Telepresence

Good day, everyone.

We’ve done three crowdfunding features here on Robot Central so far and today we’re going to check in on how these campaigns are doing. These projects, and the ones we will cover in the future, are bots that struck our interest for their usefulness, coolness and possible applicability in the marketplace. They, in some way, represent the democratization of development we’re fond of.

The first feature we did was for the Koule Ball from Que Innovations. This neat invention is an interactive ball that is, and can be, programmed with games that fulfill different purposes. The initial aim of the invention was to help autistic kids practice emotional involvement and social acclimation, but it can be used for developing the skills of all children.

When we covered the Koule ball campaign, they were 22 days left and $1,893 out of $200,000 has been raised. As of writing this article, I am unable to find the original Indiegogo page and so I cannot determine if they reached their goal. If you would like to learn more about the project, you can visit Que Innovations’ website here.

Our next feature was Autom, a robotic weight loss coach. The rundown for her:

Autom, a weight-loss coach, is our crowdfunding feature of the day. She’s a robot that helps you keep tabs on how well you diet, and she does so by being humanly and informed. The robot has been in development for the last five years, and it is now ready for mass manufacture. The developer, Dr. Cory Kidd, started the Indiegogo pageso his company, Intuitive Automata, can ship Autom to dieters quicker.

At the time of running that feature,  the Flexible Funded project raised $6,588 out of the $50,000 goal. There were 19 days left in the campaign. As of today, there 2 and a half days left in the campaign and they stand at $7,286 out of the $50,000 sought.

Finally, the last campaign we covered was the Kubi telepresence robot. The great thing about this invention is that it brings telepresence into the realm of common use. As it stands, most conference robots on the market easily hit a five-figure price tag, and it’s primarily in the robot’s ability to move around the room. With the Kubi, it stays stationary and works with your iPad or other tablet computer. The Kubi can be remotely controlled by the person you’re talking to, giving a personalized experience.

The creators of the Kubi were gracious enough to speak with us, and we asked them why they felt the need for a robot like Kubi:

“Dealing with webcams, propping up tablets on books and stationary stands was a major pain. Especially with my daughter, I would end up chasing her around the room with a laptop so grandma can keep bonding. For many people this may seem like a first world problem but for someone trying to bond and carry on a relationship, the Kubi makes a huge difference. We [Polyakov and Rosenthal] are engineers who saw and experienced a clear problem we had to solve. Being on the remote end and not being able to follow someone who walks out of frame or missing stuff right outside your field of view is extremely distancing.”

At the time of the article, the Flex Funded Indiegogo campaign raised $12,039 out of the $200,000 goal needed to kick off mass production. As of today, they have raised $18, 428 and there is 28 days left in the campaign. If they get the funding needed, the estimated delivery date of the robot will be Spring 2013.

In the future, we hope to see more robotic and advanced technology related campaigns up on Indiegogo and Kickstarter. We’ll keep on that beat for y’all and bring any interesting campaign to light.

In Australia, scientists are developing a giraffe-like robot to assist dementia patients with communication:

WENDY MOYLE: The giraffe is quite tall. It’s quite a large robot and its head is greater or the same size as a human head.

DAVID LEWIS: The robot is designed to facilitate video calls and has been described as Skype on wheels.

Professor Moyle says it would be kept inside the home of a person with dementia but controlled remotely by their relatives.

WENDY MOYLE: For example they might live in the Gold Coast, their family member could be in Perth. They would call in to the robot, wake the robot up, the person with dementia doesn’t need to do anything at all. The family member then could drive – through their own computer – drive the giraffe actually to the person’s bedside or if they’re outside in the garden to connect directly with them.

As with most telepresence robots, the cost is a little prohibitive at $9,000 a robot.

kitchen04 editLet’s meet Kubi. It’s a new telepresence robot being developed by Revolve Robotics, and its developers hope that Kubi will make meeting your long-distance friends, family and co-workers easier.

The genius seems to be in its simplicity. You set your Bluetooth 4.0 enabled tablet on the stand, and your friend on the other side can control the movement of the Kubi with their smartphone using a grid app. Done. Easy. A demo video below the jump.

