54 SERVO 01.2014
A robot that can get from one place to another
autonomously would be a very valuable asset in a variety of
businesses. Slowly, but surely, the mobile robot revolution is
Budgee, on the other hand, seems to be reaching
towards the consumer market being relatively inexpensive
at $1,400. According to the company, Budgee is "the
friendly robot who carries your stuff." That's a cool idea.
When you think about it, the basic functions of a mobile
robot are to fetch and carry, so a simple device that just
follows you around carrying your stuff would be useful in a
variety of scenarios (although Budgee has none of the
navigation capabilities of the Lynx).
Another popular kiosk was the Yaskawa Motoman
Yogurt Factory. This is basically a vending machine where
you insert a credit card and the robot makes a yogurt for
you (at RoboBusiness 2013, the yogurts were free!). You
select the flavor, toppings, and souvenir cup.
Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley demoed their Romibo
project which features a pet-like social robot designed for
therapy and research, and promoted their current emphasis
on personal assistive robots.
There were some goodies for the hobbyists like
ROBOTIS and VEX in attendance. It looks like ROBOTIS is
moving into full-size humanoids with their THOR-MANG
(Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot) humanoid and its
Dynamixel servos. VEX is focused on the educational market
using robotics to teach STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics).
I work for Neato Robotics as a technician and they
were there, too. Our robots are consumer products starting
at $400. The Neato XV series also happens to be an
excellent hacking platform with the API available through
USB and a built-in LiDAR. The primary function is, of course,
vacuuming. Our booth featured a navigation pen and a
What stood out for not being at the show were 3D
printers. At Maker Faire, for example, it seemed every other
booth had a 3D printer. Personally, I feel this is a space
where the hobbyists are ahead of the business world. In
fact, I'm of the opinion that the telepresence revolution will
happen at home first. In business, no one wants to seem
"silly" so they resist the idea of virtual telepresence. With the
price of wireless web cameras so cheap, however, how
much could it cost to put wheels on them?
For home use, I could see someone trying out one of
these products to check in on the kids or elderly parents,
for security, and to play with the cat. Once business realizes
how practical this would be, these robots will become an
I'm here to tell you, there's tons of room for innovation,
improvement, and cost reduction in robotics. This is the
same muse that drove the microcomputer revolution of the
‘80s but with eyes, arms, and legs. It's nice to work on a
professional platform, but there's something magic about
the hobbyist's enthusiasm that moves the medium forward!
I believe the robot revolution is going to come from the
home. Consumer electronics still drive technology, but there
are some wonderful things coming from labs that are finally
making an appearance.
This is a great business with great people, and it is just
getting started. SV
Two anecdotes for your amusement: When I was entering
the expo, I encountered a young man coming from the nearby
Server Design Summit who desperately wanted to get into the
RoboBusiness expo. "My conference is so boring!" he exclaimed.
I told him that he was in the wrong business and should get
involved in robotics because it is definitely not boring.
Finally, at the end of the expo on my way out the door, I
observed a young man working on a robot in the corner. His
name was Balaji Lakshmanan and he was working on his
"shopping robot" which he had demoed the day before at the
Pitchfire event. In a genuine small-world moment he recognized
me because he had been following the HomeBrew Robotics Club
mailing list from India for the past five years. Balaji is the CEO of
Geeky, Inc., and iMakeRobots. He made a robot for the
Bollywood movie "Mugammodi," as well as other animatronics,
educational robots, a telepresence robot, and his latest shopping
Balaji and his
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