Worldwide Robolution Energizes A Major Conference In Europe
Innorobo, the first European summit for service robots took place last March in Lyon, France. Visitors could enjoy seeing and playing with over 100 robots and new concepts. 30 of them were presented for the first time in Europe. Navigation and transportation, domestic, telepresence, education, edutainment and assistive robots made the show before an audience of 10,000 visitors.
A service robot was defined at this conference, in loose translation, as a machine that works autonomously or partly autonomously to serve the well being of humans or the well being of equipment and property used by humans. Service robotics does not include manufacturing.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), there are about 200 companies officially registered as robot manufacturers. But tens of thousands of companies manufacture robot parts and components. They all are totally involved in the Robolution, the robotic revolution, the next IT revolution that experts expect in the next ten years.
We don t define a service robot by its shape anymore, like a wheeled or a humanoid robot. Robots are defined by the functions and applications they are made for. There are two main categories of service robots, professional and personal robots. Professional service robotics is already a huge market encompassing farming, defense, professional cleaning, inspection and maintenance, warehouse logistics, public relations, medical and maritime robots. And let s not forget the safety and security robots now showing their great advantages at the Fukushima s nuclear plant in Japan.
Personal service robots, the ones we have or will have at home soon, occur in similar fields. Instead of dealing with productivity, return on investment or dangerous and unreachable areas, these robots take care of our comfort, entertain us and educate our children. They help us lead a better and easier life.
This sounds like the future, but this future is tomorrow, not in 20 or 30 years. The first robot vacuum cleaner was born in 2002 in a Scandinavian country. By the end of 2009, about 9 million robots in the world were used every day at home and at school. The past ten years have seen a strong technological development in electronics, mechanics, sensors, actuators and robotics software. Different parts of the world often have developed their own specialties like wireless communication components in Taiwan and software, design and user interfaces in France. Companies worldwide are integrating the latest technologies to create new service robots, aspiring to best fit the emerging market in terms of service and price, as iRobot did with the popular Roomba.
ROBOTS ARE COMING IN OUR DAILY LIFE
Innorobo presented lots of interesting robots and new concepts. Some of them are not exactly robots as mentioned earlier but they are made of robotic technology to offer a new service we ve never seen before. The French startup company FiveFive (five fingers multiplied times two hands = FiveFive) pushes the limit of communication over internet by using human senses.
Two luminous Flying saucers that embed sensors are connected via the internet. When you approach your hand, touch it or shake it, the other saucer anywhere in the world expresses your emotions. Isn t it a romantic way for a busy traveling man to tell his wife: I m away from home but I miss you and I love you? You are reading on your bed when you see the sweet lights turning on and you know your second half is thinking of you.
New ways to communicate or express our emotions are definitely entering our homes. After the popular Nabaztag, Mindscape introduces Karotz, the new intelligent rabbit to simplify our internet experience. ITRI, the main research center of Taiwan, developed the MSN Companion IM-Bot. This robot, and their three robotic webcams, turn text messages and emoticons into real emotional expressions. Robopec startup presented the cute PC-Bot Reeti. Reeti can be used as any computer but it uses its cameras to watch you and imitate your expressions or to make sure you are carefully listening to the marketing presentation. Based on URBI, Reeti costs 5000â‚¬, it is currently dedicated to research and companies.
WHEN ROBOTS COPY NATURE
One of the goals in robotics is to copy human kind, nature and the behavior of animals. This is a great challenge and success is important for our future. Bioinspired robots, for example, are a way to optimize energy consumption. Compared to a boat s propeller, for example, a fish needs much less energy to swim. In millions of years of evolution, nature has selected the most efficient solutions for perception, moving things, energy management, communication, and so forth.
RobotSwim offers a biomimicry robotic fish to professionals and individuals. Jessiko is a 20cm fish that is totally autonomous, it can avoid obstacles, swim forward and analyze its environment so that it can swim into a school of fish. Jessiko can share public aquariums with real fishes or play in your personal swimming pool. Inspired by our pets, and inspired by the Sony Aibo, Donghu Robots (formerly DasaRobots) created Genibo. It is an advanced toy for lucky children as well as a serious robot for a research platform. It has embedded vision and voice recognition as well as sound location capabilities and touch sensors. Genibo can imitate our favorite pets. Its shows its satisfaction when you stroke it, follows you, dances and plays.
