Developing a robot worth buying

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. ^ ^ ^ | | | <-- 1--2--3 --> <-- 1-----1 --> ------- ------- <-- 2-----2 --> <-- 1--2--3 --> | | | 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.
Rich
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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.
Wayne www.pueblaprotocol.com
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Wayne Lundberg wrote:

I am thinking that the solution for someone who finds stamp basic too complicated and mindstorm language too limiting is to use Logo.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logo_programming_language http://el.media.mit.edu/logo-foundation/logo / http://www.engin.umd.umich.edu/CIS/course.des/cis400/logo/logo.html
If you find time to look at it, let me know what you think of it as a basis for robot control. (Of course there is no need to pick just one; I can see merit to providing several control languages).
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Thanks, will take a look at it.
Wayne
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.===snip---
Now I remember. The Turtle appeared way back when the TRS-80 and first IBM PC appeared. Then when Autocad appeared they used Lisp and maybe still do. I never got into either, so maybe now is the time to take a good look. Interesting that they are still around, even though not well publicized. Kind of like BASIC.
Wayne
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Design something like this on a smaller scale:
http://www.safnet.org/archive/902_machine.cfm
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.
Joe
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Guy Macon wrote:
[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.
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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"?

Ford.
For

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.
Joe
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joecoin wrote:

You would think, but you know, the vast majority of startup companies go out of business. I have also been involved with companies that have been successful. I pride myself with the fact that I usually accomplish what I set out to do. Sometimes accomplishing the technology isn't enough.
In technology, hardware or software, you have a choice. Do something interesting at a startup, or do something boring at an established company. There are few exceptions to ths rule. An established company is more secure and generally pays OK with benefits. Startups are like playing the lottery.

To me, at least, a "nothing technology" is one where nothing is actually accomplished. A "roomba" is a small goal seeking robot that is a very well understood task. People have been doing it for 20 years. A carpet sweeper has been around for over a century. So what? they add an electric carpet sweeper to a micro-mouse. Snooze.

One out of?

Exactly.
If there is a "clear cut need" for a product, it seldom takes a visionary to think of it. Most of the time it is bolting two or more well understood technologies together. Say, a carpet sweeper and a micromouse.
20 years ago when they had micromouse contests, it was "visionary" and "revolutionary," but you couldn't sell a roomba for $1000.

Sorry, yes. When I say robot mean "autonomous mobile robot."

A never ending cycle, for sure.

You steal a robot. I thought that was implied.

I wouldn't say "all" are morons. I worked as a security guard when I was young. Even if not a moron, it is a job that requires only moron level intelligence.
A moron is not nessisarily a description of the person but of the minimum requirement of the person who will do a task. It doesn't matter if you have hired Tesla if you use him to push a broom.

Minimum wage hourly workers are pretty cheap. The functionality of the robot must exceed the capability of a moron and cost less than the minimum wage, otherwise business will hire minimum wage workers. I am dubious that the echnologies are there yet.

Aibo?
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Have you ever owned your own company?
[snip]

So where does "nothing" turn into "something"?

All auto manufactureres currently in business are survivors of a "real" technology revolution. I will be so bold as to estimate that over 95% of the auto makers who no longer exist were absorbed by others. If you sell out of a business, I consider that a success.
[snip]

If you mean you couldn't sell a Roomba 20 years ago for $1000, you are right, it did not exist.

You steal a robot. I thought that was implied.
Easy enough to prevent, rig it up like the Talon units being used by the US military. If captured, self destruct, taking your "captor" along with you.

He couldn't puch a broom 24/7/365. This is what I believe is the key.

How much do you believe a minimum wage worker costs?

Aibo, target market, man in the street. (Actually, man in the streets spoiled child).

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mlw wrote: [...]

Are the makers of the roomba robot successful?
Often "techie" people have no business sense or any understanding of human psychology or even the economics of their "visions".
When products like this come on the market they might create a better acceptance for the idea of autonomous appliances thus paving the way for the "something technology" that people such as yourself will bring onto the market?
They might even provide cheap hardware, due to mass production, on which the "something technologies" can take advantage of. Something like the white box, if mass produced, could be a basic unit for a "something technology" which otherwise would be too expensive.
The PC is a good example of a powerful product made cheap by mass production. I don't know if you see "MSWindows" a "nothing technology" but at least it created the need for mass produced cheap hardware to run it.
Apparently streamline cars were designed a long time ago but people weren't ready to accept anything that looked so strange. They were used to the horse and cart. Everything has to happen in stages and the "nothing technologies" might be a "something stage" in that process.
-- JC
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joecoin wrote:

Yup, it ain't easy.

It doesn't, however a pet rock may fund something better.

It is a debatable point. Also, may auto makers went out of business and were not absorbed.

Didn't it? All the capabilities were there. I would say the gateway technology was batteries.

That would be illegal and almost certainly cause someone to be convicted of man slaughter if not murder. If you knowingly create an intentionally lethal booby trap, that is murder.

Yes, but 4 morons can push a broom 6 hours each for $5+ dollars an hour with no benefits.
Mobile robotics is not at a stage where it is reliably turn-key.

Depends on the structure of the employment.

