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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Generation S - Smart technology for independent and assisted living

In the future millions of elderly people will need support for independing living. Limeted public resources and shortage of care professionals will drive the development of new care solutions based on mobile and assistive robotics. Check out the presentation below for some new and emerging solutions. Assistive robotics


View more PowerPoint from Wolfgang Heller

Can Robots Inspire Us To Be Better Humans?

Ken Goldberg, an inventor working at the intersection of art, robotics, and social media, at UC Berkeley, teaches and supervises research in Robotics, Automation, and New Media. In his TEDxBerkeley talks he presents projects that have inspired him to become a better human:  Robotics has learned him to question assumptions, when in doubt to improvise, when your path is blocked, pivot and to practice, practice, practice.
On of his first projects was Telegarden, a robotic art installation, that created a physical garden as an environment to stage social interaction and community in virtual space. It was installed in 1995 at the Ars Electronics Center in Linz, Austria and was operated by users from all over the world in almost 9 years.
Another project was the "Tele-Actor" a skilled human with cameras and microphones connected to a wireless digital network. Live video and audio was broadcasted to participants via the Internet or interactive television. Participants not only viewed, but interacted with each other and with the Tele-Actor by voting on what to do next. The "Spatial Dynamic Voting" (SDV) interface incorporated group dynamics into a variety of online experiences. Check out his talk below.

iRobot Reorganized for Innovation and Growth

iRobot Corp. has announced a strategic realignment of the company into three newly formed business units focused on home robots, military robots and emerging technologies. Led by Jeffrey Beck as chief operating officer (COO), the three business units will advance iRobot's long-term growth strategy as a technology leader in remote presence and automated home maintenance solutions.
Joe Dyer, who most recently held the position of COO, has been named chief strategy officer (CSO). As CSO, Dyer will lead strategic business development, mergers and acquisitions, research and advanced technology development. Dyer and Jeff Beck will report directly to CEO Colin Angle.

The Home Robots Business Unit will be led by Marc Dinee, who has been with iRobot for two years, most recently as vice president of sales and marketing for EMEA and APAC, regions where the company has experienced significant growth.
The Military Robots Business Unit will be led by Tim Trainer as interim general manager. Trainer has been with iRobot for three years, serving most recently as vice president of operations for the Government and Industrial Robots division, where he was responsible for all manufacturing, contracting and program management.

The new Emerging Technologies Business Unit will be led by existing leadership until a unit leader is appointed.
With the new organisation iRobot is focusing on new growth opportunities by promoting the iRobot Ava  mobile robotics platform developed to help robot designers, application developers and market innovation specialists expedite the pursuit of practical, affordable mobile robotic solutions. New market opportunities for iRobot Ava in industries including healthcare, retail and security present unique opportunities. To this point, the company recently announced a $6 million investment and expanded partnership with InTouch Health, a leading remote presence telemedicine solution provider. Existing leadership will be responsible for these industry pursuits until a unit leader is appointed.

Robots are back inside Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Robonable just uploaded a video showing the Japanese robot Quince nr 2 operating inside the radiation-contaminated Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.  Three months after an older version got stuck inside the No. 2 reactor building two new robots have been developed by Future Robotics Technology Center at Chiba Institute of Technology. The new robots No. 2 and No. 3 are equipped with cameras, thermometers and hygrometers. At the request of Tokyo Electric Power Co., robot No.2 was also outfitted with a dust sampler to collect radioactive dust or ultrafine particles to ensure that workers at the plant are not overexposed. Robot No. 3 has also a 3-D scanner.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Robots in the Smart Home


South Korean communications provider KT has introduced the Kibot 2 robot at Learning Without Frontiers 2012, a global education conference held in London, UK. The Kibot 2 enables presch oolers and elementary school kids to enjoy diverse education content and multimedia functions. Kibot 2 responds to voice and touch instructions. KT developed the robot, which runs on Android, with I-River. The Kibot 2 is priced at KRW 681,000 and the service fee starts at KRW 15,000 per month. The robot can be connected to Olleh internet and can also be used as a remote monitoring device and video conferencing device. Kibot 2 is an updated version of the first Kibot, which won the 2011 Presidential Award for robots, and one of KT’s ambitious projects designed to create a completely automated smart home.

Ericsson Robotics Vision 2012

Ericsson has teamed up with LEGO Mindstorm in Hall 6 at The Social Web of Things booth at MWC 2012 in Barcelona to demonstrate a future robotic scenario. Check out the video below.