MEDICAL AND ASSISTIVE ROBOTS
Innorobo provided opportunities to test some of the latest technologies developed for medical training and people who need assistance and company. Robots to train future doctors in pregnancy, labor or physical therapy for babies are already used in hospitals. Odimo markets a video game console for deaf people. TopChair provides a wheelchair that can climb stairs, and there are many more. Robotics will revolutionize the life of old and disabled people, but the issue is to find the right way to influence such people so that they accept and embrace the technology. Optimally, we will make the robot-human interface natural with no training required. And relatives of those assisted will benefit as well.
Ubiquiet solved these problems and gives autonomy to old persons thanks to the Ubibox. In a childlike simplicity, it cares for the health and safety of elderly persons but it also allows them to listen to the radio, to receive messages or make phone calls, deal with pills and manage the daily agenda. Just put the corresponding RFID card on the box, and then the box works for you. That s it! The technology is totally transparent for the user. Relatives can easily program the box via a website. The best ideas are often the simplest.
VIRTUAL PRESENCE AND ANIMATIONS
Hello, my name is Robbixa. I know the three laws of robotics. First, a robot may not injure a human being¦. Robbixa, from ZigZag Production, welcomed visitors who attended conferences; everyone made a stop to listen to the robot! Obviously robots are an excellent way to catch your attention.
Corebell came from Korea with Docent, an advanced mobile robot that specializes in providing museum tours. Using embedded indoor GPS and infrared localization systems, Docent follows the pre-programmed tour that fits your interest and focuses on must-see scenes. It projects videos onto the wall to relate history and give explanations.
I can be everywhere at once! is perhaps the new guideline of Gostai, a very progressive robotics company. Already well established thanks to Urbi, the open source universal platform for robotics, Gostai has just released a range of three telepresence robots. Jazz Connect is dedicated to CEOs who dream to be everywhere at once. Jazz Connect teleports the user where it is and allows him to take part in a meeting, to visit the factory or to welcome a guest. Controlled via a simple web browser; Jazz Security patrols buildings autonomously. It can record videos and store alerts, and send you warnings by SMS if it notices an intruder or any abnormal event.
ROBOTS FOR EVERYONE
Education and research robots were strongly represented at Innorobo. All teachers using robots in class know how fascinating and efficient robots are for education. Robots are an unrivaled way to teach physics and mathematics principles while having fun. They can be used to teach design principles, energy conservation, team work and project management. In other words, it prepares students for their future professional life.
MAJOR ROBOT BRANDS
LEGO, VEX and some other well known robots like Parallax or Festo were demonstrated. But some very interesting new robots made the show. For kids, three Korean companies tried to captivate the Europeans. Roboblock offers fun programmable kits. By connecting plastic blocks together, the user can assemble several wheeled and legged robots. Marorobot created Maro Pava using Meccano like mechanical parts and a LEGO-like controller. Young students or hobbyists can produce countless designs with this.
Finally, OLLO Education from Robotis offered similar advantages. You can create and build many different types of robots with the plastic parts, motors and controllers included in the kit. The OLLO Explorer kit comes with teaching materials: you can learn about acceleration, conserving energy and the forces of nature. Kids can play with robots and work as well on physics principles, an advantage for teachers that will invite these products into the classroom.
iRobiQ is a 60cm wheeled robot for schools from Yujin Robots. Including a large touch display, iRobiQ focuses on content and services for children, teachers and parents. They use the robot as a motivating vehicle to enhance educational software. This is another concept that is extremely popular in Korea.
More advanced, K-Team presented its new K-Junior, a little mobile robot full of technology, including numerous sensors, communication devices such as Bluetooth or infrared and multiple accessories. It comes for an affordable price given its robust features ($899). Designed to be used in high school, as well as for more advanced projects like swarm robotics, K-Junior is the young brother of the very popular Khepera III.
Wany Robotics, a French company located in Montpellier definitely hit the jackpot with more than $150,000 orders in three days. Why? Because the PekeeII and the new MiniPekee are great modular robots, they fit most research requirements for robotic projects. The indoor or all-land mobile base embedding a powerful computing mother board (PC) can be configured with any kind of advanced sensors, actuators and localization systems. Researchers easily work on Mobile robotics issues, 3D perception and objects manipulation thanks to the built-in features of the Pekee robots.
Robots and software are inseparable; a good education robot comes with good programmable software and a mass market robot often comes with a web interface. As lots of robots have similar features, the software environment often makes the difference.
