Please Pardon the Interruption - Update

June 19th, 2007

Hey Folks. BIG NEWS: I am moving to San Francisco! Sorry, but I’m going to have to shelf the blog for now. I’m hoping to pick it back up somewhere down the line.

Casual Fridays: Beer Bots Raise the Bar

June 15th, 2007

Welcome to Casual Fridays at Robotic Revolutions. You could say it’s happy hour, because today features a pair of robots with a penchant for beer. This first robot is the work of a hobbyist that converted a micro fridge. We can tell his robot is a killer-app because David Letterman invited him to appear on the Late Show.

In other news - god this pest problem is still doing my head in. The scratching sounds keep me up all night which has led to a significant drop off in my writing abilities and hence the updating of this site. I have enlisted a company, Go Pest Control to fix it for me so I will wait and see what happens when they arrive on Friday.

This next robot has been around for about a year, but now it is actually available for sale! To be honest, I would much rather pay $799 for a beer bot than $2,000 for a Sony Aibo. The Asahi Beerbot was created as part of contest, but just knowing it exists, we’re all winners. In the meantime, check out my latest partner over at Rock Solid Painters, GC

Asahi Beerbot via [Maximum Robotics]

Pleo: It Eats Shoots and Leaves

June 14th, 2007


There has been a lot of anticipation building around Pleo ever since it grabbed the attention of the media at DEMO 2006. Pleo is a robotic-dinosaur toy designed by Caleb Chung, one of the co-creators of Furby. Pleo is modeled after a baby Camarasaurus, wrapped in polymer skin containing over 30 sensors, 14 motors and six processors.

According to Chung, “Pleo isn’t a toy. It’s aimed at the pet demographic. We’re trying to capture that ‘Awww!’ moment.”

In order to capture that moment, Chung and his team have programmed Pleo to evolve with its experiences. For example, the first time it is picked up, it may act scared, but with subsequent interaction it will grow more comfortable. Ugobe, the company behind Pleo, will encourage modifications by providing a graphical interface and API for programers.

Pleo features include:

  • 14 servo joints (torso, head, tail, neck, legs) with force feedback
  • 38-touch, sound, light and tilt sensors including nine touch sensors (mouth, chest, head, shoulders, back, feet) and 8 feet and toe sensors
  • Fluid quadruped motion
  • Ability to avoid obstacles and not walk off edges
  • Sound output, stereo sound sensors and music beat detection
  • Autonomous interaction with owner and environment including coughing, blinking eyes, chomping, twitching, sighing, sneezing, sniffing, growling stomach, tail drift, and yawning
  • Distinct moods including anger, boredom, playfulness, hunting, cautious, cuddling, disgust, disorientation, distress, fear, curiosity, joy, sorrow, surprise, fatigue, hunger, and desire for social interaction
  • Upgradeable, Life Form OS and Personality System
  • SD card memory expansion
  • Ability to communicate with other UGOBE Life Forms
  • Rechargeable battery

In my opinion, the rechargeable battery is actually one of the most important features. I’ll admit, I bought a Roboraptor, but what kills me about it is the obscene number of batteries it requires and how quickly it chews through them. My Roomba, on the other hand, not only has a rechargeable battery, but it “smart” enough to find it’s docking station and recharge when it’s power is low.

Ugobe has raised $11 million to develop Pleo and has recently secured an additional $10 million to begin developing another half-dozen designs. If Pleo does well this Christmas, which is a 50/50 shot with its $300 price tag, then expect more Ugobe lifeforms to follow in Pleo’s footsteps - even if it does walk a little bit funny.

Read more: [CNN]

Are Consumer Robots Just Fancy Toys?

June 13th, 2007


This week we observed robotic vacuums and floor scrubbers, but we have yet to discuss robotic lawn mowers and pool cleaners. Any of these robots could prove themselves useful, but none of them have achieved wide-spread adoption.

Looking at other robots like Robosapien or the Sony AIBO the questions arises, are these just expensive toys?

The Robosapien is certainly marketed as a toy. It is manufactured by the Wow Wee Toy company. It requires six D batteries and 7 AAA batteries (not included). As they say, if it walks like a toy and it talks like a toy - it’s a toy.

However, while the Robosapien takes small steps around the house, it has taken a giant step for robotkind. This was the first mass-produced bipedial robot made commercially available to the public and it captured market share from robot enthusiasts and children alike.

Recently, the Robosapien evolved to V2, so perhaps in the future this toy will become a tool. Additionally, there is a community of developers that hack the Robosapien in an effort to make it more functional. As soon as it can be programmed to get me a beer from the fridge, I’ll buy one.

