Ambient IQ

Robotics: Technology Working for You

Robotics will create a disruption in our world similar to that of the personal computer.  This disruption is something I’m looking forward to hearing about at the upcoming VLAB event Collaborative Robots: Living Amongst Us on Thursday, May 29, 2014 (Event video now available here).

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While we are a long way from creating Rosie from The Jetsons, robots are doing more and more complex tasks and I’ll touch on some of those robots here.  First, though, I have to point out that when a robot is doing something for you, whether in industrial or personal contexts, it creates value and falls right in line with my mantra: Don’t work for technology; make technology work for you.  I’m not the only one who thinks like this; Venture capitalists are investing in robotics technologies in many areas including industrial, agricultural, medical, defense, security and personal robotics.

Grishin Robotics, a company dedicated entirely to investment in consumer robotics, invested in Double Robotics which provides an innovative solution for telepresence.  Double Robotics has several legitimate use cases, including use in schools in remote locations as implemented in Alaska’s Kodiak Island Borough School District.

DoubleRobotics

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Lux Capital is another venture capitalist with a mechanical eye for robotics.  Peter Hebert, one of the Lux Capital co-founders, will participate in the VLAB panel.  Lux Capital invested in robotics company CyPhy Works who claims “The very best way to empower people with robotic technologies is to make them accessible, reliable, and practical.” I couldn’t agree more!  CyPhy Works has created two robots, EASE, a hovering robot used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and PARC, a self-flying robot with secure communication and high definition reconnaissance video capabilities.

While myself, a few loyal VLAB fans, some venture capitalists and all entrepreneurs whose dreams were enriched by The Jetsons have an interest in robotics, there is ongoing debate about whether robotics is affecting the labor markets.  Most of this comes from incorrectly linking the lackluster jobs market with improvements in manufacturing.  You can read more about this issue here.

Politics and economics aside, robots are doing great things and some of them are actually getting cute about it.

AldebaranNAO

 

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Aldebaran created a friendly little robot called NAO who recognizes and communicates with you while moving around your home.  If you knock NAO over, don’t worry NAO can stand back up but watch out as you might be chided for not being careful!  NAO also has a big brother, Romeo developed by Alderbaran.

While these robots may look like toys, they can actually perform meaningful services for people, especially the disabled.  Other robotics companies are also creating robots that serve a real purpose.  Knightscope, whose robot I’ve seen rolling around the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, CA, aims to combine autonomous robots, predictive analytics and community engagement to reduce crime.   

Much of the development in robotics is being further enabled by standards and development frameworks.  One example is ROS, the open source Robot Operating System originally developed by the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and now under stewardship of the Open Source Robotics Foundation.

The number of robots using ROS is increasing and includes the UBR-1 created by Unbounded Robotics, a company with the mission to develop robots that are both advanced and affordable for robotics researchers.  UBR-1 is a one-armed robot cram packed with cameras, microphones, and sensors that are ROS integrated.  Melonee Wise, CEO and founder of Unbounded Robotics, will participate in the upcoming Robotics 2.o VLAB event.

The UBR-1 is one of many robots capable of doing amazing things.  Honda’s Asimo can run, jump and hop on one foot as well as open a thermos, pour a cup of juice and serve it.  Asimo even kicked a soccer ball around with US President Barak Obama.

The sporting skills of robots do not stop with soccer.  The Swiss Federal Institute Of Technology has developed a robot with an arm that can catch objects with different shapes and trajectories by reacting in less than five hundredths of a second.  I can’t even do that consistently!

I will leave to your imaginations whether or not robotic sports teams will exist in the future and simply say the future of robotics is closer than most people understand.  After kicking around the soccer ball, Asimo told President Obama, “I keep training every day so that some day in the future I can help people in their home.”  Robots lending a hand in the home sounds like technology working for you.

Ambient IQ : Intelligence Anywhere & Everywhere

Can things around us really be intelligent?  Can they learn our habits and make our lives easier by doing things automatically for us?  Can the information be turned into actionable insight that if followed will save people time and money?  The answer is a conditional yes.

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The VLAB Ambient IQ event March 18, 2014 brought together entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the field of ambient intelligence.  These people work to solve challenging problems associated with understanding our behavior within our environment.  They work to understand how to make decisions with regards to multiple facets of our lives based on intelligence created by aggregating information from multiple sensors.  This is no easy task.