… → Read More

The South Korean company Roboware has a monumental hit on their hands with their robot E3–for Emotional, Entertaining, and Eductional.  The combination of a good technology architecture and a sound business model is what will make this robot a winner among personal and field consumer robots.

In an interview on Engineering TV, Roboware CEO Mike Kim recognizes the value of content as well as mobility capabilities.  “Most companies focus on the movement of thier robots,”  explains Kim.  “Roboware will focus on both movement and content for E3.”   The company’s strategy to is make the platform open source and allow application developers to use common technologies such as C# or Flash to control the robot.

The robot’s architecture is very conducive to application-level development.  There is a low-level “RAPI” (Robot API) for scientists and researchers and a high-level RAPI for application developers.   Researchers have access to an entire suite of technologies; a camera, microphones, sonar, touch sensors, 17 body joints, omni-directional platform, and many more goodies.

Application developers don’t have to worry about any of that stuff because they can use the high-level RAPI to interact with the user via a touch screen, microphone, and a motion tool provided by Roboware.

Roboware Platform Architecture

Roboware Platform Architecture

Among the most powerful technologies on board is the wifi connection to the internet. It opens the door for the now quasi-cliche telepresence applications as well as downloadable behaviors, software updates, or simply content acquisition.  “Would you like to buy Dog Feeding Version 2.3?”

Kim explained that the robot would be available by Q2 for “under $3,000 USD.”   That’s an obvious sticking point to mass-adoption of the platform but I’m very optimistic that these guys have got their stuff together enough to evolve the technology down to something more affordable.    E3 reminds me a little of a robot we wrote about in ’07 named SPC-101C by Speecys.   The robot costs about the same as E3 and we touted its programmability and WiFi capabilities.

Speecys WiFi robot platform SPC-101C.

Speecys WiFi robot platform SPC-101C.

SPC-101C is in the same class as E3 in both price and programmability but Speecys as a company is ahead of the pricing curve.  According my friend Norri Kageki at GetRobo, Speecys is now making smaller version of SPC-101C called NNR-1 which will start selling around the same time as E3 but cost between $570 – $760 USD.

Nevertheless, against SPC-101C, E3 is clearly the dominant robot with regards to features, mobility, and system completeness.   Additionally, E3′s omni-directional platform has mobility, stability, and practicality over bi-pedal humanoid robots.   An annoying factor in bi-pedal personal robots is how slow they are in moving around.  E3 appears very zippy and doesn’t have any trouble keeping up.

The NNR-1 will bring Speecys into the same pricing ballpark as some other robot platforms we’ve covered.

Spykee is still being positioned as a toy and although the manual says that its API is open source, nobody can seem to find it.  In spite of such obstacles there are those who are brave enough to crack something open to make it work.  Check out the iPhone-controlled Spykee project at Mr. Blog.

The window is slowly closing for Mecannos sleeper Spykee.

The window is slowly closing for Mecanno's sleeper Spykee.

Mecanno has an opportunity with Spykee that is slowly fading.  They were the first on the market with their “toy” but quickly thereafter iRobot came out with their telepresence robot ConnectR and WowWee came out with Rovio.  All three fall into a comparable class but Spykee appears least mature.   With the coming Speecys ‘bot, the market is getting more crowded.

There is something that all these personal robot companies lack–except for Roboware.  It is the vision that the robot is a platform that should be open and easy to build and sell content for.  This vision is what lifts Roboware above the others and is what compels me to believe that they will be the market leaders in the personal robotics space.

See the interview with Roboware CEO Mike Kim via Engineering TV:

Sources:

Related:

Earlier this year, WowWee debuted its first practical (and really cool-looking) robot Rovio. The robot sports a complete mobile telepresence pack including camera, microphone, and speaker. It’s WiFi enabled and provides audio and video streams via a web interface it serves up over the internet. You can also control the robot over the internet and take advantage of some advanced navigational capabilities.

Rovio leverages Evolution Robotics’ NorthStar 2.0 system which is a clever navigational system based on following a light pattern projected on the ceiling–hence the North Star metaphor. With such a system, the robot can play back recorded routes very accurately.

Robot Central covered other telepresence robots as they try to move into the consumer mainstream.

