DO YOUR SHOPPING IN A DASH
Five Elements CEO, Wendy Roberts has announced that Walmart is evaluating a prototype of a new Five Elements robotic shopping cart called Dash. Dash is much
more than an upgraded version of their Budgee (a sort of robotic carrier that will
follow you around with up to 22 kilograms of stuff by homing in on a small ultrasonic
emitter); it’s a completely new platform, specifically designed for autonomous shopping
There’s a clear value proposition to a robot that can carry groceries, guide
shoppers directly to the items they want, and then handle paying for those items, since
a lot of people hate doing all of those things. Unlike Budgee, however, you don’t have to
worry about the cost of the robot since the store absorbs all of that, spreading it out
over many customers per day.
However, there are some pretty serious safety and navigation challenges that Dash
is going to have to handle, and so far, it’s hard to tell if the Dash prototype is going to
be able to do what it has to do with what looks to be a single medium-range LIDAR
system, a 3D camera, and some ultrasonic sensors. Grocery stores are often chaotic,
with lots of people hurriedly moving all over the place while pushing carts or carrying
stuff. Aisles are frequently blocked, there are things on the floor that have to be
avoided, and often those things are (say) an employee with cases of items restocking
shelves. Yes, this most likely will be unpredictably difficult to get a robot to work well in
this kind of environment. It has to work so well and reliably that inexperienced
customers won’t get frustrated with it, that it won’t take constant minding from store
employees, and that it’ll maintain enough uptime to justify the costs.
Dash is scheduled to enter production in early 2017.
20 SERVO 08.2016
SPRK ON A ROLL
Sphero has introduced SPRK+, which is an update on the SPRK robot ball introduced in 2015 geared towards
robotics education and boosting kid’s interest. Sphero has
also updated its Lightning Lab app that allows students and
teachers to create and share programs.
The two major upgrades on the SPRK+ robot ball
include: 1) A more scratch-resistant outer shell to protect
the toy and still allow the kids to see inside the ball to see
how everything works; and 2) An easier way to sync the ball
to a phone or tablet (compatible with Android, Amazon Fire,
iOS) by simply tapping the two together.
As for the Lightning Lab app, Sphero has added new
programmable beep and boop sounds for another fun
dimension of coding. There’s now also a news feed in the
Lightning Lab app that highlights trending content, comments,
Some activities with Sphero include actual step-by-step
coding with a drag-and-drop interface, while others involve
thinking how to creatively use the Sphero’s motions. The
waterproof Sphero SPRK+ also includes inductive charging,
an accelerometer and gyroscope, programmable senors, and
“Learning is evolving and we are seeing a transition from
consumption to creation in the classroom,” said David
Millage, General Manager of Education at Sphero. “Our
robots are being used to teach everything from art to
physics in a fun and hands-on way that engages students on a
A year ago, Sphero dove head first into the education
market with its Sphero SPRK Edition. Not a bad move
considering the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts one
million more computer-science jobs than students by 2020.
Sphero has already made its way in over 1,000 schools
throughout the US and Canada, reaching more than 300,000
The Sphero SPRK+ robot ball is available for $129.