Robotic Road Vehicles

Robotic cars such as Google’s are proven to work on regular streets and roads. The laws of some states (Nevada being first) are being updated to allow robotic cars to be in control.

At this point we can speculate for fun what commercial or utility style vehicles might come first in being updated for robot control, as these seem a prime use case for automation.

One vehicle and job I think could be first are street sweepers, for several reasons. They operate mostly at night in quiet traffic times, they drive quite slowly mostly around slower city streets when sweeping, and they involve overnight shift work for the current operators which is not easy or pleasant. My guess is they don’t involve as much decision making and equipment manipulation as say a snow plow would require, but then again I’m not a street sweeper operator so that may not be the case.

What specialized vehicles or jobs do you foresee robotic vehicle technology moving into?

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:

$49 for the forthcoming APC 8750:

~$80 for MK802:–wholesalers.html

<$100 for the forthcoming Valueplus Tizzbird N1:

<$150 for the forthcoming and really interesting Rascal from Rascal Micro:

Two potential uses for office robots

While not about robot gaming, here’s a couple of potential applications for the latest generation of TurtleBots, BilliBots, and other wheeled robots.

I work in a large office where there are several shared printers at strategic locations to serve hundreds of people. One thing that takes time and wastes paper is the fact that you have to walk to the printer to get your print jobs, and often you tell yourself you’ll get it in a minute and then forget to pick it up. Consequently, uncollected print jobs collect at the printer over time, only to eventually be tossed in the recycle bin. These represent a wasted use of paper, toner, energy and wear on the printer.

With mobile wheeled robots really starting to come down in price, representing ony a small
portion of the cost of one of these large office printers, perhaps we are at the stage where an enterprising company can produce a robot to interface with the printers and automatically deliver print jobs to the print job originator’s desk. For a smaller office one way to manage this easier may be to put a Wi-Fi laser printer on the robot. The robot could self connect to 120v wall power at one or more charging stations to power the printer (and charge the robot’s batteries). Then, once it receives a print job it locates the originator’s desk on a map of the office and drives there and the person just picks the job out of the paper tray. For large offices that need to keep the large printers the robot would have to be more sophisticated around paper handling, but this may not be a big problem. One problem to solve would be how to transfer the print job originator’s ID to the robot so it can figure out who’s desk to drive to.
Another issue we have is mail distribution. No one wants the job of hand delivering mail to
each staff persons desk so no one does it and it piles up in a central location. But many staff forget or don’t realize they need to look for their mail in the central pile, and old mail builds up.

It should be possible to drop the days mail received at reception into a hopper on a robot, which reads the name on each envelope, locates that person’s desk on a map of the office and auto delivers the mail in the building.

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.