The Sony AIBO is another robot that walks the fine line of being called a toy. It has built in motion sensors and speech recognition. Sony has provided a programmer’s kit for hobbyists that want to tinker under the hood. But ultimately, what can AIBO do? Not much, which is why it never caught on.

In January, 2006 Sony announced it was discontinuing AIBO.

“There just aren’t enough people out there who want to own a robot,” says Steve Rainwater, chairman of Network Cybernetics and co-founder of the robotics blog “They want a vacuum cleaner or a lawn mower or a pool cleaner, something that does something for them. And it has to work.”

Scooba Dooba Doo, Where Are You?

June 12th, 2007


Above: Even the Scooba is no match for LOLCATS

Yesterday we discussed how the Roomba is fulfilling Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that household robots will emerge by 2009. Today, we’re taking a look at another member of the iRobot family, the Scooba. (Which ironically does not vacuum pools)

Released in 2005, the Scooba is a floor washing robot similar in appearance to the Roomba, although it is bulkier and heavier than its vacuuming cousin. The Scooba uses a proprietary Clorox formula, refered to by some as “Scooba Juice,” to prep, scrub and vacuum hardwood and tile floors until clean. Reports from enthusiasts claim the Scooba gets floors far cleaner than traditional methods because it perpetually uses fresh solution and clean water.

The Scooba shares the same software as the Roomba to navigate a room, which means it also suffers from the same lack of intelligence. Both of these robots simplify a necessary chore, but are equally simple in their approach. They have the potential to make life easier, as long as the proper steps are taken to prepare rooms for cleaning and the dustbins, water tanks and filters of the robots are frequently maintained.

In PC Mag, Lance Ulanoff provides a reasonable review of Scooba, explaining the challenge it has in market penetration:

At $399.99 list, the Scooba isn’t as obvious a purchase as the Roomba vacuum cleaner. Although consumers are used to paying a few hundred dollars for a good vacuum cleaner, most spend under $20 for a mop and bucket. Plus, the Scooba has consumable costs. The 8-ounce Clorox solution lasts for a few cleanings and then you have to buy more, at $17.99 for a three-bottle package. You can’t use anything else, because it could damage the Scooba and void the warranty. (I envision people trying to use the mop with water alone.) It does a better job of mopping the floor than you would do with just about any other standard bucket and floor mop, but since I know few people who actually scrub their floors, will anyone be willing to pay $400 plus consumable costs for this benefit? The Scooba can also clean sealed wood floors, but, again, most people I know sweep these and only occasionally damp-mop them.

iRobot has something here. This is a smart, powerful, effective solution for cleaning tile floors, but selling it to the American public could be a more uphill battle than they faced with the Roomba floor vac.

Owning a Roomba, this was exactly the thought process that kept me from buying a Scooba. However, I am very happy with my little robotic vacuum and impressed by the innovations of iRobot - so much so that I may still buy a Scooba someday. As such, if robots do become popular appliances, then expect iRobot to become a household name.

The Age of Intelligent Vacuums

June 11th, 2007

Roomba Discovery

Above: The Roomba Discovery is a spot-on cleaning machine

Rev up those Roombas because it’s Consumer Robot week here at Robotic Revolutions!

In 1999, Ray Kurzweil wrote “The Age of Spiritual Machines,” which predicts “household robots [will] have emerged [in 2009], but are not yet fully accepted.” In 2002, iRobot released the Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner, which is helping Kurzweil’s prediction come true.

The Roomba is a 13-inch circular robot vacuum cleaner that uses simple algorithms, such as spiral cleaning and wall-follow to automate the monotonous task of floor sweeping. The Roomba has enjoyed moderate success, having sold over 2 million units. In fact, Kurweil’s prediction may be proven on the backs and dustbins of the Roomba.

Credit for the volume of Roombas sold is its reasonable price and reliable service. I purchased my Roomba about a year ago for less than $200 and have no complaints about its operation. It is not the smartest robot around, but it gets the job done.

The Electrolux Trilobite is another robotic vacuum, but as different from the Roomba as a Dyson vacuum is to a standard model. To begin, the Trilobite costs close to $1,500, but as they say, you get what you pay for.

The Trilobite uses advanced sensors and computing to sketch a map in its memory, which it uses to complete it’s task. Even while vacuuming, the Trilobite monitors the area in front of it, stopping an inch short of all obstacles in its path. Compare this to the Roomba, which rolls around the room, mindlessly bumping into walls, chairs and tables, adjusting its course as needed. It is clear the Trilobite is fair more advanced. But ultimately, either of these robots should be a welcome addition to any household.

Casual Fridays: Could the Chairbot replace the wheelchair?

