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).
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.
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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.
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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.