Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Robot Report's 2014 Holiday Gift List

By Frank Tobe, Editor and Publisher, The Robot Report

  • Product: mamaRoo robotic rocker
  • Manufacturer: 4moms
  • For: babies 0-6 months, gift for soon-to-be parents, baby shower gift
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: A pioneer in duplicating the human parent motions of rocking, dancing, cradling and driving, the mamaRoo robotic rocker sets the standard for smart baby swings. Competitors are adding smart features to their baby swings to catch up but 4moms is definitely the leader of the pack in their use of robotics and slick engineering. Even has built-in nature sounds but can also use any MP3 player as a plug-in.

  • Product: MiP Balancing Robot
  • Manufacturer: WowWee
  • For: Kids 8 and older
  • Availability: Amazon and Walmart
  • Comment: This is a fascinating robotic achievement. It is equipped with gesture sensing technology: any hand motion controls MiP. MiP is short for "Mobile Inverted Pendulum." It is controlled from its app on smartphones or tablets. It also has an immersive personality and responds to praise or mistreatment. All the while this 10 inch little robot is balancing on two wheels. It has a game mode as well as dance, boxing, battle and stack modes.

  • Product: Mini Quadcopter X4 FPV
  • Manufacturer: Hubsan
  • For: kids of all ages
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: This mini quadcopter is a low-cost palm-sized drone that has blue lights as it flies. There are many providers of mini's but I like this one. It uses a joystick and has an acrobotic mode for doing flips. It has a camera that transmits a real-time video signal to the user. This makes it possible to fly by first-person-view (the FPV in its name). It runs for 7+ minutes on a 30 minute charge.

  • Product: Furreal Get Up and GoGo Walking Pup Pet
  • Manufacturer: Hasbro
  • For: young girls 4-6 years old
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: This robotic pet responds with barks, tail wags and head tilts when you talk to her. She'll sit when petted. Her leash has a controller so that you can take her for a walk. With a free app, you can watch her interact with the app activities as you play. The pup will respond to the bubbles and hair dryer in one of the apps. 

  • Product: MiniDrone Jumping Sumo
  • Manufacturer: Parrot
  • For: 8 years and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: This robot jumps over 2-1/2 feet and always falls back on its wheels. Controlled via your smartphone or tablet, this jumping Sumo has a wide angle camera and streams live views on the pilot's screen. The software enables programming a travel plan with tricks and sounds to liven up an already fascinating minidrone. Wheels can be pushed in for navigating in tight areas and pulled out for a wider base.

  • Product: Zoomer Dino -- Boomer
  • Manufacturer: Spinmaster
  • For: young boys 6 years and older
  • Availability: Amazon and Target
  • Comment: This is small (9" high and 14" long) two-legged balancing mobile interactive dinosaur with sounds and responsiveness and a trainable personality. You can use the controller or your hands to direct the robot. You can train him to dance, chase, chomp and roar. It has a proximity sensor to detect when you're nearby.

  • Product: Aisoy1 social robot for education
  • Manufacturer: Aisoy
  • For: kids 8 and older
  • Availability: RobotShop
  • Comment: This educational robot can speak, hear, be emotional and see. It's primary goal is to teach programming from scratch. It's neck, eyelids and eyebrows move and are able to express emotional reactions to various sensor stimuli. It can be purchased as a kit or fully assembled.

  • Product: Aquabot fish
  • Manufacturer: Hexbug
  • For: kids 4 and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: These "fish" come to life in water and swim, dive and explore their environment. You can buy two versions of the fish in 10 different colors. You can also buy an acquarium or make your own. 

  • Product: i-Dog Robotic Music Loving Canine
  • Manufacturer: Hasbro
  • For: kids 4 and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: This robotic dog moves and gyrates to the beat of any connected music device (iPod, tablet, smartphone). Simple but with an expressive face and 7 different multi-color lights and also an audio speaker.

  • Product: Zoomer Interactive Puppy
  • Manufacturer: Zoomer
  • For: kids 4 and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: Teachable puppy, rewarded with belly rubbing, can learn its name and responds to that name, plays and chases and not always obedient. He will sit, lie down, play dead, protect you and even "pee".

