Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Butler In A Box: The Ultimate Domestic Robot?

In a previous article I alluded to the fact a robot could basically be called anything that automates a task. However Nikolai (The NS-5 looking android that runs and I prescribe to the thought that a robot should be or have some intelligence. An example is, object avoidance, knowledge of its current location etc. In a way we could also say that home automation is a form of domestic robotics.

One product I remember from the "old" days was called “Butler in a Box” that I saw in a HAMfest back in the late 1980’s. It intrigued me because you could program it to control your lights with voice phrases, and the device could also talk back to you. It was pretty advanced for its day.

This type of system tends to conjure up memories of the movies, HAL9000 from "2001:A Space Odyssey" was a computer that ran everything on the ship. The computer/domestic robot in the movie "Demon Seed" takes control of the house and eventually has an offspring with a human trapped inside the house. In the movie "Moon" we have GERTY that helps his human counterpart on his lonely mission of harvasting the moon. Even Star Trek has a domestic automation robot/computer, if you want to change the environment you just ask the computer.

So the question bodes, can we do that today? Can we make our lives easier by having a “Butler in a Box” The answer is yes, they are still around in one form or the other. One of the oldest smart home systems they sell is the popular X-10.

X10 is the device that uses radio over your power line to send a signal to the device to turn it on or off, or other commands. X-10 has been around since the 1970’s. You can turn lights on and off, control your air conditioner , camera’s and sprinkler system with these devices . All you need to get started is a starter kit and install the software on your computer, plug the USB interface into your computer, and setup the schedules for the lights to turn on and off. Another similar product was created by Motorola going by the name of "Homesight" (now owned by Xanboo). While this is an easy way to get started, it is far from what you see in Star Trek.

In the next article I will tell you about a man, who ties X10, GPS for his auto, Roombas, and home security in one beautiful interface.

Post Inspired by fellow human friend: Bill R.

Monday, December 7, 2009

MANOI: The Domestic Robot With An Attitude

Not many domestic robots have an attitude but MANOI definitely has one. He thinks he is cool and can prove it by break dancing and doing a fantastic job at it! MANOI is another kid robot from the great roboticist Tomotaka Takahashi (he also wants to adopt him). MANOI is a small (approx. 2 Feet / 40 cm tall) remote controlled humanoid robot that can replay pre-programmed routines. He is battery powered, weighing only 3.5 pounds / 1.6 Kg with 17 degrees of freedom on a anime-inspired plastic body makes him a very popular robot in Japan! You can pick one up if you have about US$1500 laying around.

Here is pictures of MANOI with his full anime-inspired plastic body (cool looking):

and here is MANOI naked and showing off his innards (not that good looking):

The nice thing about MANOI is when you see him in action like this video:

I personally think that the guys who shot the video of MANOI break dancing were inspired by this 2 year old video of my two friends (who now work for GMC) break dancing:

Both are great although I tend to like MANOI's moves much better without really "breaking"! Enjoy.