Developing a robot worth buying

My company has funding to expand our product line into some new areas such as robotics. We are willing to take some risks in order to enter a new market. Our current expertise is electronics, especially low-cost microcontrollers.

I would like to open up a discussion about designing the minimum- cost robot that at least a few people will want to buy. The main object is to break into the market and learn the needs of the typical purchaser. Any and all ideas about features or about other companies current offers (especially areas where we can do better than they did) would be most welcome.

If this becomes a real product, I will let anyone who participated in the discussion have one or two at cost, and I might even give a few away.

Because this will go into production, suggestions to include used or surplus parts won't be much help. The parts have to be things that we can make or buy.

(I am crossposting this to and to comp.robotics.misc. Crosspost to from comp.robotics.misc are welcomed, so there is no need to trim the newsgroups line)


Reply to
Guy Macon
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You going to pay us for this advice?????

I am starting an online business and I see you as a competitor so I can't give you advice.


Reply to

Let me ask some business questions.

Who is your target customer? Are they hobbyists who'll buy a couple of units, and maybe a variety of optional accessories? Are they companies that will buy larger orders of integrated equipment? Are they academic institutions who'll make students buy a kit every semester for a few years? I ask because it makes a difference about how to design the product.

The hobbyists probably want a basic platform that can be customized a bunch of ways - they'll want accessories, and a CPU that's amenable to hacking at home (PIC or 8051 or AVR, in a DIP). Absolute lowest cost isn't important, as long as the price seems 'fair'.

The corporate folks may beat you up on costs, and may rather have higher performance parts (industrial temp ranges, low EMI, good connectors, smaller packages).

The schools want a low cost and a bunch of pack-ins for their lab exercises, and the gear need not stand up to repeated abuse if the students have to buy it. Cheaper connectors might make sense.

Are there already products on the market that target the audience you're interested in? Maybe you can address the shortcomings of the competition (price, performance, features, etc). Or is this a new product going for a new market segment?

I'm not a big robotics hobbyist, but I think the Lego MindStorms are pretty cool. Not cheap, but ya gotta love the dev tools.


Reply to
Kelly Hall

That's an excellent question. I am inclined to target hobbyists with the first version, and then decide what direction to go. This is a "test the waters" idea at this point, so selling just a few is OK.

There are also some hobbyists who aren't ready for assembler, so maybe a BasicX-24 would be appropriate. (See

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alternative would be to provide a radio link and let them write programs on their PC.

I would love to find a new market segment, but that's easier said than done.


Rafael Deliano wrote:

Directly. Order by web page, deliver by mail.

That's a really interesting design. Something like that would do very nicely.

Oddly enough, I worked with the creators of that zeppelin on a related project.

I have spent too much time making toys for Mattel already. Now I just want to make and sell a few interesting low-cost robots.

That's a *really* good idea. I wonder if i could pull it off? The electronics/optics I could do in my sleep, but it would take some clever mechanics to make a low-cost micro-manipulator.

Reply to
Guy Macon

To get back to basics its often good to step back in time. The book Eder "Moderne Messmethoden der Physik Band 1" VEB Berlin 1960 has already about 3 pages on the subject and claims they have been around for 100 years. Some are purely mechanical ( pantograph ), but most by that time use electric motors or are hydraulic/pneumatic. One is based on thermal expansion of wires, but Nintinol was invented only later in the 60ies.

Big Manipulators/Teleoperators got off in the

60ies in the nuclear industry as is well known. Köhler "Typenbuch der Manipulatoren / Manipulator Type book" Thiemig 1981 lists available units but is thin on the technical side. McCloy, Harris "Robotics - An Introduction" Open University Press 1986 has a chapter on it, but most modern literature on robots avoids the subject. The shop where the Asuro "educational toy" originates from DLR has a "Robot"-program ROTEX that is actually manipulators for use in space.


