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Bossa Nova Robotics Boldy Sets New Direction
Rosie Jetson
Now this changes everything: mObi
By Tom Green

RoboBusiness 2012

Martin Hitch, CEO of Bossa Nova Robotics, is a showman, and he needed to be at this week’s RoboBusiness 2102: he announced to a packed room that his company was cutting in a new direction with a new product, and that the company’s former cash cow, kids’ robotics (500,000 units), had been sold. Okay, now what?

mObi robot

The new direction is to be personal robotics. Think Serge from the sci-fi TV series Caprica or, the image Hitch chose as his visual metaphor, Rosie, the robot housemaid from the animated sitcom, The Jetsons (1962-1963). The point being that personal robots, ones that live with us and do our bidding, are the wave of the future and Bossa Nova intends to pioneer that space.

Hitch’s next bit of showmanship was to announce Bossa Nova’s first personal robot, and to invite it to join him on stage. If the machine had stuttered, belched and collapsed trying to join him, it would have been a huge buzz kill for everyone involved in the building of Bossa Nova’s inaugural personal robot, and a disaster photo op for the throng of engineer paparazzi following its every move.

The robot, named mObi [sic], put on a tour de force performance. In fact, there were three of them, each guided by a handler engineer to coax each forward; engineers that Hitch said hadn’t slept for days getting mObi ready this, its world coming out party. Getting a thumbs up from his engineers at the back of the meeting room, the showman made the announcement.

Quite sleek and beautifully designed with an iPad for a head, mObi swept forward to everyone’s delight, followed by still cameras, video cameras, and Smartphones recording its every move.

Ralph Hollis and Ballbot

“We’re talking about the robotic extension of your iPhone,” said Hitch, “with the robot giving you information like the weather. But instead of looking down at your phone, you’ll be interacting with the robot, through gestures and voice recognition.”

mObi is a ballbot: technology based on Carnegie Mellon University’s pioneering Ralph Hollis, and patented in 2010. A ballbot is a dynamically-stable mobile robot designed to balance on a single ball as its single contact point with the ground. The ball is its locomotion, making mObi   omnidirectional and agile. Such stability enables mObi to navigate narrow, crowded and dynamic environments.

Bossa Nova, itself a spin-off venture from CMU (2004), went back to the CMU well for Hollis’ invention. Betting the farm on ballbot, after a more than successful run at kids’ robotics, showed a lot of derring-do—a quality seemingly in short supply in much of today’s robotics ecosystem. Bossa Nova’s announcement is bold and confidently decisive and seemingly totally fearless.

Hitch claims that Bossa Nova will use its years of expertise in building robots for kids that are market savvy and price-point aware in order to build its new line of personal robots. He intends to have the mObi for sale in 2013.

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