Robotics players from all around the globe came together at the 2007 RoboBusiness Conference and Expo in Boston, MA to showcase their products and talk about the latest trends and developments in the field. One major theme of interest discussed throughout the conference was the move of robotics to the consumer market.
Companies like iRobot, Roomba creator and founding sponsor of the conference, have successfully shown a consumer market exists with their vacuum being introduced – but this market is still in need of development.
In a panel discussion on mobile robotics subsystems, sensors and components, a field mostly represented by the military, moderator Neena Buck pushed the topic of consumer value and where it stands in the marketplace. “These ideas in mobile robotics inform us of what will happen eventually for all kinds of consumer electronics,” says Buck, an industry analyst following intelligent systems and robotics with the Industrial Liaison Program at MIT. “What you’re going to see now in the short term is task-specific robots in the consumer world, and the tasks will have to do in some way with navigating the environment.”
Damien Salle and Vincent Dupourque of robotics solutions provider Robosoft presented their industrial-grade add-on robuBOX, a software box that is attached to a robot. RobuBOX, compatible with Microsoft Robotics Studio, utilizes proprietary libraries for robotic function and navigation. The add-on’s compatibility with Microsoft Robotics Studio makes it more accessible to the mainstream market. “Basically the role of this robuBOX is you take a piece of mechanics, drives and motors, you put a PC inside, you put robuBOX on top, and you have a running robot,” says Salle. “That’s the achievement that we are trying to reach.”
On the industrial side of the conference, Henrik Christensen, director of robotics at Georgia Tech and KUKA chair of robotics, spoke about the continued integration of machines into assembly and factory processes, but put emphasis on using machines for the “dirty, the dull and the dangerous” and using humans where intelligence is required. “We’re going to see totally mixed manufacturing,” says Christensen, who also grimly talked about the importance of safety. “The first time we kill somebody with a robot, we are out of business; we are seriously out of business.”
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