Reply to
Rafael Deliano

It just seems to me, that the market is over-saturated, unless you come up with something really novel.

Unfortunately, novel usually equates to expensive.

Reply to

Wayne Lundberg here, co-founder of chapter 299 Robotics of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers back in 1979 when robotics became an interesting concept for replacing union workers and their eternal strife with devices that did not demand impossible stuff and could work in a lights-out facility

24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

County area to companies such as Rohr Industries, Solar Turbines (a division of Caterpillar), Sundstrand, General Dynamics, and a whole bunch to Cypher Data. An analysis conducted by students at San Diego State University concluded that of the 27 high-end robots, only one was able to even come close to a return on investment; the one a General Dynamics due to the never-ending efforts of Mark Raptis, a devout believer in the future of robotics. The bunch at Cypher Data nearly broke the company and the cartesian coordinate IBMs were given to SDSU's engineering department. Where they still collect dust and nothing else.

Robotic applications are strong in the electronics assembly field where surface mount technology is now dominant. Another broad application for robots is in auto manufacturing, in spot welding, regular welding and in painting.

As to hobby robotics, I have a 7 axes Rhino robot with controller, offline programming, PLC built in, and all the works which cost $8,000 back in 1987 and for which I have yet to receive a single offer from many postings in various newsgroups. I have yet to put it up on eBay because when I research robot sales on eBay I see a disappointingly few and worse, the money the prospective buyer is willing to pay is not worth the box I'd have to package the robot in.

I propose that you create a number of keywords, put them in eBays closed auction search functions and see what people are willing to pay for robotic devices. This is the latest and greatest marketing tool never available to anybody until just a few years ago. It is so revolutionary that no marketing profession will even talk about it because as soon as their clients find out. they, the marketers, are out of business since anybody can do what they charge thousands to do.

I hope this helps you zero in on your target market. Feel free to consult with me at your pleasure. No fee, no charge, just in the spirit of sharing.

Another thing. At Solar Turbines, division of Caterpillar, we got the City College to develop an automation course heavy on PLCs and Robotics. We then tried to advertise the course at various manufacturers in the area. We were forbidden to do so because the prevailing unions would not open the door to a classification with the word automation in it. (Ever wonder why almost all manufacturing is going offshore?).


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Reply to
Wayne Lundberg

all of the following is *opinion*

There are two types of robots, small toys and medium to large experiment platforms.

Are you going to go for a small AA battery powered, microcontroller based rover? RC car chassis with a micro? I find these of little practical use except to program, and being so small, they usually lack the type of sensors I want to program.

I think it would be best to have a medium sized platform, with a large area for 12V ?motorcycle? battery. Balanced with battery weight very low to the ground.

2 driven wheels, caster on front and back. Caster wheels need to be large to get over bumps and through thick carpet. Driven wheels are centered on robot, so when spinning the front and rear of robot are equidistant from center of spin.

Encoders on wheels/drive motors.

At least one sonar sensor on a servo. I think the cheapest way to get this done would be to get SRF-04 and program a PIC to talk to it. Have PIC talk I2c to the micro. Include (in PIC) code to turn turn the servo with PWM.

cheap IR detectors (3 on front,

3 on rear, 2 on each side) so it doesn't have to bump a wall to know it's there.

microswitch bumpers at each IR detectors, in case they fail to detect object. ^ ^ ^ | | |

------- -------

| | | V V V

In my opinion, there are already enough line followers/programmable turtles out there. If you design a new robot, it needs to be autonomous.

electronic compass,

PID? on motors. Can this be done with a PIC?

Keep everything hackable and expandable. Perhaps offer an "upgrade" that is brackets/ plastic casing, to make the robot look nice.

BASIC would be great for people to learn how to program...

Micro should have some RAM and storage device.

option of wireless link to PC, so you can do remote control, view sensor/motor status, program the micro from the PC.

cheap low resolution camera for vision. Line detection, object recognition, docking with charger.

software! If working with a wireless link to the PC, use MS or other speech recogn. program to allow voice control of the robot. Autonomous mapping without needing PC.

