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Monday, October 29, 2007

World Robotics 2007

The IFR Statistical Department, hosted by VDMA Robotics and Automation in Frankfurt, has published its 2007 World Robotics survey. The survey comprises statistics, market analysis, prognoses and case studies. After the record numbers recorded in 2005, sales of industrial robots were 11% lower in 2006, at 112,200 units. Nevertheless, this was the second highest result ever recorded. Although the automotive and the electrical/electronics industries, which in 2005 were still the main engines of the rapid growth that had been experienced, reduced their investment in robotics by 17% and 34% respectively, all other industrial sectors increased robot purchases by 25%.

Worldwide there are now over 951,000 robots in operation. Almost 50% of these are in Asia, a third in Europe, and 16% in North America.

Up to the end of 2006 about 40,000 service robots for professional use were installed worldwide. With more than 9,000 units the service robots in defense, rescue and security applications accounted for the highest share of the total number of service robots for professional use installed up to the end of 2006.

The unmanned aerial and ground-based vehicles for military use are the most established professional robots. Thereafter follow milking robots, underwater systems, pool cleaning robots, demolition systems for the construction industry, robot assisted surgery and mobile platform for general use.

Turning to the projections for the period 2007-2010, the stock of service robots for professional use is forecast to increase by some 35,500 units. Application areas with strong growth are military applications, field robots, cleaning robots, medical robots and mobile robot platforms for multiple use.

About 3.5 million service robots for personnel/domestic use were sold up to 2006. So far, service robots for personal and domestic use are mainly in the areas of domestic (household) robots, which include vacuum cleaning and lawn-mowing robots, and entertainment and leisure robots, including toy robots, hobby systems and education and training robots.

Robots for handicap assistance have not yet taken off as could be expected given their potential in regard to both the supposable need and the existing technological level of the equipment. In a longer perspective, say in the next 10 years, and taking into account demographic shifts and advances in technology, assistive robots for disabled and handicapped persons are certain to be a key area for service robots.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Great Robot Exhibition

Japan continues to promote robotics with a great retrospective on Japanese robot culture at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. The exhibiton entitled "Dai Robotto Haku" (The Great Robot Exhibition) shows karakuri, anime and many of the best Japanese robots out there today. Highlights include a wall of one hundred "Master Grade" Gundam plastic models, an original 19th-century karakuri archer doll by Tanaka Hisashige and a new stage show by Honda's Asimo.

After the closure of the Robot Museum in Nagoya this fall, sales stop of consumer robots like Aibo and Wakamaru has raised questions about the state of Japanese robotics. Despite huge national robotics research program and impressing marketing events to promote next generation robotics the practical market outcome is still disappointing. Retrospective praising of Japanese robotics may enjoy historians, robot fans and developers of the past, but will it also stimulate a debate about market failiures and business blind spots?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Toyota’s new guide robot TPR-Robina

Toyota’s new guide robot TPR-Robina, released on August 22, has improved ability to avoid obstacles and operate autonomously, while agile, jointed fingers enable the robot to grasp writing utensils and sign autographs. Further, in addition to being able to communicate using words and gestures, the 60-kg, 1.2-meter tall robot has an image recognition system that allows it to read visitors’ name tags so that it can tailor its directions accordingly. TPR-Robina is working as a receptionist and guide at the Toyota Kaikan Exhibition Hall.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Asimo robots invade Germany

The University of Bielefeld has opened up a new research Institute for cognition and robotics (CoR Lab). Interdisciplinary research groups at the lab will be working on the development of robots with cognitive and social abilities that will make them suitable assistants for people in everyday life.
As a partner of the lab, Honda of Japan has provided researchers in Germany with two humanoid Asimo robots complete with software. The CoR Lab is thus the first university in Europe that can play around with Honda's high-tech robots for research.
The CoR Lab gets part of its funding from the Ministry of Innovation, Science, Research, and Technology in the German state of North Rhine/Westphalia, which has provided 1.1 million euros for the establishment of the Institute. The lab will mainly be focusing on research in the fields of artificial perception, computer site, and neural motion control.