Home Robot Task Management


Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a multi-layered sketching interface for robot housework assignment and management. The
Roboshop is an interface that allows the user to give, arrange, and manage instruction for home robots
As various home robots come into homes, the need for efficient robot task management tools is arising. Current tools are designed for controlling individual robots independently, so they are not ideally suitable for assigning coordinated action among multiple robots. To address this problem, the researchers have developed a management tool for home robots with a graphical editing interface. The user assigns instructions by selecting a tool from a toolbox and sketching on a bird's-eye view of the environment. Layering supports the management of multiple tasks in the same room. Layered graphical representation gives a quick overview of and access to rich information tied to the physical environment.

RoboTouch

Japanese researchers have developed a augmented reality based interface for remotely controlling a robot from a third-person view, which is called “TouchMe”.  The system allows the user to manipulate each part of the robot by directly touching it on a view of the world as seen by a camera looking at the robot from a third-person view. The system provides intuitive operation, and the user can use our system with minimal user training.

RoboJockey

RoboJockey is a new  interface for real-time, simultaneous, and continuous creation of robot actions for everyone. Coordinating robot actions, such as dancing, similar to a "disc jockey" or "video jockey" who selects and plays recorded music or video for an audience, is giving people a new entertainment experience with robots. The system enables a user to choreograph a robot to dance using a simple visual language. RoboJockey consists of a multi-touch tabletop interface for multi-user collaboration. Every icon on the interface is circular and can be operated from all positions around the tabletop interface. RoboJockey supports two types of robots, a simple mobile robot and a humanoid robot. Users can coordinate the mobile robot’s actions with a combination of back, forward, and rotating movements, and the humanoid robot’s actions with a combination of arm and leg movements. Every action is automatically performed to background music.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

iRobot Patent Watch


iRobot Packbot 510

U.S. company iRobot Corp. has received a patent for a system in which a robot autonomously returns to its operator in a failed wireless communications scenario. The patent for its "retrotraverse" technology (U.S. Patent No. 8,108,092) is the 100th U.S. patent the company has received for its robotic technologies. The retrotraverse technology patented is used with the company's 510 PackBot with User Assist Package, which is employed by the military.

iRobot's patent portfolio is increasingly cross-platform, an 'economic moat' that lends sustained competitive advantage across product lines, including the company’s home robots. Specifically, the iRobot Roomba® vacuum cleaning robot is covered by more than 30 U.S. patents. iRobot also holds 108 foreign patents and continues to pursue more than 250 patent applications pending worldwide.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Robots in the Kitchen

According to a market survey conducted by Persuadable Research Corporation in January 2012 68% of participants think domestic robots would be useful. Furthermore, the survey indicated that nearly half of that 68% would even take out a loan to buy one in the future! Participants of the survey stated that help moving heavy objects was at the top of the list. Other robot-worthy tasks included  providing home security,  cleaning windows, washing floors and dishes and doing laundry. Some envisioned a domestic bot a bit more like a personal assistant; something to remind them about errands and meetings.
According to the survey, a robot’s voice should be rather neutral, not sounding either too masculine or feminine; they should  be round and colourful as opposed to metallic and square and there was also interest in allowing for a certain degree of personal design for domestic robots, similar to how select a certain model of a car.
Robots in the Kitchen 
Roboticists all over the world are working hard to develop reliable and affordable robotic companions that might take over household tasks in the future. Some of the most promising projects focus on kitchen tasks including object identification and manipulation, gripping, navigation and communication. 
Robots making Pancakes
In October 2010 two robots from the Munich-based cluster of excellence CoTeSys (Cognition for Technical Systems) demonstrated their capabilities in a demo kitchen. James, a PR2 Beta Program robot, opened and closed cupboards and drawers, removed the pancake mix from the refrigerator, and handed it over to TUM Rosie, a robot deployed in the Assistive Kitchen environment of the Intelligent Autonomous Systems Group at the Technical University Munich, TUM.  Rosie cooked and fliped the pancakes, and then delivered them back to James. Check out the video below. 
Robotic Body Thinking
In 2010 researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) demonstrated a robot called ARMAR-III that uses its body to learn how to think. The robot was developed for the PACO-PLUS research project and was able to learn how to interact with objects by touching them without needing to rely on a massive database of instructions for every object it might encounter. The video presentation below shows a fully integrated and autonomous humanoid robot performing complex manipulation and grasping tasks in a kitchen environment. 