Effidence makes highly reliable autonomous mobile robots dedicated to research, military, industry or surveillance. These robots have extremely powerful calculation software, navigation systems, lasers and high definition cameras. But the most impressive is the real time artificial intelligence software. Effidence doesn t just detect intruders or recognize faces, it also analyzes behavior. In Effidence simulation software, real and virtual worlds are mixed together, each one in essence interacting with the other.
Innorobo visitors saw a new Swiss company, VRep. V-Rep stands for Virtual Robot Experimentation Platform. It allows the user to do fast prototyping and simulation of any kind of robots, from industrial robotics to humanoids and mobile robots. V-Rep has impressive features and runs very fast. Path planning, distributed control, multi-thread simulation, data recording and inverse kinematics are just a few of V-Rep’s capabilities.
4 STARS OF THE EXHIBITION
Everybody knows the Aldebaran Nao, as it travels to all major robotic events in the world. The Nao has great features and looks very cute and the demonstrations are fun all necessary to be a star at a service robots exhibition.
The open source DARwIn-OP (Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence Open Platform) was presented for the first time in Europe by Robotis. Announced in advance and expected, experts as well as newbies rushed to the booth to attend demonstrations and ask about technical features. As a demo program, DARwIn-OP plays soccer, natively following a color ball. Its architecture ensures high performance: a built-in PC (embedding Linux) is the brain and it has vision management (USB camera, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, HDMI, audio features and USB ports). It also controls the subcontroller CM-730 that deals with the 20 powerful actuators, the RX-28M, gyroscope and accelerometer. The default walking speed is 24cm/sec, DARwIn needs only 2.8sec to stand up from ground, when lying face down. This 45cm tall robot, with open source hardware and software, is definitely of great interest. It will draw researchers attention.
One of the most interesting new robots came from Robopolis. Not because of the wheeled robot itself, but because of the concept: Robotics enters the world of video games. It isn t a surprise when you know that Bruno Bonnell, the President of Robopolis, has been the President of Atari Infogrames for 20 years. Sparx, the new edutainment robot, glides into a virtual world thanks to augmented reality. While Sparx is running into a maze, you see it running in a virtual world on your computer, meeting opponents, animated objects or any kind of artificial elements. The goal is to program the robot to meet challenges or to fulfill educational purposes.
Finally, my favourite robot was Cronos; it was so surprising! Cronos needed six years of development by The Robot Studio in collaboration with four European research laboratories. It is a flexible robot, and an accurate copy of the human body. All bones, joints and movements are copied and every muscle is replaced by a motor, a rope and a flexible part (tendon).The result is amazing, when a muscle isn t in use, it is flexible. Thus, motions are very similar to that of human beings; if you shake its hand, you feel like you are greeting your friend. Like a human, Cronos was tired after one day of demonstrations; it needed to get rest and some tendons needed to be renewed every day. Currently Cronos has no application; it was developed for research. But The Robot Studio is now looking for partners and investors. If Cronos could talk, it would certainly say I ll be back.
ROBOT MARKET FOCUS
A market expected to multiply by 30 in the next 10 years!
Robot Market Focus was a conference where distinguished speakers from the U.S., Europe, Korea and Taiwan explained the service robots market and the strategy of their country. 300 CEOs, investors and journalists attended the conference. The next IT revolution, the robolution, is coming and no one wants to miss it.
For many years everyone has said the robotics market is going to explode. Good news for small businesses and investors, according to IFR. The coming ten years will see the blossoming of personal robotics. The worldwide market of 3.3 billion dollars in 2008 should reach 85 billion dollars in 2018 and exceed 100 billion dollars in 2020. That means it will be multiplied by 30 in ten years! A growth of $4.8 billion is expected between 2010 and 2013. Currently, the main actors come from Asia with 50% of the market, then Europe (33%) and, lastly, America (17%).
Five years ago, the same graphs were also presented (see Robot Market Focus) and it was said that market growth was going to be very exciting. How will we do this? What will be required to achieve the performance projected by the graphs? According to Collin Angle of iRobot, whose presentation ended the conference, we must be very careful. He noted that this industry will not be rapidly growing if we simply focus on how cool robots are. The industry will grow if we focus on the people who are served by the robots, their needs and how much people must pay for robots. We cannot solve a $100 problem with a $10,000 robot we have to focus on solving real problems affordably. The key is to understand the value of a problem we are solving and to create disruptive solutions. Disruptive technologies change how we think about the world. Many believe robots are about to do just this.
For those who think robots are cool, I assume we can create very cool disruptive robots.
Robotics Business Development
Words by Philippe Kervizic