Tag Archives: home robot

Where is my home robot?

The possibility of owning a useful home robot was my ultimate aim when I began this blog back in March 2014. I am no expert by any means, just an interested watcher, and in my opinion, I am no closer, five years on, to my dream of owning a robot like “Andrew” from the film Bicentennial Man, where he was played by the late Robin Williams. Bicentennial Man was based on a short story by Isaac Asimov.

 

If I only had a brain

What would Asimov make of the state of intelligent robots today? Who is going to invent the much needed “Positronic Brain”¹ that Mr Asimov first described in his robot stories from 1939. Eighty years on we still do not have anything like a home robot that can think for itself and also has a strong moral compass.

You may gather that I am rather disillusioned by this situation. Perhaps that explains why I have not felt the need to write regular posts for this blog? I think Asimov would be disillusioned too. Admittedly there are some amazing industrial robots, but they can’t go out and cut the grass, or paint the outside of their factories. They are still limited to the one operation that they were taught to do.

My Mum with her radiogram in 1967

Much the same applies to today’s so called home robots. I can go out and buy a robot vacuum cleaner, but it won’t fold the laundry for me … that is another robot under development. I can buy a robot to cut the grass, but that is all it will do … it won’t dig the garden or trim the rose bushes. I wrote about this situation here in October 2014², and it is still the same now. Thank goodness most of us have moved away from hi-fi separates. My laptop has the potential to do everything that my hi-fi stack system did, apart from playing cassette tapes or vinyl, and as far as I’m concerned, the resurgence in interest in those antiquated sound recording devices is mere nostalgia. I can still remember my Mum shouting at us when we were playing a little too energetically in the lounge near her record player, “mind my stylus” would ring out from the kitchen. One jump of the playing arm could completely ruin a record.

 

Dead robots

There have been three “deaths” of home robots in recent times. One big casualty was Jibo. However, now that I look back at the website, it seems rather obvious. With a price tag of $899, and a list of functions that seem to be so similar to Amazon’s Alexa that one is like a clone of the other, it is hardly surprising. I paid half price in a sale (£25) for my Echo Dot with Alexa.

The other two casualties have been Kuri from Mayfield Robotics, and Cozmo from Anki³. It is sad, and not a good sign for getting potential investors in a similar project, but those things are just not “proper” robots by my way of thinking. OK, I know it has to start somewhere, but really, a home robot must have legs, and must be able to move around the house on surfaces that include carpets … so that probably rules out a lot of robots, like Pepper, which have wheels or balls in their base.

Price is obviously going to be something that will put a lot of potential buyers off. But why not rent a robot, with the added bonus of free updates and maintenance? I believe Pepper is available in some countries with this rental payment system.

 

Will Vesta have legs?

My only hope at the moment would seem to be Amazon. My £25 Echo Dot is quite a bargain, and I already pay extra for Amazon Music so that is an added bonus for me. I can’t remember the last time I bought a music CD. Last year I wrote about Amazon’s new project which is supposedly for a moving home robot named Vesta4. A quick Google search only came up with results from April last year. Are Amazon still working on their robot? An Amazon search just found Vesta Beef Curry, Vesta Paella and albums by Vesta Williams, so, sadly, I am no wiser.

 

Update (12 May 2019)

Today I visited the Anki website. There is a sad pop-up notice on the home page (image right) which states that the company is no longer manufacturing robots. They are still available to purchase on Amazon, and apparently there is still support available.

 

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positronic_brain

(2) https://newrobotclub.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/robots-in-the-home/

Vector

(3) I see that Anki is still available for sale on Amazon UK for £154.99 although it is not on the manufacturer’s website. The company is now promoting Vector, and that robot is also available from Amazon UK, price £249.99. These seem to be merely expensive toys.

(4) https://newrobotclub.wordpress.com/2018/09/30/what-do-i-know-about-vesta/

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Life-sized Planet Robots made in the UK

Shawcraft_LogoAndy Shaw makes fantastic ‘life-sized’ robot replicas which are inspired by 1950s Japanese toy robots. His company, Shawcraft, also makes replica petrol pumps for your classic garage, games room or living room which can be used as storage cabinets, or even a cocktail bar!

