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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Service Robotics will drive Industrial Robotics

Service robotics will become an important indstrial sector according to future visions in Japan, Korea and Europe. Bill Gates expects "A robot in every home" anticipate service robots that can assist senior citizens wiith personal care. In the home of the future we will meet home assistants, secretary robots, security assistants and sports assistants. In hospital nursing robots and medical robot for operations will do the jobbs. In industry transportation robots and partner robots will support workers. In the office cleaning robots, office assistants and robotic guides will take the lead. Security robots will be used for reconnaissance, surveillance of buildings/borders, disaster response.

Service robots will be needed in the future to cope with demographic change, with a growing number of of elderly people and a decline of workforce. Stefan Müller, president of International Federation of Robotics, IFR, means that robots are needed to maintain the manufacturing industry and keep pace with an ever-increasing demand for quality. At the same time, people want to live in their own homes for as long as possible in old age, but supportive family structures are increasingly disappearing. The ideal solution according to Stefan Müller would be a "health care robot".

The service robotics market is still small but its future prospects seems to be great. Service robots are highly individual and are used in a wide variety ofapplications: underwater, for cleaning, defense or security, or in the medical sector. According to IFR/UNECE a total of 31,600 service robots for professional use were sold worldwide up to the end of 2005. Between 2006 to 2009, the number of robots sold is forecast to rise by a further 34,000 robots.

In private homes service robots are are used above all as vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers or in the area of hobbies and leisure. Up to the end of 2005, a total of 2.9 million service robots were sold, and this figure is expected to increase to 5.5 million units between 2006 and 2009.

A mass market for household robots needs inexpensive components and high productivity in manufacturing, which means heavy automation and industrial robotics.

Nagoya Robot Museum closed

The Japanese robotics crisis continues. The next victim is the Robot Museum in Nagoya, that was openend a year ago, but will be closed at the end of the month due to lack of visitors according to operator Gyrowalk. Inspite of the popularity of robots in Japan and a ambitous museum concept with a large retail area, event space and robot exhibition gallery the museum could not meet the annual 400.000 expected visitors. The shut down of the Robot Museum in Nagoya is an important market signal that illustrates the vulnerabilty of early adopters but also the need of viable business models.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New backlash for Japanese service robotics

Japanese service robot market in trouble, again. After Sony's termination of its famous robot dog AIBO in 2006, japanese service robot manufacturer Mitsubishi has decided to stop sales of its prestigious partner robot Wakamaru according to a report of Nikkei Weekly. The robot was launched in 2005 with a sales target of about a 100 robots for about $14,300 USD each. But consumers have been disappointed about features and functionality. Its voice-recognition capability was too narrow, its body too big for small Japanese homes and Internet services not good enough.

In June 2007 a rental service was launched to offer the robot for reception and communication tasks. The daily rental fee varied according to the lease length. For a lease of 1-5 days, it's 120,000 yen ($970), while 21-30 days is only 20,000 yen ($160).

The termination of Wakamaru, one of the leading edge domestic robots in Japan, raises many questions about the future of japanese service robotics?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Belgium researcher won the Robotdalen Scientific Award 2007

Three final candidates attended the first prize ceremony of the international Robotdalen Scientific Award, set up by the Swedish robotics cluster Robotdalen. Dr Eric Demeester from Katholieke Universiteit in Belgium won the Robotdalen Scientific Award 2007 with his thesis “User-adapted plan recognition and shared control for wheelchair driver assistance under uncertainty”and received € 20 000.

The jury’s statement on the winning thesis was: A beautifully organized and prepared application describing the candidate's research in human-robot interaction with the crucial goal of "understanding what the user had in mind", excellently implemented in the important domain of intelligent wheelchair mobility. The jury was impressed by the importance of the underlying problem and the relevance of the application domain, the extensibility of the approach, and the integration of theory, modelling, and hands-on implementation.

The two other final candidates are Bram Vanderborght from Virje Universiteit Brussel, Belgium and Mike Stilman from Carnegie Mellon University, USA, who both received honorary mentions and a prize sum of 1 000 euro each.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Korea invests $M 500 in Robot City

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy annonced plans to invest in a Robot City, the first of its kind in the world. Construction of the site should begin in 2009. The city, to be developed as the mecca for the country's robotics industry, will house manufacturers, parts suppliers, research centers, exhibition halls and a stadium where robots can compete in various events.

Ten provincial governments have submitted applications. Cost of constructing the site is estimated at about 500 billion won (about $M 500). The government may provide about 50 billion won for the building of Robot Land.