Rovio will be generally available sometime in the summer and will sell for about $300. This will probably coincide with the release of iRobot’s ConnectR robot which is still in its pilot phase.

Sources:

It looks like Meccano woke up.

At the Digital Life show in New York last week, the Spykee demo guys were seen and heard discussing the value of being able to conduct business in New York while “on your computer in Paris.” Clearly, most eight-year-old boys aren’t going to find this next-generation concept of telecommuting as compelling as the neon-like green light tubes that wrap Spykee or the ability to spy on a sister and her friends during a slumber party.

In our writeup, Missing the Point with a Potentially Game Changing “Toy,” we asserted that the low cost and durability of this technology convergence was going to have a big impact on the consumer robotics world. Based on the monologue in the video, it seems that Meccano is starting to believe that. Unfortunately, their message feels like an afterthought. The UI controller screens still look like a video game console and you still have to put Spykee together from a kit of 200 pieces.

iRobot nailed it from the beginning.

While we were appreciating and criticizing Spykee, iRobot was busy working on their own telepresence robot–ConnectR. When it was announced at DigitalLife last week, it was expressly touted as a “virtual presence” robot with working adults in mind.

Here, we take the opportunity to make a side-by-side comparison of the two technologies:

iRobot ConnectR

Erector Spykee

Sold as a complete system. Sold as an easy-to-assemble kit.
Marketed as a serious quality-of-life improvement technology. They target adults generally, and target working parents specifically. Being marketed as a “spy toy” for older kids and young teens.

iRobot ConnectR

Spykee
Controller UI:
ConnectR Controller
Controller UI:
Spykee Controller UI
The iRobot ConnectR controller UI is a very simple console with a very mature design. Various functions are in different screens in order that the user has controls for the task at hand. The Spykee controller UI is cool–as it should be if one were targeting young kids wanting to play with his robot. It’s functional but it has all the problems of a typical one-screen-does-it-all application. Considering the (original) target audience this UI is good. It looks like a game.
Communication protocol based on proprietary “Virtual Presence Network.” Communication protocol based on popular Skype technology.
Automatically finds docking station to recharge when batteries are low. Automatically finds docking station to recharge when batteries are low.
Price: $499
The fine print says that the price includes one year of Virtual Presence Network suggesting the need for a subscription later.
Price: Right around $300

It’s unclear if ConnectR is programmable; however, iRobot has an established development platform called “Create” and it seems very reasonable to expect that they would soon introduce a client-side development environment that could enable ConnectR to be opened up to application developers looking to build on that platform.

It’s easy to envision a Web 2.0 UI that sits on somebody’s MySpace or Facebook page that invites visitors to jump into Spykee and have an immersive conversation with the owner of the page. Spykee is built on the Open Source Skype technology which suggests that a documented controller API is just around the corner. I suspect there are discrete commands that are IM’ed to and from Spykee by the controller UI which should make it relatively easy to hack. What’d I’d really like to see is a sanctioned document maintained by Meccano that describes this method. Until then, I can’t declare Spykee programmable.

Both robots have a place in the market. The adults that are targeted for the ConnectR trust the iRobot brand and the company’s experience in robotics. It’s an investment akin to a businessperson buying an IBM PC as opposed to an Apple in the early 80′s.

In spite of Meccano’s new push to sell Spykee to adults, kids will buy it. Parents will buy it for them. And the kids will play with their Spykee. He looks cool and Meccano has substantial experience in building durable toys that can take the torture that young children can dish out.

The fact that both companies came up with such similar ideas is a validation of the demand they perceive exists in the market. Ultimately, this fact and the release of these products has progressed human-robot interaction one more step.

HERON’s Wind BallThere was this Greek guy from Alexandria named Heron who lived in the first century A.D.. He invented a toy called an aeolipile, which means “wind ball” in Greek. It was a metallic ball with two curved tubes coming out at opposite ends of it. The idea was that you would fill it with water and heat it up over an open flame and steam would come out of each of the tubes causing it to spin around on a perpendicular axle. With just this much more creativity, Heron might have discovered the power of steam for real applications instead of using it to power a novelty toy. Dionysius Papin published plans for a high-pressure steam engine more than one-and-a-half THOUSAND years later in 1690 and it was built only eight years after that by Thomas Savery. Where would we be today if in the first century A.D. Heron or anybody who had seen the wind ball had thought about using steam to do more than spin it?!

