Cheap, powerful cameras and advanced sensors driving robotics projects
By RBR Staff
November 20, 2012
The trend: Robotic devices that cooperate with people
Home is where the richest robot opportunity may reside. Experts predict that within 10 years, general-purpose robots — costing $25,000 to $30,000 per unit — will perform house chores while consumers are at work or serve as butlers at cocktail parties.
SCI-TECH: Consumer robots are now becoming part of the home. Bossa Nova Robotics announced Ballbot, a platform for developers to create personal robots that interact with people. Romotive debuted a new version of Romo, its $150 Smartphone robot, with wheels and camera that uses the iPhone as its brain and operates like a remote-controlled car.
The mechanical march of robots into consumers’ lives is slowly picking up pace. In recent weeks, a handful of companies have trotted out robotic devices to do everything from chasing the family cat to dream painting. One, or something on the horizon, could jump-start a nascent market.
“Everyone is looking for the next (Sony) Aibo,” says tech analyst Rob Enderle, referring to the popular pet robot in Japan that was discontinued in 2006. “The potential is in the billions for the right product.”
ABI Research predicts personal robot sales will pass $15 billion by 2015. Driving the growth: Cheap, powerful cameras, advanced sensors and other electronics now form the foundation of robotics projects.
In the 1990s, technology was pricey and limited to industrial settings where large companies could afford to make the investments. Robots have mostly been used by automakers and semiconductor firms to produce goods in high volume. They’re also in vogue at some warehouses.
Home, however, is where the richest opportunity may reside. Several companies have recently weighed in with products and services:
Bossa Nova Robotics announced Ballbot, a platform for developers to create personal robots that interact with people. Conceivably, this could lead to something like a robot maid modeled after The Jetsons’ Rosie for less than $5,000.
“It opens up a whole slew of uses,” such as tour guides and package delivery, says co-founder Sarjoun Skaff. He says there’s a “groundswell” of robotic devices that “cooperate with people.”
Romotive introduced a new version of Romo, its $150 smartphone robot, with wheels and camera, that uses the iPhone as its brain and operates like a remote-controlled car. It is described by CEO Keller Rinaudo as “Skype on wheels.” Romotive also announced $5 million in funding from venture-capital firm Sequoia Capital.
Romo customers use it to do everything from chase the cat to monitor their kids at home, Rinaudo says. iRobot bought Evolution Robotics for $74 million to round out its Roomba floor cleaners product line.
ABB is demonstrating a robot that interprets dreams through paintings. The robot is on display in the lobby of a Paris hotel.
The automated contraptions seem to be everywhere. A conference on robotics in Silicon Valley this week has scheduled Gangnam-style dancing bots and a pair of life-size humanoid robots as greeters.
Consumer robots may be fixtures at home within several years, says Manuela Veloso, an artificial intelligence and robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, a leading researcher in both fields. As consumers become more comfortable with robots, they “will be accepted in everyday life,” she says.