A website where you can share code. Download a ZIP file, unzip and send to the robot. Include "personality" updates, sensor updates, mapping program updates, etc.


Reply to

Guy, as you will see from my earlier post regarding possible markets for industrial robots... I am a likely customer.

I have, for years, searched for a cheap and easy interface between a standard PC and a PLC like device to drive either servos or steppers plus sequential programming of switches with time elements, etc. I have a Minarik PLC, a model 100 Radio Shack at one time the leader in this field, and half a dozen PCs for normal work. But nothing that I could connect an RS232 or Centronics or the new interfaces to a kit I could program using simple language such as what once existed in Lotus: "Factory". I even have a BASIC Stamp, but found it just too complicated for my short-circuited brain. It is fine for the young and wise among us, but for atrophied brains like mine.... no soap.

Leggo has a beauty, but it's limited to very simple commands... from what I have seen.

I'd be your first customer if you could come up with something like:

Make your PC talk to all the lights and appliances in your house. Make it be your burglar alarm and secret spy. Turn on water and turn it off. Connect it to infrared controllers in your living room to start your lawn-mower and turn off the coffee pot. Use it in your shop or factory to drive conveyors, monitor your heat treating oven......

All of this for $99 and ready to run by simply connecting the fully assembled kit, including two servo motors (or steppers) with all wiring, instructions and warranty.

I'll send you Paypal when you come up with something like this.


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Reply to
Wayne Lundberg


The other problem with novel is that people will not recognize it's value and like any paradigm, will not see it at all. This makes it tough to market. Look at my son's great idea and wonder why it has not captured a million buyers to date. It's just not in a person's mind.... a remote controlled sailing model for land... not sailboat, but sail car.

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and note that everybody that does take a look at his model fall instantly in love with it. But ten seconds later it fades from their mind because they can't associate it with anything they are really familiar with. So it will take a celebrity to be shown with one of his models somewhere before the rest of the world can 'see' a radio controlled surface sailing model.


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Reply to
Wayne Lundberg

Alas, I fear that you are right. We are exploring a number of possible new products, and emotionally I would like to make a robot simply because it would be so much fun to do. That's a perfectly fine basis for starting a newsgroup discussion, but not for spending real money developing something.

On the other hand, my management is OK with making and selling something that will only make a small profit or even a small loss, just to test the waters. I am still hoping that someone on comp.robotics.misc has an idea that will lead to a product.

Wayne Lundberg wrote:

I use eBay a lot, yet it never occurred to me to do what you describe. I just did a couple of test searches, and got some quite useful info. Thanks!

Reply to
Guy Macon

Are you going to say everything on your web site four times?

Reply to
Mark Haase

I plan on making my $$$ making web controlled robotic "adult" toys. Gotta go there the $$$ is. ;-)

Reply to
Si Ballenger

Guy Macon wrote in news:

Design something like this on a smaller scale:

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Either in a hobby kit form, or as a personal mobility device for the disabled, to take the place of a wheelchair.

If you've ever seen someone in a wheelchair stuck outside a building with no ramp, or stuck in snow or mud, or having to wait at the car while others go hiking, I think you will see a market, albeit a small one. Insurance companies pay for most of the cost of wheelchairs if the doctor "prescribes" it.

I would buy one.


Reply to

Hmmmm. I believe you need to rethink thisapproach. I feel the best, most successful products are those that the inventor/builder/marketer feels strongest about, and those tend to be ones created from their own idea. You've been in robotics long enough to know what you personally like and don't like. This is the best gauge you can have as to the type of product you should develop. Create a product YOU want to see. Hopefully it'll be what others want, too.

This doesn't mean you can't ask for customer input, set up focus groups, etc. But the product needs to be one that you're willing to "bet the farm" on. Granted, this approach puts more of you on the line. You're not as able to say, "Well I guess our customers steered us wrong."

