2011 International Consumer Electronics Show
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A Personalized View of All Things Robotics at the Largest Tech Show of them All
If you are into High Tech and Robotics than the International Consumer Electronics Show is the place to Get Your Geek On. The CES is the largest gathering of its kind in the U.S. It attracts celebrities, business people, politicians, movers, shakers and this year Robots. This years attendance was up for the third straight year with over 140,000 people in attendance and over 2700 vendors displaying everything from 3DTV, MP3 players, Tablet Computers, Appliances and Robots. A gathering of this size is too large for one building so the Las Vegas Convention Center along with five area resorts played host to the event.
Robot magazine was fortunate to have two correspondents providing coverage at the CES, George Mitsuoka and Bill Griggs. Both are regular contributors with keen interest in robotics.
Bill: This was my first time at the CES or Nerdvana, as I like to call it. I have been dreaming about getting an early glimpse at all the High Tech bling before it becomes available in stores. My special interest is in Tech that can be added to or adapted to our robot projects.
My CES adventure began on press day, one day prior to the kick-off of the event. The vendors arranged a series of press conferences throughout the day, which announced new products and services. Most of these were not specific to our field, however the Pepcom Digital Experience Press party, held at Caesars Palace, had a surprising number of items useful to roboticists. The Pepcom allows the press to see products and talk to vendors without the crush of the Convention-Hall crowd.
Personally, the most intriguing product I saw at the Pepcom was SmartMotion from Movea. Many of the portable devices we carry around have motion sensing capabilities built into them. Accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers are now becoming commonplace. These sensors can now be easily integrated into devices including robots thanks to the SmartMotion Engine. The SmartMotion engine is a software programming environment, which gives programmers access to libraries of over 100 software templates for functions specifically created to enhance human motion in computer based software. Brian Hoadley of Movea explained that using the SmartMotion engines GUI to integrate motion-sensing functions into devices could reduce development times on average from 9 weeks to 9 days. Movea also produces a SmartMotion Development Kit that includes the MotionTools software, MotionController, charger and a MotionPod. The Motionpod is miniaturized multi axis motion sensor containing 3 axis accelerometers, 3 axis Magnetometers and 3 axis Gyroscope in a device the size of a wristwatch. In use, a motion pod is strapped to the robot or human and real-time data about 9 axis of motion is recorded for analysis and further development. MotionTools have also has been used in conjunction with Microsoft Robotics Studio Simulation software, in sports equipment, channel changers and fall detection devices for the elderly. While priced out of the reach of most home Robotics developers, Movea is discussing the possibility of a more affordable version for home experimenters.
I also saw several devices that would make mounting components onto our robot chassis easier. The Joy Factory displayed the Tournez, a tablet-mounting arm originally designed for mounting an iPad or similar device to a kitchen cabinet. The Tournez could be adjusted to a variety of positions. I envision using one of these to display pictures or play videos on a mobile, roving platform.
LET THE FUN BEGIN
I decided to begin my day in the South Hall because it had the most Robots per square inch on the planet. Many of the companies that had Robotics products were located in the Robotics TechZone area.
This year the Robotics TechZone featured approximately twenty organizations including a delegation of nine Japanese Robotics companies. These companies were here thanks to the Chicago branch of the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO).
JETRO is a program sponsored by the Japanese government to partner Japanese companies with US companies in joint ventures designed to bring US products to Japan and Japanese products to the US.
Kelly Highland, and Kevin Kalb of JETRO Chicago welcomed me to their display and then introduced me to the visiting companies. Most of the companies present came from two areas in Japan. Tsukuba City and the City of Osaka.
Tsukuba City (pronounced like Scuba with a very soft T at the beginning) is an area near Tokyo with about 220,00 people. It is a campus like city, similar to Princeton or Palo Alto where companies can set up offices, headquarters or labs. Tsukuba is a family oriented place where most researchers and their families live and work with robots. Tsukuba City is designated as a Robot Zone, a real world test bed for the field-testing, development and commercialization , business incubator and manufacturing all located in one place.
The City of Osaka is rapidly developing into Japans leading place for exploring the urban robotics life style. The Osaka Station North District is 75 acres currently being developed into a knowledge zone for the next generation the of Robotics industry. It will feature labs, manufacturing center, enterprises all focused on bringing robotics into mainstream use. The redevelopment is scheduled for completion in 2012.