At the International Next-Generation Robot Fair 2008 in Osaka the two-armed robot Motoman SDA10 robot has demonstrated its cooking abilities. It even could take orders from customers using speech recognition technology and then create the dish using standard kitchen utensils. It even fliped the pancake-like dish.
In 2007 Waseda University of Tokyo demonstrated the result of four years of hard work using cutting edge technology gathered from more than 40 Robotics and Information Technology professors at the University of Tokyo, the multi-tasking maid robot named Twendy-One. The robot has capabilities to support making breakfast with kitchen tools; picking up a loaf of bread using a tong grasped with a multi-fingered hand and placing it onto a plate.


Robots in the Warehouse

U.S. e-commerce sales in 2011 accounted for 4.6 percent of total sales or estimated at $194.3 billion, an increase of 16.1 percent (±1.6%) from 2010. Many retail companies are now pressing ahead to stay competitive in the growing e-commerce business by placing robots into the warehouse. Safety advances make it possible for companies that include Crate & Barrel, Diapers.com, and Gap (GPS) to use robots such as those from Kiva Systems in warehouses to fulfill orders faster. Kiva's robots incorporate industrial shelves on wheels, which a worker can summon to a convenient point in a warehouse. Online retailer Diapers.com employs more than 350 of the robots in three warehouses, and is adding "hundreds per month. Retailer Crate & Barrel has purchased Kiva robots to be installed in its Tracy (Calif.) distribution center. One reason Crate & Barrel and Diapers.com decided to use Kiva robots is that the robots can work in the dark, reducing carbon emissions and saving money on air-conditioning and lighting.
Mick Mountz revolutionized the way warehouses pack and ship their inventory by using robots, mobile shelving, and algorithms based on complexity theory.  What used to take hours of tedious tasks is transformed into fun, 15-minute, click-to-ship order processing. Mick Mountz revolutionized the way warehouses pack and ship their inventory by using robots, mobile shelving, and algorithms based on complexity theory. Check out the video talk below.



According to Fast Company Kiva became profitable in 2011 after it added a record 24 customers, including Toys "R" Us and Timberland, more than doubling revenue for the second year in a row.  Kiva won’t release revenue figures, but a typical client order averages $4 million to $6 million.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Robot in Your Fitting Room

Estonian Fits.me the leading provider of virtual fitting rooms and associated technologies to the fashion e-commerce industry, closed a Series A round of financing led by London-based Entrepreneurs Fund. The seven figure investment enables Fits.me to accelerate the delivery of virtual fitting room services as well as to provide additional sales and marketing resources to fuel Fits.me’s growth.
Clothing has the largest sales value of all eCommerce categories. Clothing sold by E-Commerce is estimated at $31bn in the US alone. However, clothing is the most difficult category for online sales - as only 7% of clothing is sold online. In comparison, 50% of computers and 61% of books are sold online. The lack of a fitting room is the biggest problem for apparel eCommerce.
Fits.me has brought together competences from diverse fields ranging from apparel design and anthropometrics to IT, robotics and engineering. The technology has been developed by Tartu University – Laboratory of Intelligent Materials and Systems (Estonia), Tallinn Technical University – Centre of Biorobotics (Estonia) and Human Solutions GmbH – the leading provider of anthropometrical data (Germany). Virtual Fitting Room lets you see which size fits you best when shopping for clothes online.
Check out the video below for more information.

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Jamming Gripper Shots

Researchers at the Cornell Creative Machines lab and the Heinrich Jaeger Lab at the University of Chicago have developed a simple passive universal gripper, consisting of a mass of granular material encased in an elastic membrane. Using a combination of positive and negative pressure, the gripper can rapidly grip and release a wide range of objects that are typically challenging for universal grippers, such as flat objects, soft objects, or objects with complex geometries. The gripper passively conforms to the shape of a target object, then vacuum hardens to grip it rigidly, later utilizing positive pressure to reverse this transition -- releasing the object and returning to a deformable state. By using both positive and negative pressure, the researchers can demonstrate performance increases of up to 85% in reliability, 25% in error tolerance, and the added capability to shoot objects by fast ejection. In addition, multiple objects are gripped and placed at once while maintaining their relative distance and orientation.
Check out the video below demonstrating the new shooting capabilities of a universal jamming gripper that also utilizes positive pressure.