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mlw wrote:

Even worse than that, you would still lose a $400,000 investment if it blew itself up. And if it was self-destructed I doubt that insurance would cover it. :) -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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I'm not too certain of that, since my pet rock died. I had him turned into gravel and spread him in the driveway. He would have wanted it that way. Alas poor Stony.

I'd need to see proof of that. Some of the very early automakers may have had their assets turned back into buggy making companies, but I would venture to guess that after about 1915 or so, with the dawn of specialized equipment not suited to any other industry, most automakers who went out of business sold their equipment to other auto makers. The market was starting to explode.

If the technology was there, and the perceived need was there, where was the Roomba?

Yeah,yeah. Details, details. All right, how about this? The robot "incapacitates" anybody who attempts to do it harm.(OK, we're messing wiht Asimovs incarnate laws here.) Wait a minute!! This is a "security robot", it's supposed to do something when there is a breach in security, right? Don't you suppose it would be programmed to take some action to protect not only the area it is guarding, but also to protect itself? Maybe it can dial 911.

Where do you find these people at these prices?

Though the minimum wage is $5.65 (or whatever it is this week), there are many more costs involved in employing people. FUTA, SUTA, insurance, advertising the postion, sick days, vacation, etc. Figure a labor burden of $10 / hour. That's a conservative estimate. 168 hours / week times $10 / hour $1680.00 a week = $87,360 a year. Figure a 5 year lease, you could get a pretty good jump on your $400,000 robot.
Realistically, you will not find trustworthy people who will work for minimum wage. Soft costs, such as theft, are hard to work into the equation, but with the robot, they are eliminated.
When the price of a security bot gets to a level that a bean counter can justify, then it will happen.
Joe
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joecoin wrote:

If it wasn't clear, the proceeds from the sales of pet rocks, i.e. the roomba, if successful, may be able to fund more capable products.

There were, and are, many auto makers that you have never heard of. Small specialty companies. Look up factory five. This type of cottage indistry has been around for a long time. It's sort of like beer. With the exception of prohibition, there have always been huge numbers of companies, some profitable, some not.

What makes you think it would suddenly appear? Wht about wine coolers? People have been mixing b-grade wine with fruit juice for centuries. Suddenly in the '80s a couple guys think to sell it as a product. The a few product engineers decide to use clear malt beverage (zima). Thus the "cooler" was born.

That isn't the point. The question, can one or more security guard robots roam a facility in a more cost effective manner than a couple morons?
The robot will almost certainly require some sort of support contract or guy employed to make sure it keeps working. It will "never" work 24x7. Even if it worked 100% perfectly, what is the battery drain/charge cycle?

Everywhere.
If you hire more part time workers and don't pay benefit or insurance you can reduce he cost. If you hire cleaing company or security company, they'll hire illegals and shield you from the legal issues.

Lock the doors and and put cameras in place.

Yes, that is sort of my point. It isn't there yet, probably not for some time.
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JGCASEY wrote:

Yes they are, and that is sort of the point I was making. True revolutionary innovation is seldom successful
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No, after 40 hours , you must, by law, pay overtime. Additionaly, though the minimum wage is $5.65 (or whatever it is this week), there are many more costs involved in employing people. FUTA, SUTA, insurance, advertising the postion, sick days, vacation, etc. Figure a labor burden of $10 / hour. That's a conservative estimate. 168 hours / week times $10 / hour $1680.00 a week = $87,360 a year. Figure a 5 year lease, you could get a pretty good jump on your $400,000 robot.
Realistically, you will not find trustworthy people who will work for minimum wage.
When the price of a security bot gets to a level that a bean counter can justify, then it will happen.
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joecoin wrote:

Or, you can take the Wal-Mart approach, and contract with a company that uses undocumented workers, an unknown number of which were not paid overtime or minimum wage. Lots of savings there!
Seriously, the straight-line cost is only a small part of the picture. A robot is a capital expense. In addition to the actual ticket price, a company must calculate its ROI, against using that money for something else. Money costs money, either in lost investment, finance charges, or whatever. A $400,000 robot actually costs more like $500,000 to $600,000. All this before service agreement, maintenance, upgrade, and operator's costs, of course. Robots don't just run themselves.
Hourly or salaried workers, OTOH, are paid incrementally, and costs associated with them are known. Once you've factored in direct employee expenses, there are no finance charges, maintenance fees, etc. for a human. In the end they're pretty cheap.
-- Gordon
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Yes, money costs a LOT of money.
Gordon , you're a man of vision. Robots that don't run themselves are going to be run and repaired by other robots.

Yep, humans can be pretty cheap, you get what you pay for. Robots don't (won't) steal. Or will they? They don't call in sick either. (Happened to me today, my chief tech called in sick, I had to go do his job, and of course I had a bad time of it. I feel as though today is the anniversary of Murphys law, and he is really celebrating.)
Joe
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joecoin wrote:

Was that meant to be sarcastic? I though that Gordon explained it fairly well for a single paragraph verion of expense economics.

I thought we were talking about things available now or in the near future. The $400,000 security guard was an *old* project.
Yes, sometime in the future we will develop robots that can repair other robots. Of course, these robots will also cost money.

Just imagine when a hacker gets into the robotic security system and empties your warehouse overnight. And of course, robots *never* break down. :) -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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