  • Product: Rolling Spider
  • Manufacturer: Parrot
  • For: 8 years and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: An update to Parrot's successful AR Drone, this drone can roll and fly anywhere including across your ceiling! Performs acrobatics; rolls anywhere including up walls. Has an embedded mini-cam and, with a connection to your smartphone or tablet can record your flights.

  • Product: Ollie - speedy app-controlled robot
  • Manufacturer: Orbotix/Sphero
  • For: 8 years and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: This fast-moving floor robot can spin, flip and perform app-powered tricks. Can conquer most indoor and outdoor terrains. Takes some time to figure it all out but Ollie is more durable, faster and robust than a remote-controlled car.

  • Product: Chatsters Gabby Interactive Doll
  • Manufacturer: Spin Master
  • For: Girls 5 and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: This chatty Gabby has a vocabulary of over 300 unique words and phrases and over 25 games and activities triggered from interactive accessories such as smoothie, cupcake, eye shadow compact, lipstick and mobile phone. At 11 inches tall, she talks, dances and plays games and activities through her touch-enabled eyeglass frames. Her eyes are animated and light up in different colors as she chats. Her glasses are touch sensors and if you tap on a corner you can answer her questions or give her makeovers. You can even text her!

  • Product: Mindstorms EV3 processor and kit
  • Manufacturer: LEGO
  • For: Kids 10 and older
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: For robot enthusiasts with a technical bent, this EV3 kit is the latest version of LEGO Mindstorms. It contains motors, sensors and LEGO parts and plans to build and program a variety of robots. At it's core is an ARM9 processor. It has a remote control device or can be controlled from your smart phone or tablet. You can program and control these versatile productions.

  • Product: Robot & Frank - DVD
  • Manufacturer: Sony/Columbia
  • For: Kids and adults 13 and over (PG rating)
  • Availability: Amazon
  • Comment: Set in the near future, Frank receives a companion robot to improve his physical and mental health. With stars Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella, the story is hilarious and heartwarming and a good example of how and where service robots can help family members.

All of the above items are available in time for Christmas and can be found in The Robot Report's Amazon Store or directly at Amazon. Additional items can be found at Robotshop.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rethinking iRobot, Samsung and Dyson robotic vacuum cleaners

By Frank Tobe, Editor/Publisher, The Robot Report

At a break in a conference in San Diego, I was sitting enjoying my tea, when up walked Rodney Brooks (of Rethink Robotics and Baxter fame) and said (with a mischievious smile):
Rodney Brooks
"I have a bone to pick with you! Robotic vacuum cleaners didn't just become mainstream as you said in your article. We have sold 12 million by now and are the biggest seller in Samsung's home (Korea)."
He went on to say that Dyson is a small player in the global vacuum marketplace and that Samsung has gone through many iterations of improvement yet iRobot's Roomba's still outsell them in their core market.

Brooks was referring to my two articles in The Robot Report where I commented about Samsung's and Dyson's new robotic vacuums. He wasn't really angry; just having fun. But I began to think about what he was referring to, considering whether I had said something incorrect or possibly hurtful. The second of my two articles had the headline: Latest robotic vacuum product launches change industry from niche to mainstream.
Samsung (left) and Dyson robotic vacuum cleaners
In those articles I said:
Should iRobot be worried? Definitely! Dyson has considerable experience in the higher-end vacuuming market - selling more than 10 million devices a year! Dyson generated nearly $10 billion in revenue in 2013 of which at least 40% is vacuum-related versus iRobot's $487 million. Consequently, if the new Dyson 360 Eye robotic vacuum is as good as other Dyson vacuum cleaners, there is much reason for iRobot to worry.
iRobot, over the past 10 years, has sold 10 million Roombas, mostly through online distribution methods. With the global consumer distribution channels that both Dyson and Samsung bring, it's conceivable that either (or both) could sell 10 million of their products in a single year!
In the two articles, I was attempting to describe the transition that often happens with unique consumer products as they switch from niche markets of early adopters to the massively larger mainstream household products market. And even though iRobot has sold 10 million Roombas over a 10-year period, that's just a fraction of the 50+ million global vacuums sold annually for $11 billion (source: TechNavio).

Both Dyson and Samsung have upgraded the vacuuming function of their robotic cleaners to be equivalent to non-robotic cleaners. Consequently, they have endorsed what iRobot invented many years ago: a convenient robotic method of cleaning carpets and floors. But their endorsement comes at the expense of competition which is sure to happen in the years to come.