Humanity, it seems, missed an opportunity. What’s worse is that we may be on the verge of missing one again.

Erector introduced its newest product at the Consumer Electronics Show last January. They unveiled a seemingly average robot kit called Spykee. It’s a kit being marketed as a kid’s remote-controlled “spy robot” toy. The six different hobby and electronic toy sites I visited all pretty much said the same thing.

The fact is that Spykee is a fantastic robot with one fatal flaw that might make it a modern day aeolipile.

Spykee has a WiFi connection to the internet and is controlled from a remote workstation. He has a camera, microphone, speakers, and a stable mobile platform. Users of the robot can communicate with people in the vicinity of the robot using VoIP. Unlike the SPC-101C, Spykee sells for right around $300. The android robot SPC-101C sells for ten times that much at about $3,000. Sure Spykee doesn’t have actuated arms and he can’t do flips, but I bet Spykee can be thrown down the stairs and survive. I doubt SPC-101C could survive that. Not only is Spykee a consumer-grade robot, he’s a consumer grade robot designed for kids!

Some advanced features include motion detection, audio / video recording capabilities, email notification, and autonomous return-to-base logic for a recharge when the batteries are low.

Okay, so all that sounds cool. What’s the fatal flaw?

Spykee is not programmable.

  • Personal robots have been struggling to become a part of the mainstream because the platforms have been too primitive or too expensive. Exacerbating the problem is the many disparate platforms and the limited computing resources available to on-board software. A client-server model that leverages the computing resources of a desktop computer and the situatedness of a physical robot is the ideal combination that also allows developers to stick with the tools they know.
  • You could have a WiFi enabled robot, but you’d either have to build it yourself like the guys at WifiBot.com did or straight up buy one from them. I guarantee it ain’t gonna go for 300 bucks and it ain’t gonna be as durable as Spykee. Furthermore, the developers who are going to write the killer applications for robots don’t want to build ‘em!
  • Great innovations occur when different disciplines converge. In this case, I assert that most programmers have a favorite language from C++ to PHP, most have a favorite IDE, and many think in terms of the applications for their software. If a company like Meccano opens up an API to Spykee, they’ll instantly have a huge potential army of engineers coming up with novel and likely marketable applications for Spykee.

Even without any API it seems that Erector’s marketing machine could sell to a more mature consumer. It seems that without any code changes, the first killer app for Spykee is simply a telepresence robot. I’d like to have a few of these and send one to my mom who lives 100 miles away and one to my daughter who is in college 12 hours away. I and or anybody else could pop-in for a more enjoyable immersive visit than just a phone call. Imagine the Louvre having several of these in their lobby and you could go to a web-site and enter your credit card number for 30 minutes of looking around. BAM! There’s a startup. A web-site with a UI to control these Spykees.

Nope. Nobody seems to get it. I’ve not seen the word telepresence associated with Spykee anywhere. Instead, I’ve heard it trivialized by being called a “radio-controlled” toy and the ultimate peeping-tom spy–nevermind seeing the potential as being a ground-breaking mass-market robotic platform with applications we haven’t thought of yet.

I hate to think that I’ll just need to wait for hackers to crack this and create an API for me.

In the meantime, I believe this is going to be a hot product for this Christmas. In my research, I came across some sites and prices you might find interesting:

  • Horizon Hobby sells it for $299.99 and will have them “early November.” These are the guys that called it “radio-controlled.”
  • Tower Hobbies sells it for $246.99 and will also have them available “early November.”
  • Fat Brain Toys is selling for $369.95 and will have them available around the same time.
  • Amazon will be selling it the earliest on October 22 for about $279.99.
  • Hobbylinc Hobbies will be selling it for $273.89 in “early November. “

You’ll get another chance to see Spykee before he’s available for sale at Digital Life on September 27-30 where Erector will be in booth 730.

TreadSpykee CameraUser InterfaceArm