the best use of robots for the home?
The Ideal Home Robot
Two groups seem to be leading the research on viable
home robots. Willow Garage’s Scott Hassan (who tapped
Steve Cousins as CEO) has made a major splash with the
PR- 2 — the polished upgrade from the PR-1 developed at
nearby Stanford. With this amazing $400K robot at the top
end and their $1,400 TurtleBot at the lower end, WG has
been the force behind the open source Robot Operating
System (ROS). Their applications for a marketable
autonomous home robot are being developed with the
open source ROS and the Microsoft Kinect sensor system.
The much-talked-about open source Qbo ‘home service’
robot shown in Figure 5 from the French/Spanish group,
The Corpora, has incorporated ROS within its Linux
The other group is the Microsoft Robotics Group,
started by early Microsoft employee, Tandy Trower, and a
small group of software engineers and robot experimenters.
The group’s first offering was the Robotics Developer Studio
(RDS) in 2006. There were 40K or so users of RDS, but
interest waned and Tandy resigned in November ‘09 to
form his own company — Hoaloha Robotics — which
launched in 2010 to develop home assistant robots.
Last year, Dr. Stathis Papaefstathiou took over as
General Manager of the MS Robotics Group, and his group
rapidly developed a new enthusiasm for robotic technology.
The RDS4 Beta has recently begun shipping (it’s free) and
has proven to be a hit — especially with the Kinect for
Windows SDK Beta (Kinect SDK) that just released. Not to
rest on their laurels, the MS Robotics Group released the
free download of Kinect Services for RDS that is built on
FIGURE 8. Care-O-Bot assisting a senior.
A Robot In Every Home?
FIGURE 6. Dexter at AnyBots lab.
FIGURE 7. PR- 2 concept from April ‘09.
top of the Kinect SDK. Dr. Papaefstathiou’s enthusiasm
makes it very clear that Microsoft is in robotics for the
As he stated in September, “A few years ago, we
recognized that the dawn of robotics in the consumer
market was coming, and asked ourselves how we could
drive the technologies that will make robotics relevant to
the consumer market. There is very interesting and exciting
work that is taking place in academia, research, community,
and among many start-ups. We didn’t want to replicate
these efforts, so we decided to focus on leveraging
Microsoft’s vast portfolio of technologies and the
brainpower of Microsoft Research to develop capabilities,
scenarios, and experiences that are necessary to push
robotics over the last “hump” to become part of our
Resources are Available for a
New Breed of Home Robot
Home robot designers now have a choice of two
mainstream open source software platforms and a very
affordable intelligent vision system — Kinect. ROS has been
well accepted within the academic community and RDS is
favored within many companies and experimenters. These
two companies will be driving development of viable home
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