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 misc.business.product-dev and to comp.robotics.misc. Crosspost to misc.business.product-dev from comp.robotics.misc are welcomed, so there is no need to trim the newsgroups line)
Thanks!
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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.
Sorry
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Are you going to say everything on your web site four times?
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mehaase(at)sas(dot)upenn(dot)edu
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Guy Macon wrote:

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.
Kelly
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Kelly Hall wrote:

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 http://www.basicx.com /.) Another 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.
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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. Khler "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.
MfG JRD
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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.

product.
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---snip---
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. www.rcsailcars.com 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.
Wayne www.pueblaprototcol.com
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On Sat, 18 Jun 2005 07:26:55 CST, Guy Macon

I plan on making my $$$ making web controlled robotic "adult" toys. Gotta go there the $$$ is. ;-)
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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?).
Wayne www.pueblaprotocol.com
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blueeyedpop wrote:

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!
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Guy Macon wrote:

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
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On Sun, Jun 19, 2005 at 12:30:05AM +0000, Gordon McComb wrote:

Many (maybe even most) "robots" one comes across tend to be built with the primary purpose of obtaining a degree (MS, PhD, etc). Once they've served that purpose, development tends to stop.
I think that to make a great product, you have to stop thinking of it as a "robot", but instead think about what problem needs solved - what the potential customer wants. One owner of a drill company was purported to tell his sales force - "We don't sell drills, we sell holes." Stop getting all caught up in the bells and whistles of your product that no one really cares about and get inside the head of your customer and solve their problem. Then you have something that people must have.
Roomba sells not because it is a robot vacuum cleaner, but because it's a hands off vacuum cleaner that happens to be a robot. We have one and, contrary to some reports, it works great. No, it doesn't compare to our Dyson Animal, but turn it loose in the family room and it does an adequate job, all by itself, and finds the charger and turns itself off when it's done. It's effective in that we just bring out the Dyson less frequently for deep cleaning.
The really great "robots" may not be considered robots at all by many. Dishwashers and clothes washers. But the idea is the same - it's a machine that saves time and effort so you can do something else that you'd rather be doing. That's the killer app for automation.
But for purveyers of automation, it's really hard to compete with human labor as MLW's $400k security guard can attest. How about a robotic grocery shelf stocking robot - a potentially huge market to stock the shelves of stores around the world? But there's just no way a machine can compete with a high school kid working part time for a few dollars an hour.
The bane of automation is lack of environmental controls - which is pretty much the definition of the "real world."
So perhaps most "robots" are built to satisfy the creative outlet of tinkerers. Or to produce a degree. Or both.

Yep. And where it's not saturated, the killer app just hasn't yet been invented.
<bluesky> What we need are some practical, low cost super conductors. Something as easy to buy and use as a spool of regular copper wire. That and about a 10-fold improvement in battery/power technology. What a boon to invention / engineering that would be. </bluesky>
-Brian
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(Repost of an article posted in comp.robotics.misc)
Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005 05:15:14 GMT
On Sun, Jun 19, 2005 at 12:30:05AM +0000, Gordon McComb wrote:

Many (maybe even most) "robots" one comes across tend to be built with the primary purpose of obtaining a degree (MS, PhD, etc). Once they've served that purpose, development tends to stop.
I think that to make a great product, you have to stop thinking of it as a "robot", but instead think about what problem needs solved - what the potential customer wants. One owner of a drill company was purported to tell his sales force - "We don't sell drills, we sell holes." Stop getting all caught up in the bells and whistles of your product that no one really cares about and get inside the head of your customer and solve their problem. Then you have something that people must have.
Roomba sells not because it is a robot vacuum cleaner, but because it's a hands off vacuum cleaner that happens to be a robot. We have one and, contrary to some reports, it works great. No, it doesn't compare to our Dyson Animal, but turn it loose in the family room and it does an adequate job, all by itself, and finds the charger and turns itself off when it's done. It's effective in that we just bring out the Dyson less frequently for deep cleaning.
The really great "robots" may not be considered robots at all by many. Dishwashers and clothes washers. But the idea is the same - it's a machine that saves time and effort so you can do something else that you'd rather be doing. That's the killer app for automation.
But for purveyers of automation, it's really hard to compete with human labor as MLW's $400k security guard can attest. How about a robotic grocery shelf stocking robot - a potentially huge market to stock the shelves of stores around the world? But there's just no way a machine can compete with a high school kid working part time for a few dollars an hour.
The bane of automation is lack of environmental controls - which is pretty much the definition of the "real world."
So perhaps most "robots" are built to satisfy the creative outlet of tinkerers. Or to produce a degree. Or both.