Mike is correct about the oversaturation of the market, particularly on the hobby end.

-- Gordon

Reply to
Gordon McComb
[snip about robot markets]

I have been battling with this very question. I was involved with a fairly spectacular robotic company failure, "Denning Mobile Robotics." I have also been in several companies that have gone belly up since then.

In all the companies where I have had a direct influence one attaining our technology goals, we have. The disheartening aspect of this is that the success or failure is hardly ever to do with the technology. The iRobotics "Roomba" is a prime example, it is a nothing technology, a carpet sweeper monted on a goal seeking mouse robot.

Companies with "real" revolutionary technology seldom succeed. For every example of success, at least 10 or 100 failures can be found. This is because the technological visionaries may come up with great ideas, but they are usually abstract, and focused on their field and not the general public. It is not until the concepts filter out into fields not directly related that they get applied to solutions the original innovator hadn't suspected possible (or had the knowledge and/or ability to accomplish)

Robotics is just as hard. We can do some "interesting" things, but actuall non-trivial applications that really "work" are a long way off.

At Denning, we all loved robotics. We were all passionate. What we didn't know we learned as quickly as possible. We built some cool robots. We built a security guard robot. It could roam a factory or stock room, look for intruders, and notify the proper people of irregularities. It had ultra-sonics, radar, video, and a data link. It was harder 20 years ago than it is now, but the same capabilities exist. Suffice to say, a few of us on light funding embarrased MIT and Carnege Mellon, and produced a robot that could do, in real time, what their PHDs projects had to do in stop motion.

We thought the "security guard" as a great application. It presented few problems. We thought we could deploy it. We thought we could sell it. We thought we were going to be rich. Until .... Someone asked how much it cost. We said $400K. They said that's rediculous, they could hire a lot of minimum wage workers to do that job. If a minimum wage security guard is killed it doesn't cost the company a capital asset. Also, the robot would probably be the most valuable and most mobile object in the room. In short, it could do the job, but not in a more cost effective way as a moron.

So, mobile robotics is a technology that is growing, but it is still not very cost effective.

if you want to sell a robot, you are probably aiming towards schools or hobbiests, in which case you need to make it flexable and cheap. You need to focus on the development environment. Lego MindStorms already has the small robot market, so you'll probably want to focus on one that can carry a payload.

That's just my opinion, of course.

Reply to

mlw wrote in news:t

That's scary,

I've never heard the term "nothing technology" before. Can you elaborate? Is there a cutoff between a "nothing technology" and a "something technology"?



I assume you mean "10 to 100". This is true of the business world in general.

Not neccesarily. If there is a clear cut need for a product, and that product can be produced cheaper than it can be sold, it will be developed. Or else the government will develop it.

If you mean autonomous robotics, I agree.

Geez, I'm still learning.

We built some cool

No, it just drives their insurance premiums way up and causes lawsuits. How do you kill a robot?

Therefore, all security guards are morons. Hmmmm...

It is up to the collective "we" to bring that cost down.

Aibo. Target market?

And mine also, of course.


Reply to

One that has a wireless connection to a PC to take advantage of the computing power of a PC and the ease with which it can be programmed using BASIC or C to get the robot to do "interesting" things without the user having to be an expert on the Windows OS or the Linux OS.


Reply to

Regardless of the on board computer used a useful robot should have a wireless connection to the home computer to make use of its power and ease of programming to get the robot to do "interesting" things.

A bonus for a non-professional programmer would be the availability of library to make use of any on board sensors or actuators for programming those devices and a tutorial showing how to use those libraries from Java or even C or BASIC.


Reply to

mlw wrote (snip)

Mlw, why did you post to comp.robotics.misc and with followups set to comp.robotics.misc only? I assure you that posts about this topic are more than welcome in

Reply to
Guy Macon

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