(Video Credit: Cornell CCSL) 

Robonaut's First Handshake in Space

U.S. humanoid Robonaut 2 completed his first handshake in space with International Space Station Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank on February 16, 2012.
Robotnaut 2 launched up to the ISS on February 24th, 2011, fulfilling a 15 year dream to put a humanoid robot into space. Robonaut has been assembled over the past year on the ISS and has now completed its systems checks. Robonaut is designed to perform maintenance tasks aboard the space station to free up the Astronauts for more important research tasks. Check out the video below.

(Image Credit: NASA TV)
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iRobot in Search of New G&I Head


Robert (Knob) Moses, head of Government and Industrial Robots division is leaving iRobot to pursue other interests, the company announced on Feb 16.  The company has named Tim Trainer as interim general manager of its Government and Industrial Robots division.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remote Pet Care - The Multi-Billion $ Business


“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” —      Mahatma Gandhi

According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 62% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 72.9 millions homes.  There are about 86 million cats and 78 million dogs owned in the U.S.
The $50 Billion Pet Market
In 2011 Americans spend an astonishing $50 billion on their furry friends.  Food: $19.53 billion, supplies/OTC Medicine $11.4 billion, Vet Care $14.11 billion, live animal purchases $2.15 billion and Pet Services: grooming & boarding: $3.65 billion
High-tech products including computerized identification tags, digital aquarium kits, automatic doors and feeders, enhanced reptile terrarium lighting systems and touch-activated toys help pet-owners take care of companion animals with ease and precision.
Remote Pet Care Services
In the connected world of the future pets might become the new stars for remote pet care service. The pioneer is Jordan Correa, a developer at Micorsoft’s robotics division, who has developed a telepresence robot that he  uses to interact with his dog Darwin at home. The robot called DarwinBot, is based on a Parallax EDDIE chasis and programmed with the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 4. The bot has several tools built in, such as a treat dispenser, a ball-launching ballista, a ball-retrieving robotic arm, and speakers so Darwin can hear his master’s voice. Using the onboard slate PC, Skype, and a pan-and-tilt webcam, Correa can watch and talk to his dog, can feed it and manipulate a ball. The bot also packs a Kinect camera system on top for obstacle avoidance and a downward facing webcam for ball retrieval. The whole thing is controlled over the Internet with an XBox 360 controller. Check out the video below.







Tuesday, February 14, 2012

iRobot Rethinking Business Model

The market has been disappointed about iRobot's earnings outlook for 2012 and send the stock down 33 percent. (1) A chock for many investors and robot fans, who dreamed of the robotics renaissance, American recovery and all-time-high. iRobot, founded in 1990 as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT), went public in 2005 and has since then grown into a $465 million global company. With more than 7 million cleaning robots shipped all over the world the company is the market leader in home robotics.
In the last years iRobot has become more and more dependent of the home robot sales that account now  for 70% of total revenue. In 2011 iRobot has shipped 1.371 million home robots with an average gross selling price of $207. International sales of home robots has increased with 28 percent, while domestic sales only grew 6 percent. This indicates that it is harder to attract US consumers without a major upgrade or innovation of smarter navigation and cleaning technology for years. iRobot's technology is no longer state-of-the-art compared with competitors and also the product design seems old fashioned.
New platforms and Acquisition 
In 2011 iRobot unveiled plans to expand into new market segments with its new AVA mobile platform in partnership with Intouch Health, a $ 20 million remote telemedicin robotics business with installations at about 400 hospitals. Februari 1, 2012 iRobot announced the investment of $ 6 million in Intouch Health to build a stronger position in the expanding telepresence robotics market. A takeover of Intouch Health in the future might be a logical step in iRobots growth strategy.




(1) Only days before the Q4 and 2011 operating results report company insiders including CEO,  CFO and division chiefs sold 75.000 shares at trade prices $31.81-$37.99, making a profit between 20-33 percent.




