SAN JOSE, Calif. – Service robots were on the march at the RoboBusiness conference here.
The category has been percolating for many years without major breakthroughs. But the event gathered a handful of entrepreneurs who in the last few years had time and money and decided they wanted to gamble it on the emerging market – and now are on the brink of shipping their bots.
Of the handful of founders I met, I found the folks at AvatarMind had the most interesting story.
Like many entrepreneurs in the area they had no direct experience in robotics. But they did know a thing or two about artificial intelligence from their work on a version of the Jot handwriting recognition software for the Palm Pilot which provided the seed money for their new venture.
Their concept is the iPal, a playmate and nanny aimed at one-child families in China. It will sell for $1,000 early next year when it goes on sale, and the founders claim many households can afford it given the rapidly rising middle class there.
Jiping Wang and John Ostrem of AvatarMind flank their iPal.
The iPal runs on an Atom chip running Android, managing 19 sensors and 25 motion controllers across eight circuit boards. The software was chosen to give the startup an instant ecosystem of Android apps it can tap.
Like most of the current crop of service robots it runs on wheels. Stairs remain a challenge that only researchers and industrial products are trying to surmount.
Sony pioneered the robotic companion years ago with its Aibo robot dog. But the $10,000 product was out of range of the vast majority of consumers. AvatarMind hopes iPal’s lower cost and more open software helps it find a broader market.
Next page: An assistant on a sonar leash