Some of the solutions that were discussed are absolutely intriguing.  I’m going to touch on a few of them, which will lay a strong argument to answer a strong yes to the questions above.  But don’t worry, I’ll wrap it up with a good explanation for my conditional yes position.

First, let’s take a look at Automatic which produces a device that connects your car and smart phone.  Automatic allows you to understand how you are driving and make better driving decisions that improve fuel economy.  It helps you keep your vehicle well maintained.  It remembers where you parked.  It even notifies authorities if the vehicle is involved in a collision.  I want to try it out.

Electric Imp allows you to connect many devices to the internet via a cloud service and hardware platform.  Turning on or off power to devices via a mobile phone and knowing how many eggs are in the fridge are some of the things that become possible with Imp-enabled devices.  The applications of a platform such as this are essentially limitless, particularly because the platform serves as an enabler.  For example, the platform can enable a connection between Automatic and an Imp-connected power strip.  You drive home at night and your Automatic-connected car lets your Electric Imp connected lamp know to turn on the light in the dark living room.  Electric Imp is promising technology that can make life easier.

The conditional yes above, though, comes because the technology is not easy enough to use yet.  Sure there are many cool things that ambient IQ can become, but the solutions are not fully integrated and they are not easy for the average consumer to use.  Knowing ahead of time that Automatic would be at the event, I decided to test out the Bluetooth connection from my iPhone to the car I purchased last month.  I ran into trouble because while whoever I called with the car could hear me, I could not hear them.  I gave up troubleshooting after a few minutes because of other obligations plus I know that between now and the time I figure it out, my iPhone has other solutions that enable conversation while in motion.

It would take a person hours and a great deal of expertise and determination to connect a Wally home wireless sensor network, FitBit fitness monitor, Nest thermostat, WeMo switch, Lockitron locks, Automatic enabled car, Hiku shopping scanner and Iro sprinkler system.  Along the way they would run into bumps similar to my Bluetooth phone issue.  But, early adopters are persistent and will pave the way for people to benefit from these technologies in the future.  If you think this is a far-fetched idea, think back a decade to the process of setting up a home computer network.  It was a challenge and nearly impossible for the average Joe.  Now, however, even the computer illiterate can go to Fry’s, pick up a wireless router, and have the internet connected to their wireless devices in a matter of minutes.  The user interfaces are simpler.  The instructions are clearer (with nice pictures).  The process is easier for the consumer.

Over the next decade it is obvious that advances will be made with connected devices and that ambient IQ will increase.  These will help change my conditional yes to a yes.  Solutions that are easier for the consumer will make my conditional yes an absolute yes.  I would love to try to connect every internet enabled device on the market and work to make the process easy for the user, the consumer, the person, the friend or the family member who benefits when their life is just a little bit easier.

Hey, Mr. Blogger, What Kind of Technology Do You Like?

My last conversation last night among yet another meeting of Silicon Valley technologist minds began with this question, “Hey, Mr. Blogger, What Kind of Technology Do You Like?”

The answer: Any advancement in technology that makes life easier. I am the guy who said, “Don’t work for technology; make technology work for you.”

If you take a look at the topics I touched on last night, you’ll understand that the kinds of technology that can do this encompass a wide range.  Here is a peek at some of the things I talked with people about yesterday:

In the Bathroom: Smart Toilets, Composting Toilets, Electronic Toilets, Smart Toothbrushes

In the Car: Vehicle Safety, Microphone Sensors (Hands-free cell phone conversations in a convertible at over 140 mph with the top down), Technology solving traffic problems, Finding your parked car

In Outer Space: Searching for extraterrestrial life

In Recognition: Voice Recognition, Face Recognition, Pet/Animal Recognition (which is harder than human facial recognition because of the millions of hairs involved)

In Robotics: Factory automation, precision and cost savings, In-home/personal robotics

In Sensors: Reduced costs, millions of uses to make smart everything

In Intelligence: Artificial Intelligence, Ambient IQ, Derivative Intelligence, Intelligent Recruiting and your smart phone as a gateway to all the other things listed here and more…

There were some wild ideas out there. For innovation and idea generation you have to let your mind go to the extremes and then back off a little bit to settle on ideas that can go somewhere. The world has been changed by dreamers who think of the extreme, who mull it over in their minds, who take it inch by inch out to the far reaches, out to dreams which eventually become reality.  I like all technology that works for you and in the process I enjoy learning about all proposed technology innovations, regardless of how extreme.  Eventually ambitious applications of futuristic technologies may be working for you.