Big in Japan

Just because technology allows you to create ideas, that may not necessarily mean you should pursue them. The Telerebotics lab from Yamagata University in Japan, has been doing some interesting work, like haptic interfaces and humanoid robots. Recently they unveiled a unique device, the MH-2 (Miniature Humanoid). This is a wearable telepresence robot that lives on your shoulder and mimicks the body language and actions of the user. If you're a bit confused, think parrot and a pirate, but the parrot might be easier to get away with. Stock image Photo source Yamagata University With approximately 20 DOF, the robot does a fairly good job mimicking hand actions, including realistic breathing. The creators also hope to make a final version complete with artificial skin and hair, with suitable clothing. The pack that is required to contain the motors, batteries, and controllers, I’m would guess is nearly 20 lbs. Not a light burden, but sometimes early adoption can be a little painful. To be clear, this is not headed into production anytime soon and is definitely more of a research project in man-machine interaction. Sometimes you do need tp push the edge just to see where it actually is. In my opinion, this design has crossed that threshold.

A Short Musical Interlude

If the Superbowl halftime show wasn't enough for you, let me present you with an alternative. Compressorhead, the world heaviest metal band. Have ever wondered what a drummer could play if they had 4 arms? What about a guitarist with 78 fingers? If this cover wasn't quite to your liking, you can always request one on their website CompressorHead. Personally I'm still waiting on a Rush cover of Tom Sawyer, but it won't be long.

Swivl and Action!

Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive telepresence device or you’re looking for a cameraman that doesn’t have much to say, Swivl is a great option. You can think of it as an interactive tripod for your iPhone that allows you to get more out of Facetime and Skype. Now you can actually move around the room and not be restricted to the frame to maintain a conversation. The system comes with two parts, the base and the pendant. Wearing the pendant users can roam around, while Swivl keeps the subject centered in the frame. The quality is quite good and produces better, more engaging video than just a simple stationary shot. You can also minimize editing later on, by not having to cut, setup another shot, and start up again.

Meet your Avatar

One of the few companies we haven’t reported on yet is Robotex. They introduced their telepresence robot offering, Avatar Home and Security, at CES 2013. Robotex knows how to make a solid mobile base for a platform and this entry into the consumer market will potentially lead to some interesting products in the future. Earlier products by Robotex were almost strictly for law enforcement. With the introduction of Avatar they have entered the home security market, allowing you to patrol your home from afar. Two models, the standard and the stairclimber. With the price starting at $299 + service , this will likely be a popular product for homeowners wanting to give their homes some added protection. There is also an outright purchase option available for $499. You’ll want to read to read the details to make sure you’re getting what you want. The Avatar is currently only available for the iPod or iPad, however you can control through any iOS device or PC/Mac. We’re told that an Android version is coming out later this year. Also an unknown is the runtime and recharging. This Avatar Base Robot is designed to be open source both hardware and software, so it will only be a matter of months before we see some interesting uses for it.

Getting Perspective

I thought I would make a post to provide some perspective. Occasionally I come across articles, blogs or books, that vilify technology. A recent blog post I read highlighted this impression when referring to email. According to experts like Steven Johnson author of Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life: “When we interact with other humans via communication channels that are stripped of facial expressions and gestures and laughter, we are unwittingly simulating the blank emotional radar of the mindblind…

Meet Romo, The Smartphone Robot

Originally promoted through Kickstarter in 2011, Romotive, the makers of Romo, have already developed a 3rd generation version. Romo 2.0 was introduced on Kickstarter in November of 2012 with a sleeker design, new features and updated programming. Romotive is doing a great job of processing feedback from customers and implementing important changes into their newer models.

Unlike many other telepresence robots, Romo is interactive and comes with games and different behaviors. He’s meant to be played and engaged with. In fact, as you engage with him, new behaviors will be unlocked when challenges are completed. The vision of for the Romo is to be much more than just a toy, however. Romotive seems to view the Romo offering as a platform where hardware and apps can be developed for further functionality. Current Romotive developers are working on face recognition, autonomous navigation, and graphical programming. Additionally, Romotive seems to want to get Romo into the hands of children of all ages to help them learn about both programming and robotics and to become familiar with telepresence robots.

Android + ROS = Wheelphone

Many of the micro-telepresence robots out there are almost exclusively for the iOS ecosystem, and more in particular the iPhone. The Wheelphone by GCtronic, went against the grain and developed a robot for Android, and took a step way beyond as well by including ROS libraries.    

 

I will be honest, this device is not for the faint of heart. On the PC side of the controls, you’ll need to install ROS Fuerte from Willow Garage. If you’re not familiar with ROS, it’s an open source operating system that is vying to be the standard for robot operating systems.

 

Think Windows for your PC. If you’re comfortable with Java or C, you’ll have no problem with ROS. Of course, having this as your operating system does open up some exciting possibilities for future app development. For instance, you can partake of OpenCV (yet another Willow Garage standard) and implement some computer vision features, or use this as a great training device before tackling other larger project and machines.

 

Innorobo Across the Pond

In only their third year, Innorobo held in Lyon,France has been able to bring together some of the better companies in Europe involving robotics. Spanning the spectrum of service robots from light industrial and agricultural to medical and educational. Some of these technologies are amazing and show a lot of potential. I’ll get some posts up about a few of them in the coming weeks, but a few of the ones I found rather unique was the Vitorover, which aims to change the agricultural process and replace herbicides with autonomous robots. Then there is Bestic, which is a small eating assistive device that allows people that cannot eat on their own the ability to feed themselves without an assistant.

 

Dongbu Hovis Robot

Do You Even Hovis?

When does a robot cease to be less of a toy, and more of a service robot? The Hovis series of robots by Dongbucould begin to ask that question. While quite a ways from being able to fold your clothes and make you breakfast, this Korean company has a few models that are intriguing from a human interaction and functionality perspective. Thanks to our friends at RoadNarrows Robotics we were able to get some more information on the Hovis line. The Hovis bots are available with either a wheeled omni direction version with the Genie or as a bipedal humanoid with the Eco and the App. While it is possible to swap the bases, the cost would not be cheap. The Dongbu DRS-0201 servo is over $100/piece and they estimate you would need 10 to make the conversion. Almost as much as buying the Genie and the Eco robots separately.

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