Jin Sato from JS-Robotics introduced the crowd to a unique beginners robot called The Ladybug. The Ladybug is a low cost kit, which uses toothbrush heads with an adjustable suspension instead of wheels for locomotion. The Ladybug is capable of playing music, Line following and SumoBot wrestling. A set of scanners in the base of the Ladybug read in black and white squares to program it. Using this system, students can quickly rearrange the slides of black and white squares to change the programming. Thus the student can learn to program the robot without needing to learn a formal programming language. The knowledge gained from this method can then be applied to learning a formal programming language.
Naoki Shibatani of Vstone Co. Ltd. Displayed several robot including the Robovie R3. humanoid robot R&D platform for providing Assistive services for elderly and handicapped individuals. The robot is being developed to accompany individuals, to give directions, help with shopping, and provide other assistance. It can move over pavement blocks and ramps at a speed (about 2.5 km/h).
The one robot system that blew me away was Challenge HAL exoskeleton from Cyberdyne Inc. H.A.L. stands for Hybrid Assistive Limb and is designed to help people walk again. The limbs can assist stroke victims, elderly and paraplegics to walk. I will go into detail later in this article. To say I was impressed would be a complete understatement.
I also spent a great deal of time at the muRata booth. MuRata is an electronics component company that makes sensors for the electronics industry. MuRata decided on a unique method to showcase their products by building muRata Boy a bicycle riding robots to serve as an Ambassador.
This year muRata added a new member to their robot family with Murata Girl. Murata Girl is a unicycle riding humanoid robot. She keeps her balance using two gyroscopes in her backpack and a Flywheel in her chest. By moving her feet on the pedals she can move fore and aft. Other sensors include Ultrasonic, shock temperature, as well as a wireless module; speakers just to name a few. Both of these complex bots could ride around without falling over and also rode a balance beam.
Robotics in our every day life.
One trend I noticed is the subtle melding of robotics into our every day lives. New devices are being introduced which feature a robotic function that makes them better or easier to use. There were many examples at CES:
The Engage by Smartfish Technologies is a computer keyboard that morphs and expands to relieve stress while typing. The Engage keyboard is truly unique in shape and function. This curved, sloping keyboard learns how you type and how you hold your hands and it spreads out, contract and tilts periodically to move the hands and change wrist posture to promote better circulation, comfort and reduce the risk of injury. Most ergonomic devices hold your hands in a fixed position designed to be less stressful. Smartfish Ergomotion technology instead moves the device to a more comfortable position as you type. The keyboard learns your best positions as you use it. Smartfish also uses this technology in a line of game controllers a laser mouse that pivots instead of sliding.
The Wheeme from Dreambots is a tiny, fist-sized robot that massages you as it moves across your body. The Wheeme uses sensors to quietly steers across your back without falling off. The wheels of the robot are covered in soft serrations that massage as they move.
Household cleaning robots are becoming increasingly more common. Robots can perform tedious, messy, dangerous and time-consuming tasks for us while we do more important things. Several companies displayed cleaning robot which have new features and address different problems. It is fun to compare how designers come up with different solutions.
The Scooba 230 from iRobot is a Floor washing robot in a small package for hard to reach places. Floor washing only uses cleaning solution to wash a floor, never uses dirty water. Dirty water is automatically vacuumed up and kept separate from clean water.
Evolution Robotics developed a portable box called the NorthStar Cube. The Northstar cube is a room mapping device that tracks where the Mint floor-cleaning robot has been. It then sends feedback to the Mint to ensure the entire room is covered.
Techko Maid felt that cleaning robots were too expensive required multiple models for different cleaning job. Techko Maid developed the RV188 as a 3 in 1 tool, which sweeps, mops and vacuums. The RV188 uses a series of cleaning patterns to cover the room with no programming involved.
The Windoro glass-cleaning robot can clean both sides of your window at the same time. This two-part robot uses rare earth magnets to connect through the glass. The Windoro then maps your window and begins its cleaning pattern. The Windoro will be available through ilshim Global Co.
ROBOTS FOR OUR PROTECTION
IRobot the makers of the Roomba displayed two robots they developed to help protect us. The first is the Seaglider a maritime robot that is currently in use monitoring the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
IRobot also displayed the Packbot (featured in January/February 2011 issue of Robot Magazine). The Packbot is currently deployed with US Troops and performs a variety of tasks to keep our military safe.