Wednesday, February 08, 2012

iRobot Revenue 2011 +16%


iRobot Corp.(NASDAQ: IRBT), a leader in delivering robotic technology-based solutions, has announced its fourth-quarter and full year 2011 financial results.  Revenue for the fourth quarter of 2011 increased 15 percent to $130.8 million, compared with $114.0 million for the same quarter one year ago. Revenue for the full year 2011 increased 16 percent to $465.5 million from $401.0 million for the full year 2010.
Net income in the fourth quarter of 2011 was $10.6 million, compared with $7.0 million in the fourth quarter of 2010. Net income for the full year 2011 was $40.2 million, compared with $25.5 million for the same period in 2010.
Strong demand in overseas markets drove a 21 percent year-over-year increase in full-year home robot revenue. International home robot revenue of $196 million comprised 70 percent of total home robot 2011 revenue.
Government & industrial robot revenue grew 9 percent in 2011, driven by shipments of Small Unmanned Ground Vehicles and spares.
Outlook 2012
The company issued new guidance, saying it expects the government side of its business to take a 20 percent hit in 2012, due to a combination of reduced defense budget growth, and a slowing of new projects during an election year. iRobot expects its revenues to shift from a breakdown of 40 percent government and industrial and 60 percent consumer, to 30 percent government and industrial and 70 percent consumer.
iRobots Black Thursday
IRobot Corp.’s stock lost a third of its value on Thursday February 9, after the company announced it would likely lose a significant chunk of its revenue from military contracts in the current year, due to constrained Department of Defense budgets.
iRobot's earlier announcement to move robotics from the battlefields into hospitals by investing 6 million into a minority share in Intouch Health has not convinced the market. 


iRobot Red Zone Decline



Compared with the medical robotics stock Intuitive Surgical (ISRG), which increases in the last 10 years  with 2650%, iRobot has declined with 30 % since being traded on the NASDAQ in November 2005.




Thursday, February 02, 2012

PARO too large and heavy for elderly Swedes

A Swedish field study examined how elderly and cognitively disabled people used and experienced a social companion robot. The aim was to through observations see how qualities of interaction could activate different forms of behavior. The results show that motion, sound and the eyes together created communicative and emotional changes for users who felt joy and were willing to share the activity with others. The robot stimulated to some extent users to create their own imaginative experiences but often failed to involve user or group for a long time and was also considered too large and heavy to handle.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

iRobot invades Hospitals with "AVA InTouch"

From the battlefield to the hospital, that´s the new post-war strategy of iRobot. The company intensifies its invasion of the healthcare market by investing $ 6 million in InTouch Health, which represents a minority position in the company.

iRobot Healthcare Strategy
In 2009 iRobot established a healthcare business unit, aimed at exploring the potential of robotics as an assistive technology.

In January 2011 the new iRobot AVA platform was presented first time at CES as "a breakthrough mobile robotics platform developed to help robot designers, application developers and market innovation specialists expedite the pursuit of practical, affordable mobile robotic solutions." Healthcare was announces as one potential application market.
In July 2011 iRobot and InTouch Health signed a joint development and licensing agreement to explore potential opportunities for healthcare applications on iRobot platforms such as the iRobot Ava mobile robotics platform. The agreement included extensive cross-licensing of the companies’ patent portfolios, giving the collaboration a formidable patent position.


InTouch Health
Santa Barbara-based InTouch Health, founded in 2002,  develops, manufactures, and markets a FDA-cleared  remote presence robotic system, a wireless, mobile robot featuring a two-way video and audio computer system that allows physicians to monitor and interact with patients remotely. The company has grown fast from $4,6 million revenues in 2007 to $20,9 million in 2010, now  employing about 115 people.
InTouch Health has more than 400 hospital locations on six continents enrolled in its Remote Presence telemedicine network for the delivery of telemedicine services such as stroke, critical care, cardiology, trauma, pediatrics, neonatology, psychiatry, language translation, and clinical education and surgical/procedure mentoring.
According to a study published in The American Journal (2011) 202, 843– 847 of Surgery robotic telepresence was viewed positively by patients and their families in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU). 

Telepresence Competitor Dispute 
In October 2007 InTouch Technologies sued HeadThere over the alleged patent infringement. In April 2009 InTouch Technologies settled a legal dispute with HeadThere Inc. over the firm's patents. According to InTouch Technologies, HeadThere has agreed to cease its alleged infringing activities--including promotion and sale of its products in the US--and both companies will release each other from liability related to the litigation. InTouch has also granted HeadThere a limited license to its certain U.S. patents, for products to be sold outside the United States. Financial details of the settlement were not released. HeadThere was developing a video conferencing robot targeted at the health care industry, but moved to Europe and started a new company in Sweden 2008 called Giraff Technologies AB.  The company employs 2 people and revenues FY 2011 was 2,6 million SEK.