become household names that many can recognize. I do agree that there are still some gaps to make current domestic robots plain old appliances (a.k.a. "toasters") but the gap is closing in fast. These robots will evolve and a branch of them will bring humanoid domestic robots into our daily lives. You can see some of them already coming out as prototypes like Anybot's QA and Monty, Elumotion's humanoid robot projects, PAL's REEM-B and MIT's MDS robots. So do not be surprised to see pictures, like the one posted, of your kids or grand kids with their domestic robot in your lifetime!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is QA Your Next Telepresence Robot?

With the downfall of iRobot's ConnectR you may think that telepresence robots will face the same fate. The folks from Anybot, creators of Monty, think otherwise and have created QA. QA, which stands for Questions & Answers, is a full size semi-humanoid telepresence robot. QA was showcased at CES 2009 this past month to illustrate on how it can operate simply, cleanly and quietly while providing a full physical presence anywhere in the world. This robot will allow you to see and be seen at the office, shop or home, talk and listen, as well collaborate in ways that makes all other methods obsolete.

Anybot's QA comes with the following specs:
  • Batteries: rechargeable Li ion, 4-6 hours of operation
  • Connectivity: 802.11g wireless (optional 3G cellular)
  • Cameras: two 5 MP color, with IR illuminator
  • Video: 20 FPS @ 640×480 (depending on network)
  • Audio: full duplex, high fidelity
  • Display: 7 inch (18 cm) color LCD in chest
  • Laser pointer: green 10 mW, points and draws shapes
  • Navigation: LIDAR, 5.5 yard (5 meter) range
  • Speed: up to 6 MPH (10 km/h)
  • Wheels: two 12 inch (30 cm) diameter rubber
  • Height: 5 foot (152 cm) standing, 2 foot (61 cm) bending
  • Weight: 30 pounds (14 kg)
  • Client software: PC and Mac compatible

Is a humanoid telepresence robot needed? I say yes, it makes it easier to interact with at the office, work shop and even at home! Do you really think that your co-workers will take you seriously while talking to a ConnectR, Rovio or Spykee type robot on the floor? They may easily just kick it out the door! Anybot's QA robot is moving towards the right road of making telepresence robots. What is now needed is some intelligence for it to be used for other tasks (security, assistant, information access and data hub, etc.) when the robot is not used for telepresence and the price to be reachable for most homes and small businesses.