Yep. And where it's not saturated, the killer app just hasn't yet been invented.
<bluesky> What we need are some practical, low cost super conductors. Something as easy to buy and use as a spool of regular copper wire. That and about a 10-fold improvement in battery/power technology. What a boon to invention / engineering that would be. </bluesky>
-Brian
--
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http://www.bdmicro.com/
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Brian wrote
The really great "robots" may not be considered robots at all by many. Dishwashers and clothes washers. But the idea is the same - it's a machine that saves time and effort so you can do something else that you'd rather be doing. That's the killer app for automation.
He makes a valid point. It also suggests some of the limitations of a robot. Fairly simple actions by "robots" have been successfully automated for years. But more complex actions still present challenges.
As an example of a simple action, I have an electric stove with a self- cleaning oven. When I push the right buttons the stove "knows" to lock the oven door, turn the power on the oven to bring it up to approx. 600 deg F, maintain that temperature for 3 hours, shut off the power, and unlock the door when the oven temperature drops below approx. 300 deg F. That's fairly simple programming in a controlled environment, i.e. the oven is literally insulated (and figuratively isolated) from the surroundings.
As an example of some complex actions, I recently purchased a Nikon D-70 camera. It's a great camera and I've already taken some good shots with it. To an extent, the camera is a robot, I can just set it in "auto" mode and snap away. Of course I didn't have to pay $1000 to just get a snap & shoot digital camera. Much of the value of the camera comes in the ability to customize the settings. Unfortunately, because there are so many variables, the programming is complex.
One of the complexities is that the camera must interact with the environment. I tried to take a picture of the sky at dusk, as the first stars were becoming visible. At first I had the camera set on "auto", the camera didn't take the shot. I just got a message that the light was too low. I then changed the settings and got a fairly good shot. But the point is, the programming correctly recognized that there wasn't enough light for most shots under those conditions. Until I specifically told it to make an exception it didn't "know" what I wanted.
I'm probably more knowledgeable about photography than the average digital camera purchaser, yet it will take several months to become proficient in the use of my digital camera. Consider a robot of the kind seen in sci fi movies from the 1950's and '60's. You could simply ask one of those robots to take a picture or make you a hamburger, and they'd do it.
Assuming that you could somehow design and build a robot capable of such tasks, how much programming would the consumer have to do to in order to get the robot to take a picture or make the burger the way he/she wants?
If my son makes a hamburger for me today (Fathers Day) he knows, or knows to ask: where the meat is; what size burger; seasonings; bun- and if so toasted; grilled or cooked on the stove; condiments; beer to drink . And if I tell him, he understands spoken English, I don't have to use a complex computer menu to communicate.
Give our current state of technology, robots may be helpful for well- defined, repetitive tasks. A Robbie-the-Robot type character is still far beyond our capability. If you really want to go into the robot business, think about some particular task and how automation could make it easier.
Richard
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Brian Dean wrote:

How about a robot floor scrubber? I would buy one of those, and I have never seen one advertised.
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Padu wrote:

(Homer Simpson voice) D'OH!
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< snippy snip >

< snippy snip>
I think the Balbot hit it pretty well. I think Jim Frye's modularization is a great thing.
One problem about the killer app, is that I am willing to bet that nearly every one of us has a "pipe dream killer app" tucked away at the back of our brains that we do not want to see capitolized on, lest we do not get a chance to do it for ourselves...
On that note, I will open up my killer app vault:
1) A true inertial balancing robot, with encoded motors (not wheels)
2) A back end replacement board for R/C servos ( see colin mackenzie ) that uses a more common bus and enables a wide variety of tuning and readback for position.
just my $2,000,000.00 worth.

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(Repost of an article posted in comp.robotics.misc)
Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005 13:32:52 GMT
< snippy snip >

< snippy snip>
I think the Balbot hit it pretty well. I think Jim Frye's modularization is a great thing.
One problem about the killer app, is that I am willing to bet that nearly every one of us has a "pipe dream killer app" tucked away at the back of our brains that we do not want to see capitolized on, lest we do not get a chance to do it for ourselves...
On that note, I will open up my killer app vault:
1) A true inertial balancing robot, with encoded motors (not wheels)
2) A back end replacement board for R/C servos ( see colin mackenzie ) that uses a more common bus and enables a wide variety of tuning and readback for position.
just my $2,000,000.00 worth.
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