Robots for Business
Imagine you have a meeting in NY at 10 A.M. and a meeting in California at 1 P.M. It would be physically impossible to attend both without a teleporter or a telepresence Robot.
I was unfamiliar with the term telepresence until recently. Telepresence is when you use a robot as your stand in at a distant meeting. The Movie Avatar is probably the best know example of telepresence. In Avatar, people use artificial bodies to walk around an alien world.
I know this sounds like science fiction but two companies displayed telepresence robots and I got to try one out (See the side bar). Also just as we went to press Anybots.com announced that it would begin shipping the QB telepresence robot in February 2011.
One on the great benefits of being in the same place with so many creative minds is the chance meeting. For me the best part of an event like this is getting to know people. I was fortunate to meet several people who are having an impact in the field of robotics, entertainment and education.
The first such person I met was Terri Stripling of ten80 Education. Terri was there to talk about using hydrogen fuel cells to teach kids math and engineering skills. Ten80 Education is partnering with Horizon Fuel Cell technology and Nascar to bring the FastTrack R/C racing project into schools. FastTrack uses competitions to teach children how to modify R/C cars to use fuel cell technology. Fast track R/C racing is modelled similarly to FIRST but cantered around transportation and engineering. It is trying to get more students involved in high tech fields and get an increased knowledge of fundamental math and science not just programming, technology or building, just real fundamental engineering and math modelling skills. Future plans include moving fuel cells into robotic platforms.
Later while wandering the North hall I noticed an iPad in an Etch-A-Sketch case. I was admiring the product when the company owner Daniel Deutche saw my nametag, introduced himself and told me he made robots. Dan invited me into his booth and showed me some pictures of his past projects. It turns out that Dan owns Real Simple Ideas LLC, an R&D shop that makes Robots and Animatronics for major films, TV and resorts. If you have seen a movie in the last decade you have seen Dans work. Daniel founded Headcase, a company that makes novelty cases for home handheld devices, pads and tablets. Daniel Graciously invited Robot Magazine to visit his shop sometime and I intend to accept.
Lastly, Next I met Nic McMahon of Breffo, Spider Podium when I dropped a lenses cap. Nic helped me locate the cap and then I noticed the Spider Podium. Nic had objects of all shape and size hanging from or perched on all sorts of surfaces using the Spider Podium. I immediately got a bad case of Gotta have that. Since I acquired one I have used it to hold a bot while soldering, hold my iPad while watching Dr. Who, as a holster for my Drill Driver and a cupholder. Breffo USA LLC. http://www.Breffo.com .
Makerbot Industries was out in full force with a display of a dozen 3D printers, the most I have ever seen operating in on place. The ThingOMatic is the newest offering. It includes an automated build platform, which allow parts to be made one after another without stopping. The unit uses ABS and two other formulas of plastic to create layer upon layer of hot plastic to make whatever your heart desires. See the sidebar for more details.
What happens in Vegas
Prior to the CES I received an invitation to attend a rather unique party hosted by Anybots. Anybots decided to host a telepresence party in a suite at the top of the Aria Hotel. Of course I accepted.
Anybots is a California Based company that wants to make Telepresence a common occurrence at business meetings. I chatted with Trevor Blackwell, founder and CEO of Anybots about his vision. (See Sidebar).
The Anybots gang had a packed house that included, journalist, bloggers and business executives. There was a poker table, a Show girl, hot food, cold drinks and four QB telepresence robots. To find out what happened with this odd mix check out the sidebar.
One week is not enough
It would be humanly impossible to see every exhibit at the CES. I made it into all three buildings of the convention center but I only got to visit two of the off site locations.
One thing I know with certainty is that Robotics is rapidly seeping into every part of our society from toothbrushes to toilets that automatically lower the seat after use. The amount of money being spent on Robotics research at home and abroad is staggering.
This boom of research is already bearing fruits. Robots can now wake you up and give you exercise while you chase your wheeled Robot alarm clock. Brush your teeth, Make your coffee, sweep you floor, clean around the toilet while you remotely attend a meeting for you, find you when you are lost, and massage your aching back after a hard days work.
I hope you enjoyed reading my comments on CES 2011 as much as I did shooting and writing about these fine products.
by Bill Griggs