What’s Immersive Systems all about?

Robots and robotics are well known as highly entertaining and educational to masses of people, kids and adults alike.

The problem today is if you want to engage with others in robot play, you are limited to infrequent and expensive tournaments, or highly limited opportunities with local friends.

My vision to solve this problem (and change the world :-) ) is to provide compelling but inexpensive robot games over the internet to everyone everywhere, anytime, just as easy as it is to log into WoW and play challenging games with friends local and remote, many of whom you will likely never meet in person.

The educational aspect of robot games can be fantastic, covering all areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math). Really, what more can you ask for? This covers almost everything great in life, except maybe love. OK, food too. Alright, nature too. Well, it’s still pretty fantastic!

We have all sorts of great ideas for competitive and collaborative robot games where the robots and their environments are real and fantastic and the virtual world comes into play also.

Fun with technical trend forecasting

There are a number of really cheap, really small System-on-Chip (SoC) processor powered computer boards running Linux or Android coming on the market. These are dropping down to the $25 range (for a version of the Raspberry Pi) and while the models available today may not have all the performance desired for running PC applications on them, such as a web browser, it will only take a generation or two of Moores Law for them to have all the performance wanted and at this level of price point. These boards have connections to run displays, accept SD memory cards, support USB peripherals like Wifi dongles, cameras, mice and keyboards, and output audio.

What will the widespread availability of cheap, tiny, powerful, networked computers mean? Well, for one I think it’s very good news for robotics. So far, one of the cheaper ways to get a decent amount of processing and wireless connectivity onto a robot is to use a standard laptop or netbook and many robots have adopted this method. A more recent approach has been to leverage smart phones as the wirelessly connected brains of a robot. These are both great approaches but are still in the $300 plus category, which is too much for truly inexpensive and accessible robots, say for children and games. From now, and over the next few years, these new computer boards will make a fantastic processor brain for small inexpensive robots and will support common Linux and Android development tool chains.

Another idea for such computer boards is to use as a wireless computer plugged into your TV’s HDMI input jack. They can bring Internet content and natural user interface interactive controls such as voice, gesture and more to the TV without needing any set top box to take up shelf space.

They will also become cheap enough to embed into many appliances and home systems supporting Internet connectivity and bringing on the Internet of Things.

I think these are a good sign of what’s to come as general purpose computers become so small, cheap, low power and performant that they become ubiquitous and therefor fade in to the background of our lives. Eventually we will simply expect most of the objects we interact with to have computational elements and Internet connectivity.

Example small computer boards:

$25-$35 for Raspberry Pi A or B: http://www.raspberrypi.org

$49 for the forthcoming APC 8750: http://apc.io

~$80 for MK802: http://www.aliexpress.com/product-fm/563764893-New-released-Android4-0-IPTV-google-tv-smart-android-box-allwinner-A10-Model-MK802–wholesalers.html

<$100 for the forthcoming Valueplus Tizzbird N1: http://www.cnx-software.com/2012/03/08/valueplus-tizzbird-stick-n1-android-ics-hdmiusb-dongle-media-player

<$150 for the forthcoming and really interesting Rascal from Rascal Micro: http://rascalmicro.com

First post – An intro to Immersive Systems

Immersive Systems is being formed to bring together robots and people who want to play with robots.

Robots are poised to become a much bigger part of everyday life. In most cases today they work behind the scenes out of the public eye, such as in factories, warehouses, research labs, and the military. In some cases simple autonomous robots are part of our home lives as educational robots or toys, vacuum cleaners, floor scrubbers, pool and gutter cleaners and lawn mowers.  Robots are about to have a much bigger impact in agriculture, enterprises and in more versatile roles in manufacturing working in close proximity with people.  All told there are many, many millions of robots in active use today, but we expect their numbers and uses to mushroom in the coming decades. Looking at what robotics research labs in academia and industry are working on today it’s easy to extrapolate amazing uses for robots.

For the robotics hobbyist and educational markets, capabilities are mounting, prices are
dropping, and there is a rich and growing set of options for all kinds of fun robots to explore and play with. Young people today perceive the possibilities with robots and are naturally drawn to learn about them – evidenced by all the robot competitions worldwide with 100s of thousands of participants. Many educators and politicians see robots as a key discipline in young people’s education to learn the core STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. One aspect we believe holding this whole field back is the expense
and difficulty today to play robot games with others, which is a lot more fun than playing with a robot just by yourself – as all those tournaments and competitions attest too. We
plan on improving this situation. Stay tuned for more.