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JIBO, a new social robotic appliance

MIT roboticist Cynthia Breazeal has launched a new company built around a sleek, minimalistic robotic appliance called JIBO.

Claimed (like many others before it) to be the world’s first “family robot,” JIBO stands about 28 cm tall and weighs 2.7 kg.  It sports a stereo color camera, microphones with sound localization, full-body touch sensors, and a touch screen face.  While not mobile, Jibo can twist in three axes.  The robot runs Linux on an ARM-based mobile processor (probably similar to a Raspberry Pi).

Since the robot can’t move around the house or manipulate objects, it exists primarily for social interaction, much like Keepon, Shimi (which we covered here), or the much larger and more articulated Pepper.  Demo videos (which are currently staged using preprogrammed responses) show JIBO greeting you when you come home, adjusting the lights, and helping you order dinner.  It also serves as a telepresence platform, and can shoot photos and videos (though if it can actually understand commands from across the room in the middle of a noisy party, I’ll be surprised).

The robot is clearly resonating with the public: an Indiegogo campaign to raise $100k has already raised over a million dollars, with 25 days still to go.  Backers can expect receive a pre-ordered JIBO in late 2015; the public release is expected in 2016.

To be honest, there’s nothing JIBO does that’s particularly new — but maybe that doesn’t matter.  The first iPods didn’t do anything particularly new either; they just did it better, with a cleaner, simplified design that appealed to a wide audience instead of just to geeks who love technology.  Perhaps JIBO can do the same for robots.

As robotics hobbyists ourselves, I think this new rash of social robots should be a bit of a wake-up call.  We’re used to thinking of robots as, at a minimum, something on wheels or sporting an arm.  Perhaps that’s because social interaction is hard to do well, and quickly disappointing when done poorly.  But it’s no reason not to try.  I’d love to see more hobbyists building robots whose primary purpose is not to push around (or destroy) other robots, or lift heavy objects, or even navigate around buildings, but just to be there for you, like a pet.  Play music, shoot photos, recognize faces, carry on a simple conversation — these things aren’t as hard as they used to be, and as JIBO’s campaign shows, this stuff is fertile ground for exciting the public.

See the pitch video below for an introduction to JIBO.


Softbank’s New Robot, “Pepper”

On the June 5th, Japanese telecom giant SoftBank announced that it’s entering the robot business.  Its first offering is impressive both in terms of its capability, and its unbelievably low price.  Meet “Pepper.”

Pepper is a 120-cm tall, 28-kg half-humanoid robot on an omniwheel base.  From the waist up, it looks a lot like (French robotics company) Aldebaran‘s NAO, and this is no coincidence; Pepper was also developed by Aldebaran, which Softbank acquired earlier this year.  But Pepper is substantially bigger, more autonomous, and — somehow — a fraction of the price. Read more…

PLEN2 in the planning stage

In 2006, an Osaka-based engineering and robotics company (PLEN PROJECT COMPANY Ltd) came out with an adorable little humanoid robot called PLEN.  The robot became an internet sensation with this video of its skateboarding and roller-skating prowess:

However, each robot was custom-manufactured, and at nearly US$3000, it never really gained a large user base.

Now, via the Japanese crowd-funding site kibidango, the company has announced development of a new version of their desktop robot, PLEN2.

Read more…

Biped “Raptor” Sets Speed Record

A research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has built a small, 3-kilogram biped robot inspired by the velociraptor dinosaur.  Although tied to a balance bar, the robot is able to run at 46 km/hr, roughly equal to the (also tethered) Cheetah quadruped from Boston Dynamics, claimed to be the fastest legged robot in the world.  So it’s safe to say that the new “Raptor” robot is, at the very least, the world’s fastest robot biped.

Read more…

Tirol Chocolate Biped Competition

A Japanese chocolate company called Tirol Chocolate hosts an annual little robot competition for, well, little robots.

The robots must be bipeds, but with no more than 2 servos per leg.  Additional servos (not in the legs) can be as many as you like.  In addition, the robot body must prominently display a Tirol Chocolate box (thus providing the sponsor’s benefit).  The robots compete in three games: a foot race, a cup-shooting competition, and a candy-carrying competition.

Read more…

PS3 controller over Xbee now even better

We previously reported on a very cool hack by Netherlands group Proof of Principle that crammed an Xbee transmitter neatly into a PlayStation3 DualShock controller.  The DualShock is a great controller for any robot — especially a complex one like a humanoid — because it has a very large number of analog and digital inputs, it’s comfortable to hold and use, and it even provides tactile feedback via two vibration motors.  But because it is a Bluetooth HID device, it can only be paired with something that can act as a Bluetooth master — and that’s a horribly complex task that requires a beefy computer.  A Raspberry Pi can do it (just), but something like an Arduino?  No way.  And of course Bluetooth is only good over a distance of a few meters, even in a relatively quiet environment, so it’s of little use for controlling RC vehicles from a more reasonable distance.

That’s why Proof of Principle’s project is so exciting.  And now, thanks to lots of positive feedback from makers around the world, they’re making an improved version of this Xbee-ified DualShock controller available via KickStarter. Read more…

Sand and Rocks Are No Barrier

A few weeks ago, I was strolling with my family on a beach (in beautiful Rarotonga, if you must know, though only because our plane stopped there on the way to somewhere else).  I was musing about robots, as usual, and my wife says, “You know what would really be impressive?  If robots could walk on sand and rocks like this.”

She had a point — you can actually feel how hard your ankles and legs are working, and how actively you’re balancing, when navigating such rough terrain.  I think I mumbled something about how someday in the future technology would get there, and probably changed the subject.

Meanwhile, Japanese robot builder “Dr. Guero” (Masahiko Yamaguchi) was busy, also as usual, and… well, just watch the video. Read more…

Raspberry Pi Compute Module

We’ve talked about use of the popular Raspberry Pi computer as a robot controller before.  There’s the RAPIRO, a Japanese biped designed specifically for that; and then there’s the news that Mathematica is available on the Pi for free.  But the Pi wasn’t really designed for this sort of use; it’s bigger and more power-hungry than we would like, and doesn’t have as many general-purpose I/Os (GPIOs) as we might want.

That’s about to change.

Read more…

Gargoyle KID wins Kondo Battle 14

The 14th “Kondo Battle” event took place at Galaxcity museum in Tokyo on March 29th, 2014.  In the open (custom bot design) class, it came down to Gargoyle KID (silver and black) vs. Chromkid (green highlights):

The winner was Gargoyle KID. Read more…

TED Talk: Robots with “soul”

I’ve recently posted about the Z-Machines robot band, which follows in the footsteps of Compressorhead.  The critical question is always raised: can these robot musicians really engage their audience the way a human performer does?

One researcher who has spent years studying that very question is Guy Hoffman.  In addition to his robotics chops, Hoffman is also an accomplished animator and jazz musician.  He’s been working for years to make robots that people will relate to at an emotional level, in contexts ranging from musical improv to factory work.  He’s found that not with the right sensors and programming, not only is a robot more likeable and fun, but it can work more productively, too.

Read more…