Unbounded Robotics & the Robot Revolution

The new workers of the future are going to stand 3 feet, two inches (though they can extend an additional 14 inches). And these short and small workers are going to change the way we work and live forever.

Watching the Jetsons when you were younger, seeing the Matrix, reading I-Robot, we’ve long considered robots a necessary part of our future. But the hardware wasn’t there, yet. Robots would need to bend to pick up a remote from the floor, and suddenly would freeze, unable to reach, algorithms a mess, unable to process or complete the task, a loop.

Willow Garage finally rectified that problem, creating the PR2 which was a multi-functional, two-armed robot which could fold laundry. Suddenly, the robot revolution didn’t seem far off.

But it didn’t happen. Willow Garage faded away, gave away 11 of their amazing robots, and was absorbed into Suitable Technologies, which focused on video-conferencing technology. Robotics, in particularl open-source robotics, was at a standstill. And why? Because of the price. The PR2 cost $400,000. In businesses, there was no way to get back a profit return. In the research lab, it could only be used in the lab, and the functions were limited – it was too expensive to risk breaking or damaging the robot. With a price tag so high, extreme care was necessary, but in order for true experimentation to take place, risk has to often be an element. The research stalled, the company ended. End of story.

Today, though, a new chapter is being written. How? Because of four Willow Garage alumni: Melonee Wise, Michael Ferguson, Derek King, and Eric Diehr. These are the founding team members of Unbounded Robotics, a new startup that plan to unleash a new, multi-functional ROS-powered robot that will ship as early as Summer 2014.

unbounded team

Image by Andra Keay {linked to http://robohub.org/unbounded-robotics-launch-affordable-all-purpose-ubr-1/}

These robots exceed the limitations of robots like Baxter, which at $22,000 is recognizable as competition, but which remains immobile, needing to be lugged around to each task. These robots combine mobility and manipulation to create a robot that can function more like a human worker. They were specifically designed with researchers and businesses in mind.

As a 2nd gen version of the PR2, these robots came with two goals based on why the PR2 had ultimately failed: to cheapen ROBOTSthe cost and to allow for customizability. And what they developed, the UBR-1 which is being marketed at $35,000, is the culmination of these ideas and possibly the legendary first robot in the robot revolution that will first sweep over businesses and then turn to the household.

They were able to cheapen the cost of the robot by doing a few things – first by making it with one arm, instead of two. Rarely are two arms needed and if they are, said one potential customer, “I can just buy another one.” Another way they were able to cheapen the cost was to use different components: instead of using $5,000 sensor and camera technology, they used commoditized sensors: the Kinect. Using technology from Microsoft’s Kinect, like the 3D camera from Prime Sense, they were able to get what normally took $5,000 by replacing it with a $150 sensor.

Their second goal, customizability, is still in process, but the UBR-1 comes pre-designed for future changes in user needs. If the grip needs to be changed, for instance, the clamp is modular to allow for modifications. The computer ports are easily accessible in a side panel, leaving room of if a user should decide to attach a beer koozie for beverage convenience or mount a dish rack for a cleaning robot. And, as to the software development, they are counting on the robotics community. Reads Unbounded’s Launch Blog:

As a platform for robotics research, we are looking forward to seeing how the UBR-1 is put to use in both R&D and commercial markets.  Similar to an iPhone without any third-party apps, the greatest contribution of the UBR-1 will be the output from the robotics community that is able to take advantage of this sophisticated mobile manipulation platform.

The UBR-1 robot comes with updated technology in comparison to the PR2, which is merely the impact of 5 years going by, but the features allow for a much wider range of possibility. With torso lift, it has a wider range of mobility, with its large battery life, it can run continuously for 5 hours, it can navigate and interact with objects, it is built to be easier to maintain and repair, complies to ADA standards, and after all is said and done, it leaves a much smaller environmental footprint. And futurama-insane-stabbing-robotfor those of you worried about the robot apocalypse, it comes with a nifty complete-shutdown button.

As early as this summer, grocery store stockers could be replaced with robots. The robot revolution –  inevitable, exciting, the way of the future, and also feared – is upon us, but other goods can also arise than the replacement of the worker. Elderly that remain independent for longer also live extensively longer, research shows, and if using robots to perform simple tasks and extend mobility would allow seniors to live on their own longer, it could lead to a change in the standards of living. Perhaps even someday robotic usage would be part of an extensive insurance plan.

Three feet, two inches, eh? Can’t wait to see what these short metal men will do and what Unbounded Robotics will come up with next.

 

For more information go to:

 

Image 2 by Cecelia Kang {link to http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2013/03/10/general/will-robots-end-up-creating-jobs-or-end-them/}

Image 3 by Jeffrey Van Camp {link to http://www.digitaltrends.com/international/u-s-navy-to-ignite-the-robot-apocalypse/}

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