Shawcraft_SAM_1408His robots are produced from purpose-built moulds and are designed for strength and simplicity. Where possible pigmented gelcoat is used, making the robots durable and resistant to scrapes and knocks.

The ‘Planet Robots’ are stunning, standing five foot eight inches tall, in gleaming black and red – just like the original Japanese tin toys. The original toys were made by Yoshia KO of Japan in the late 1950′s and were an unlicensed copy of Robby the Robot, star of the 1956 MGM film Forbidden Planet.

Shawcraft_WalkTalkToyThe toys were made in several colours and versions, the most popular being black and red with clockwork walking action and sparks shooting around the interior visible through acetate ‘windows’.

The Shawcraft Planet Robots can be supplied in any colour combination although only the black/red version is pigmented gelcoat. They can be specified with either three fingered hand or replica claw.

Just like the original the chest plate and face grill are finished then added to the robot giving a crisp, clean joint. All arm and leg joints are well defined so the robot looks real.

Shawcraft_T4They can be supplied as a static prop or with flashing lights in the dome ‘ears’. They can also be ordered with a voice, activated by passers-by, and with intermittent head-turn and flashing ‘voice light’. A radio-controlled walking version is also available.

I asked Andy when his interest in robots arose. “At four years old, back in 1967 when my Gran gave me a black and red clockwork Planet Robot.”

When he was 11, he wrote to the BBC for a copy of their Dr Who Dalek plans, which had been printed in the Radio Times. He began building a Dalek immediately then realised the plans were wrong. So he used the Dalek neck section as the torso of his first large robot.

Shawcraft_build1It takes a couple of weeks to build a Planet Robot and they are in great demand. I have occasionally seen them for sale on eBay, so I asked Andy if he has many in stock, he said, “yes, I build them for stock, but they always go before I can make a second!”

If you would like to see his robots out in the real world, they can be seen at a travelling exhibition called ‘Robot’, and they are often seen at art galleries and universities. They’re also at Randy’s Toy Shop, USA*; Metropolis Toys, Burton on Trent; Celestial Toy Store; a barber shop in Essex; Uncle Sam’s diner.

AdventuresInScienceFictionLate next year they will be at Neil Coles Adventures in Science Fiction, a new science fiction museum opening in Allendale, Northumberland.

Finally, I asked Andy how long he thinks it will be before we have domestic servant robots, or robot butlers, in our homes … and would he want one?

“Domestic robots are just about seven years away I reckon. I think they’d have been here now if the global economy hadn’t been shafted by the greedy useless parasitic financiers. I embarked, at four years old, to develop and build a domestic robot for myself. Oh yes, I want one.”

You can contact Andy Shaw by email or visit his website to see more examples of his work.

See also Pikore page.

*If you have an original Japanese Planet Robot toy with missing parts, Randy’s Toy Shop specialise in making replacements. They’re not cheap, but how else are you going to repair one of those rare toys? Prices from their catalogue (click here for website) Antenna, $55; Hands $35 each; Roller wheels $25 each.

For Sale: Boston Dynamics

bd_logoI was sad to read that Google is selling Boston Dynamics, the robotics company they purchased in 2013. It seems that progress has not been quick enough for Google who were hoping to produce a marketable robot in the next few years.

Boston Dynamic’s recent video, showing the amazing balance capability of their Atlas robot, apparently upset Google HQ because of the rather negative response it attracted. (See the video here.)

According to the Guardian, potential buyers include Amazon and Toyota. Atlas would be an obvious choice for Amazon’s massive warehouses, but could they be thinking of producing a home robot of some kind? Popular Science said “Last fall, Toyota announced it was investing $1 billion into robotics in Silicon Valley, under the tutelage of a former DARPA program manager. Toyota’s quietly been in the robotics business since the 1970s, designing robots for everything from manufacturing to personal assistance.”

Here is a video from 2012 showing Toyota’s “robot quartet”!

If Google really has lost interest in Boston Dynamics, perhaps to spend more Dollars on their self driving cars, then it will be good for a new company to give Atlas the confidence he needs to make his way in the world … and please stop hitting him with a hockey stick!