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Look Ma, no arms!

My last post was considered more newsworthy than I thought. In a recent IEEE Spectrum article (Hoaloha Robotics Developing Socially Assistive Hardware Platform), Senior Writer, Evan Ackerman made several important observations and comments that I wanted to respond to. “…but we know is that the robot will likely not include an arm at this time, because there’s no way to add one and still hit Hoaloha’s cost target,…” This is true and deserves some further explanation. Let’s start with the cost of components. A majority of conventional robot arms include six to seven servo motors to get a similar degree of movement that a human arm has. While you might be able to buy or build such an arm with basic hobby servo motors, to hold up to the load and usage patterns, you really need something of higher quality with good gearing, sufficient torque, and little backlash. Such motors…

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Brooks’ Baxter Bot

With the recent announcement of ReThink Robotics’ Baxter (see link below if you haven’t seen it), I received a lot of questions about how their robot may impact what Hoaloha Robotics is doing. First, let me say that this unveiling reflects the tremendous progress of robotics technology. Dr. Brooks is one of the preeminent pioneers in this field, having formerly served not only as the head of MIT AI lab, but also as one of the founders of iRobot, creators of the popular Roomba vacuum cleaner bots and the military Packbot. Brooks left iRobot and MIT around the same time I left Microsoft. While the precise details of what he would build weren’t known, Rod was open about his intent to move industrial robots out of the factory where, for safety sake, they are fenced to avoid dangers to humans; and instead able to operate alongside people. This required not only…

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These aren’t the droids you’re looking for

I recently spoke at InnoRobo/RoboLift, a European robotics conference, held in the beautiful city of Lyon, France. Since my last trip to a European robotics conference was about 3 years ago, I was looking forward to catching up on how robotics was developing in this part of the world. One of the first things I noted was that the conference organizers had invited speakers from the design and user research community including Cynthia Breazeal, professor from MIT’s Media Lab. I particularly like to hear about Cynthia’s research because I share her philosophy that robot interaction needs to be designed as a social experience. Her work with Kismet, Leonardo, Nexi, and other robots really stand out as great examples of where the design of personal robots needs to go. This was refreshing, because many robotics conferences I have attended (except for the annual HRI conference) typically focus on optimistic market projections or demonstrations of…

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