Integrating Interactive Video Gaming and Robotics

Consumer entertainment robotics — once the poster child of robotics — has been out of the limelight lately. While the Robosapein, Tri-Bot, or other WowWee robot may be technical marvels — even with impressive features ranging from speech to auto power down — they quickly become boring. Most kids (and adults) with normal to short attention spans soon grow weary of the limited behavior of consumer entertainment robots. In most homes, WowWee pets and clones end up as fixtures in a playroom, ignored by kids and out of the way of the Roomba.

For me — and I suspect most SERVO readers — the real excitement in a WowWee or equivalent robot is modding and, eventually, performing a full tear-down. I still find it amazing how much hardware and firmware robotic engineers can cram into such small spaces. Unfortunately for the manufacturers of consumer entertainment robots, most of the potential consumers of their products haven’t the inclination to mod or perform a ritualistic tear-down. Combined with the effects of the economy, let’s just say that the entertainment robotics industry has seen better days.

Given the downturn in the consumer market for entertainment robotics, it’s not surprising that one of the most heavily subscribed consumer robotics presentations at the April 09 RoboBusiness Conference & Expo (held in Boston) was that of Robotic Gaming. This relatively new twist on the relatively poorly performing consumer robotics arena was highlighted at the conference by a standing room only presentation on Robonica (http://www.robonica.com), a South African start-up company. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Tom Dusenberry, the Boston-based director of the robotics company. As the founder and former CEO of Hasbro Interactive (think games like Frogger and Rollercoaster Tycoon), he obviously knows something about the interactive games market.

If you visit the Robonica website, you’ll get to see a two-wheeled Roboni-i in action. The inwardly tilting wheels give the remote-controlled robot a menacing look, and the wireless remote control looks like a PS-2 controller on steroids. These are all nice features, but what distinguishes Roboni-i from other remotely controlled robots on the market is that robot is integrated with game software.

The Roboni-i system enables you to download a game into the robot — say ball scoop — and then play the game. Tired of the game? Download another. Unlike a dumb remotely controlled robot, the Roboni-i requires continuous handling during gameplay. You may have to manage your energy reserves while collecting tokens, for example.

Whether Robonica or other robotics companies ultimately succeed in reviving the consumer entertainment robotics industry remains to be seen. However, the approach of hybridizing robotics with other, known successful services can’t be all wrong. Perhaps the same hybridizing approach can be applied to other areas of robotics, such as home care and industrial robotics. Consider that many elderly people use pill dispensers, food blenders, and other electric/electronic support for their activities of daily living. Why not automate these systems? For example, what would a robotic system look like that’s integrated with, say, a refrigerator? Imagine that you’re in your 90’s, mentally agile of course, but the old body just isn’t cooperating. You want to get that 15-pound turkey out of the refrigerator in preparation for Thanksgiving or some other event, so you simply ask the refrigerator. The attached arm(s) move past the wilted lettuce and fermenting leftovers to retrieve the turkey and place it on the counter beside the refrigerator (and then goes in to clean out the refrigerator). We all have refrigerators, we all have to pull things in and out, and we probably all wish we were all doing something else when it comes to cleaning. The perfect robot!

Not so fast. We all know that it’s cheaper to hire someone to come in and fix meals and clean out the refrigerator every few days. And regardless of the innovations out there, if the robotic solutions are too expensive, they won’t be used. So think innovation and monetization.

My bets are in military robotics, which presents developers with a virtually unlimited universe of possibilities. Consider the foot soldiers. They’re lugging a heavy gun out in the field, anyway. Someone might as well give it some intelligence, such as the ability to shoot the enemy semi-autonomously. Although I’m not sure that I’d entrust my life to an autonomous gun, I think you get the idea. I challenge you to invent or at least apply an integrated robotics solution — similar in concept to the video game/robotics marriage — in the field of your choice. As always, let me hear from you with your article ideas and submissions.  SV

Posted by Michael Kaudze on 07/20 at 12:31 PM


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