Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Speed; 3D; 4G; TV everywhere - oh, and robots too

Collage of robot consumer products shown at CES 2011


Robotics Trends, a division of EH Publishing, an events, e-media and technology publishing company covering the electronics, construction and robotics industries, sponsored what CES called a "Robotics Tech Zone" focused on robotic consumer products. Unfortunately, there were just a few.  Nevertheless, there were some interesting things to see in the Tech Zone and more to see on the greater show floor at iRobot, Parrot AR.Drone, Audi and Ford:
iRobot's AVA
modular telepresence robot
  • iRobot showed their new upgraded line of robot vacuum and floor cleaners but also introduced an iPad-controlled mobile robot with a Kinect-type device as a communications controller. Additionally, iRobot is proposing that an app store be established for the robot (named AVA) so that customers can mix and match apps and add-on devices to customize the robot for their purposes.  Read more (and watch a video about AVA) here.
  • The little WheeMe device by DreamBots, unavailable until Q4, gave a relaxing tickle as it crawled up, down and around a model's back, but definitely wasn't a viable massager.
  • Startup Orbotix displayed their baseball-sized Bluetooth Sphero which can be controlled by iOS or Android apps on your smart device. The apps determine the use of the ball in games, augmented reality or realtime.
  • Murata Manufacturing displayed their gyro-sensor'd Murata Girl unicyclist and Murata Boy bicyclist. Both are not ready for production and are concept pieces.
  • Cyberdyne demonstrated an abbreviated version of their HAL robot suit which assists in rehabilitation support and physical training, heavy labor support in factories and rescue support at disasters. 
  • Anybots was displaying their QB telepresence robot which will sell at $15,000 mid-2011.
  • The new Pleo RB (reborn) by Innvo Labs,  was as cute and functionally fascinating as the previous iteration of the lovable dinosaur.  But the real story here is Jetta Manufacturing who rescued Pleo by launching Innvo Labs and reinvigorating the line with the new Pleo RB.  Jetta was the manufacturer and packager of two US robotic products produced in China: Pleo and Autom.
  • Intuitive Automata's Autom, a personal diet mentor that interacts with you and tracks your dieting progress. Autom is manufactured in China by Jetta for an American company.
  • The furry Paro robot was there cooing.
  • VGo Communications' stylish VGo telepresence robot was roving the walkways around the HighTech Education booth.
  • French car component manufacturer Parrot was again showing last year's hit at CES, their AR.Drone augmented reality quadcopter visually controlled through an iPhone, iPad or iTouch.
  • LG Electronics' RoboKing floor vacuum was glitzy and did a good job of cleaning up and was accompanied by a group of smart home appliances (washer, dryer, refrigerator and oven) .
  • Neato Robotics' SV-11, another robot vacuum already on the market, was also on display.
  • Ilshim Global was showing their new Windoro window-washing robot, a pre-production product developed by Korean PIRO (Pohang Institute of Intelligent Robotics)
  • Tim Hornyak, who wrote "Loving the Machine" and now works for CNET, took a great picture of General Motors' EN-v concept car which incorporates Segway-like balancing technology, can autonomously drive in groups at highway speeds and is meant to be marketed in ultra-crowded cities sometime in the future. 
  • Pictures for most of the above can be seen at CNET.
In addition to consumer products, Carnegie Mellon University and Frauhofer, Europe's largest application-oriented research institution, shared a booth to show various concept products like the one from a young grad student at CMU: a soft, inflatable arm that can safely manipulate objects in order to assist with personal care tasks for people with serious disabilities. Another CMU item was a modular snake robot that can climb trees.

Embedded systems added to standard appliances were displayed at the Whirlpool and LG booths and alluded to at a few others - from robotic baristas to refrigerator doors.

Nothing was as truly robotic as the car companies which were showing their new in-car navigation/entertainment/communication systems and plans for the immediate future.  A big job what with the changing array of tablets and smartphones being added to the mix.  Audi and Ford had enormous presentations including concept cars.  Adaptive cruise control, park-o-matic, lane awareness, driver alertness - from sensors to processing to autonomous action and/or interaction with the driver.  Fascinating stuff.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally described it best when he said:
Ford adds value to all the gadgetry when it consolidates them into intuitive, safe (eyes-on-the-road) and up-to-date in-car navigation, entertainment and communication systems that don't interfere with all the other technology in the car and enhance the driving experience for the user.
Watch the keynote addresses by Ford's CEO Alan Mulally and Rupert Stadler, Chairman of Audi at CES last week.  Both are worth your time and both really give you  the feel of this years innovation - and complexity - at CES 2011.