Tag Archives | Robots

Google Lobbies Nevada to Pass Robot Car Bill

Google is lobbying the Nevada legislature to pass legislation that would make it the first state to allow the operation of robotically controlled cars on its roads. The company wants to be at the forefront of this: Harry’s post from last October reported on Google’s efforts to develop self driving technology.

It’s not really clear what business a search company has in developing robotic technologies, but hey, nobody ever said that Google shouldn’t attempt to expand its business. It needs the go-ahead by public officials before anything could happen.

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Anybots' QB Remote-Presence Robot Starts Shipping

Last August, I wrote about Anybots’ QB, a $15,000 remote-presence robot that lets distant workers attend meetings, hang out with coworkers, and generally behave as if they were in the office. (It’s essentially a fancy remote-controllable Webcam on wheels.) At the time, QB was in beta testing and was supposed to be available for purchase by the fall. Anybots’ schedule slipped: the bot is only now starting to ship. But it’s gained some features which I could have used when I gave a QB a whirl, including seamless Wi-Fi roaming, two-way video streaming using the display in its “forehead,” and high-resolution zooming.

QB’s major competitor seems to be vGo, a somewhat simpler $5,000 robot which did start shipping last fall. (I met a vGo last month when it cohosted the Last Gadget Standing event at CES with Robin Raskin, Jon Heim, Gary Dell’Abate,  and myself.)

In either form, I’m a believer in the basic concept–and I think the day will come when QB, vGo, and/or their competitors and descendents will inhabit plenty of workplaces and nobody will even blink. I sure wish they had existed back when I worked in PC World’s Boston office and wasted countless hours trying to track down my San Francisco coworkers via telephone, and “attending” meetings by speakerphone which didn’t make much sense because I could (kind off) hear what was going on but couldn’t see. I could have been a lot more proactive and productive if I’d been able to tool around the office in robotic form…

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Scenes From the 2010 Immersive Tech Summit

Not everyone’s satisfied with TVs, projectors, and computer monitors as the be-all end-all of multimedia. Last week, these people converged in Los Angeles for the first annual Immersive Tech Summit. What is immersive technology, exactly? From what I could tell, it was a lot of augmented reality, virtual reality, and audio-visual installations that most consumers can’t afford, like this 50-foot dome-shaped theater. Read on for more scenes from this wild side of tech.

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iRobot Sneak Peek: JamBots, LanDroids, and TransPhibians

Aside from Dilbert, most cartoon characters don’t get a chance to inspire tech companies. But Rosie the Robot of The Jetsons is definitely an exception, says Colin Angle, the CEO of iRobot. Angle helped to show off robots this week ranging from the company’s Roomba vacuum cleaner and PackBot 510 military robot to squishable JamBots camouflaged to look like an octopus and a crab.

At a tech showcase in New York, Angle contended that he founded iRobot some 20 years ago because the robotics industry had failed to create actual robots that could follow the example set by Rosie, a major player in the 1960s futuristic TV cartoon series.

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Willow Garage's PR2: The $400,000 Cyberman

When I wrote about my misadventures with Anybots’ QB remote-presence robot recently, I mentioned Willow Garage’s similar Texai. The company doesn’t have plans to sell Texais anytime soon, but it’s announcing that it’s accepting orders for its primary bot, PR2.

Unlike QB and Texai–which are basically remote-controllable Webcams on wheels–PR2 is autonomous, uses 3D machine vision to see the world around it, and has the arms it needs to manipulate objects. Which means it can be taught to engage in all sorts of useful activities which QB and Texai can’t.

Such as playing pool:

And fetching beer:

How much would you pay for a PR2 of your own? Well, the list price is $400,000, but Willow Garage says it wants to reward organizations that are serious about open-source development. So it’s going to give selected buyers who can document their open-source bona fides a discounted price of $280,000. It says it expects early purchasers to be academic labs, industrial research facilities, and other outfits involved in exploration of the future of personal robotics.

I won’t be plunking down my money, but I look forward to seeing what PR2’s owners teach it to do.

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I, Robot: Life With a Remote Presence Bot

“Would you like to borrow a robot for a week?”

Would I like to borrow a robot for a week? There’s only one sane answer to that question: Of course I would. When can I get it?

The robot I was being offered was a beta unit of QB, the product of a Silicon Valley startup named Anybots. It’s a bot built with one purpose in mind: Letting remote workers such as telecommuters or folks in branch offices interact with colleagues at headquarters.

QB is essentially a remote-control Webcam on wheels–using a browser-based app, the absent employee can steer the robot around the office, see other employees, and talk to them. More puppet than independent thinker, it’s  not even as autonomous as a mere Roomba. Nor does it have any way of picking up or otherwise manipulating objects, although a built-in laser pointer lets it direct coworkers’ attention in a particular direction.

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Inside Volkswagen's Silicon Valley Gadget Lab

Volkswagen never wants you to forget that its cars are engineered in Germany–hey, its current slogan is “Das Auto.” But cool Web tools,  innovative gizmos, and digital entertainment aren’t exactly synonymous with German engineering. It’s Silicon Valley that’s the world’s headquarters for that stuff. And so it’s not that startling that much of VW’s work on new and future electronics, gadgetry, and interfaces happens at its Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, in close proximity to electronics engineering talent the company might want to hire and tech companies it might want to work with. The ERL is also a quick drive away from Stanford University’s Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, where VW collaborates with university students and researchers on new technologies. (I wrote about VAIL’s self-driving Passat a few months ago.)

As part of VW’s press event for the 2011 Jetta, I took a tour of the ERL last week. Herewith, some photographic highlights.

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Move Over Roomba, Here Comes Mint

For quite a few years now, iRobot has all but owned the personal robot sector with its successful line of Roomba cleaning robots. However as the price of manufacture of these types of device comes down and demand begins to grow, we’re beginning to see a lot more entrants into this increasingly competitive sector.

Evolution Robotics’ Mint is one of those new products. Where Roomba’s expertise lies in carpet, the $250 device’s speciality is hardwood and linoleum floors. While iRobot has its Scooba, the price still is a bit prohibitive at $299 (and up to $499 for the top-of-the-line model), and uses proprietary cleaners only available through iRobot itself.

What’s nice about Mint is the fact that it can use everyday wet and dry cleaning cloths that attach to a head much like you find on the Swiffer line of products. In fact, the company is keen to point out that you can use the Swiffer cloths with Mint, which means the cost of operation could potentially be much lower than its competitors.

The robot uses the same types of sensors as the Roomba/Scooba to detect its locations and ensure an even clean, and can run up to three hours on a single charge. Where it beats iRobot is its size — about 3 inches tall and a little bit under 10 inches wide — and the amount of produced noise. I found the Mint in the demonstration I saw to operate much quieter. Additionally sensors detect transitions in the flooring, so it won’t be going over your area rugs or carpets by mistake.

Mint’s price point is certainly aimed at taking iRobot head on, and its choice to allow the use of third-party cloths as I mentioned before is definitely an advantage as well. That said, Evolution and other competitors in the space still have the challenge of proving to the consumer why they would need such a product cause its still a several hundred dollar mop.

I guess however if cleaning floors is really that much of a hassle to you, you’ll pay just about anything to have sombody — or something else — do it.


Meet QB, Your New Robotic Coworker

It looks sort of like a Segway that’s developed anthropomorphic characteristics. It’s really a high-quality videoconferencing system on wheels. It’s called QB, and if startup Anybots is successful, it could be coming soon to the conference rooms, offices, and hallways of businesses everywhere.

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