LAS VEGAS — There were hundreds of robotics companies at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show here. Dozens of robotics startups from around the world vied for attention and funding in Eureka Park, so which ones deserved more than a glance?
Here are the top 10 that caught our eye with a mix of innovative technology, business savvy, and let’s face it, cool products that could change their respective markets.
This New Zealand company showed off its Boxfish ROV (remotely operated vehicle) for underwater research. While there were numerous aerial drones at CES, this small ROV is intended to make exploration and recording of live video more affordable and easier.
There were a lot of mobile and social robots at this year’s show, but Yumii’s Cutii is designed with the specific goal of helping the aging. Robots such as Cutii promise to help people “age in place” and be more independent, enabling them to avoid or delay costly nursing-home stays and freeing human caregivers for more engaging tasks.
In the University Innovations subsection was Parihug, a runner-up from our Pitchfire startup contest last fall. Its deceptively simple stuffed animals provide telepresence, not through talking, but through vibrations and “virtual hugs.” The therapeutic devices have received a lot of favorable media attention as Parihug gears up for a crowdfunding campaign.
7. FoldiMate Inc.
A small Israeli team devised FoldiMate, a laundry-folding robot. Unlike Seven Dreamers Laboratories Inc.’s Laundroid, which was again on display in CES’s Robotics Marketplace, FoldiMate is small and intended first for household rather than institutional use.
6. Hease Robotics
France-based Hease Robotics takes many of the concepts found in SoftBank Robotics’ humanoid social robot Pepper but focuses on the retail environment. That’s no surprise, since some of its staffers worked with Aldebaran, which was bought by SoftBank.
A taller design, a larger touchscreen, and custom software could make Hease a strong player in the service robotics market. The robot can also be connected to the cloud for more capabilities. In addition, Hease co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jade Le Maitre is among the relatively few women leaders in Eureka Park.
“Hease includes Web-based programming,” said Le Maitre. “We are working with Atos and others on vision, autonomous navigation, and payments.”
“We’ll be running tests from after CES to September, and we need more funds to scale up,” she added. “We’re looking for partners.”
Also in the sprawling French pavilion within Eureka Park was TwinswHeel, which was founded by — you guessed it — twins. Its rolling robot is a clever design for autonomous package delivery. TwinswHeel is based near Lyon, part of the “European Digital Valley” and France’s efforts to be a leader in robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Everyone knows how robots can help us with dirty, dull, or dangerous tasks. Picking up after your dog is certainly one of those chores. Beetl, which shared space with Flash Robotics, is displaying a prototype of its vision-guided robot for picking up and containing dog excrement in biodegradable packaging for composting.
The company expects to have a more advanced prototype and descriptions of its process soon.
In the Holland Startup Pavilion within Eureka Park was AeroVinci, an aerial drone provider. The Delft, Netherlands-based company has developed a winged drone capable of vertical takeoff and landing for more maneuverability and efficiency.
The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are intended to provide “a low barrier to entry” and be ready “out of the box,” according to an AeroVinci spokesman.
They will be available to the Dutch agricultural industry as part of a network under a robots-as-a-service (RaaS) model. The EU is currently working on regulations, but AeroVinci expects the roadmap to be complete within a year for rural areas.
The beta version of AeroVinci’s UAV is capable of continuous flight for about 45 minutes.
AeroVinci has also created DroneDock, “a fully self-sustaining drone docking station that allows drones to land, recharge, process data, and transmit information to end users autonomously, with no human interaction required.”
Unlike most startups in Eureka Park, Starship Technologies’ ground-based delivery robots are already in operation in nearly 60 cities worldwide.
Not only does Starship’s remote-controlled robot help solve the so-called last-mile problem, but it also has a three-mile range and can securely convey everything from books to food — without the regulatory concerns facing UAV deliveries.
Starship founder and CEO Ahti Heinla spoke at our Robotics Conference, and we’ll share the insights from the “Delivery Robots Knocking at Your Door” panel soon.
David Hanson and company’s humanoid robots were among the highlights of this year’s entire show. The founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics spoke with Robotics Trends at his booth in Eureka Park, as well as during the “Improving Human-Robot Interaction With AI” panel.
In addition to Hanson’s lifelike bust of Albert Einstein, the company will be selling a scaled-down version of the physicist to households at about $300, a fraction of the price of similar social robots.
“Professor Einstein’s design is close to finished,” Hanson said. “We’ve got an arrangement for producing 50,000 robots, and we’ll begin shipping later this spring. It should be in all the major retail outlets soon.”
While not as realistic as the larger model, “Professor Einstein” displayed a wide variety of human expressions, relies on several sensors and a voice interface, and its artificial intelligence capabilities could make it a must-have for the home and educational markets.
Hanson Robotics participated in the Disney Accelerator, and its founder reiterated the importance of imagination, robots with personality, and large companies such as Amazon with its Alexa/Echo preparing the market for consumer robots.
“It’s fine that science fiction and robotics startups have set expectations so high, because they prompt us to take steps to realize that world,” he said.