iRobot, robotics makers recast industry with touchscreens

Robotics companies such as iRobot are using now touchscreens, giving robots more applications and leading the way for their integration into our lives.
Written by Laura Shin, Contributor

People have long dreamed of robots helping us out with our chores. In reality, however, they're mostly used by industry, the military and toy companies.

But new innovations by robot makers could soon bring them into our workplaces and, eventually (we hope), they could serve us cocktails at home.

So what are these new advances? Nothing more than iPad and Android touchscreens and motion-sensing technology from the Xbox.

One of the country's top robot makers, iRobot, is coming out with a robot named Ava, which The New York Times reports is "a 5-foot-4 assistant with an iPad or an Android tablet for a brain and Xbox motion sensors to help her get around."

iRobot is already well-known for its Roomba vacuum, which has solds a million units, and bomb disposal robots that have been used to protect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ava will first be used in medical applications in a collaboration between iRobot, which is based outside Boston, and InTouch Health, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., a company that enables doctors to remotely treat stroke victims and other patients.

iRobot is also forming a partnership with Texas Instruments that should make the robots more interactive and ultimately lower their cost.

The version of Ava that will be used in medical situations could allow a hospital worker to send Ava to the proper room by tapping its tablet screen. The robot would then use its mapping system, which uses technology from Microsoft’s 3-D motion sensor for the Xbox, to get to the patient’s bedside without running into anything.

The Times reports that iRobot chief executive Colin M. Angle believes that someday, "businessmen could use the robots as proxies at meetings, speaking and watching wirelessly through Ava’s headgear and even guiding her into the hall for private chats. And if the sticker price eventually gets down to consumer levels, as he thinks it will, Ava could, with arms added, dispense pills to baby boomers or even fetch them cocktails."

Angle told The Times:

I like the idea that if you have a party, the robot can recognize faces, take drink orders, go back to the kitchen, load it up and then go back and find those people and deliver the drinks,” he said. “I think that would be awesome.

photo: iRobot 301SUGV/iRobot

via: The New York Times

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