June 8th, 2007


Above: The Hubo FX-1 chair bot

The Hubo FX-1 chair bot is being developed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. As you can see, it’s a pair of robotic legs with a chair attached to it. A joystick controls the movement and apparently, the legs and feet are flexible and responsive to the environment. Although, this is most likely another robot that has trouble with stairs.

In the future, the chairbot could be like a wheelchair, ferrying around the weak, infirm or handicapped. However, considering that it needs a steady power source and adding fuel cells to it is currently a pipe dream, don’t expect to see it anywhere other than YouTube. It’s still pretty cool though.

Via [Newlaunches]

Heaven, Hell or Prevail? Joel Garreau’s “Radical Evolution”

June 7th, 2007

Robot and Monkey

Image Credit: April Allen

Good morning faithful readers. Today I’m going to take a step back and let a close friend of mine step up to the plate. Michael Biscone is a graduate of Boston University and a certified EMT. I have to credit Michael for introducing me to the concept of the singularity, which ultimately spawned this Web site. I hope you all enjoy what he has to say.

A Review of Joel Garreau’s Radical Evolution

By Michael Biscone
I used to think it would behoove me to earn as much money as possible the next few years solely for the purpose of constructing a bomb shelter in the mountains of rural Maine. I mean, it seemed to me that at some point in my lifetime, some earth shattering human caused disaster would rage around the planet and only those few wise people with the provisions for such a catastrophe would survive. After reading Joel Garreau’s Radical Evolution I am convinced that it wouldn’t matter anyway. Exactly how is one supposed to prepare for something like the entire planet being transformed into grey goo? Or ultra evolved races of humans inheriting the planet?

Garreau is talented at taking the big ideas about the future impact of technology and making it completely readable. Admittedly, most of the profound concepts in the book were previously put forth from revolutionary thinkers like Vernor Vinge, Ray Kurzweil, and Bill Joy to name a few. However, it was not the author’s intention to put forth any profound, information based theories on the future of technology or the likelihood of the singularity coming to pass.

Essentially, Garreau takes us on an organized journey of the past, present and future of technology and what it means to be a human. His knowledge of the subject is extensive to say the least and his book provides many interesting facts that I was previously unaware of. For instance, I had no knowledge of the United States DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), an organization that basically funds mad scientists to research and develop things I only thought existed in science fiction. If all of their projects are successful, we could have soldiers who don’t need sleep, food, and who never tire. Sporting exoskeletons, the soldiers would be much stronger and tougher, and the pain vaccine would eliminate any discomfort. On the off chance that an injury to one of these super soldiers did occur, it would be no big deal because the injured tissue would just be regenerated by any number of technological innovations.

Chiefly, Garreau uses scenarios to align the major ideas for the future. In the hell scenario, the world as we know it is destroyed or ruined. In one example, a mad scientist funded by DARPA invents a self replicating piece of dust and then the world quickly is devoured, or a super intelligent machine is created and casts our species aside as useless, looking at us the way we look at the family dog. In the heaven scenario, technology allows us to transcend our human biology with great benefit and happiness for the planet. Robots do all the work, while humanity and technology become intertwined resulting in complete perfection or something of the like. In the prevail scenario, humanity walks the line between destroying the planet and enjoying the complete benefits of a singularity resulting in a heaven scenario.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, that is ok. The book is not written specifically for the geek and explains everything clearly and concisely. Even if you already know a good deal of this subject matter, the style and ease at which the information and ideas are conveyed makes it a worthwhile read. Furthermore, Garreau is gifted at taking these scenarios that sound absurd and, frankly, sci-fi and adding the human cultural aspect to them. What results is an interesting interplay between the future of technology, biology and humanity that is hard to stop contemplating even after there are no more words to read.

Paging Dr. Robot

June 6th, 2007

Raven Surgical Robot

Above: The Raven mobile surgical robot (credit: David Clugston)

Scalpel… Scalpel.

Clamps… Clamps.

Forceps… Forceps.

Laser beam… Laser-what!?

That’s right, laser beams. The United Kindom recently published a study titled “Saws and scalpels to lasers and robots: advances in surgery,” which details the way technology is improving the way doctors perform surgery. Today, we will examine two robots getting involved, da Vinci and Raven, and consider what they mean for health care. Read the rest of this entry »

Medical Robot Delivers Hope

June 5th, 2007

Wish Tug

Above: The Aethon Tug Helps “Make-a-Wish”

Here at Robotic Revolutions, we are big fans of robots that make life easier by assuming tedious tasks. Today, we’ll be taking a look at a the Aethon TUG, a little robot with a lot of responsibility. The TUG makes the lives of nurses easier and it is helping the Make-A-Wish Foundation provide hope for sick children. Read the rest of this entry »