The wonderful world of robots?
The world is teeming with footage and images of robots that
resemble anything from humans to insects. Each seems as fantastic as the
next, but are they a smoke screen for an industry striving to reach a
mass market? Nicola Tomatis, CE0 of the Lausanne-based robotics firm
BlueBotics SA, reveals his fears about the demise of the market for
robots that assist humans. Unless some new sellable products are
launched by the middle of this decade, he predicts that investors will
lose interest in these metal man-made creatures.
For decades, the field of robotics has captured the imagination of
those inside and outside the technology arena. Illustrators have brought
us inspired creations like C3PO C3PO Star Wars protocol droid model
C3PO Custom Third Party Object or Wall-E and scientists have added to
the dream of a robotic evolution with a whole range of real creations:
flying and underwater robots, devices that defuse bombs in war zones and
robots that test soil on other planets. Finally, at the start of
November, Japanese company Honda unveiled the world's most advanced
humanoid robot It has been suggested that Android & Actroid be merged into this article or
section. thus far: 1,30 metre-tall Asimo, who can run and climb
stairs. But how close are we really to the age of Robo Sapiens sa*pi*ens
Of, relating to, or characteristic of Homo sapiens.
[Latin sapi ?
Life an Mars
In 2016, a scheduled mission to Mars is set to land a robot vehicle
called ExoMars, whose technology was designed and built by BlueBotics
SA, the brainchild of award-winning entrepreneur Nicola Tomatis from
Ticino. The rover's job will be to explore the Martian landscape.
Part of the innovation square near Lausanne's Swiss Institute
of Technology (EPFL EPFL Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (French: Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland)
EPFL Enoch Pratt Free Library (Baltimore, Maryland)
EPFL European Professional Football Leagues ), Tomatis' firm, BlueBotics SA, is a national
leader in mobile robotic technologies. For over a decade, he and his
team have been working on technologies that allow robots to move around
obstacles and adapt to any environment, using one of their trademark ANT
(Autonomous Navigation Technology) systems. This technology also led to
products, such as the Robox entertainment droids, which guided visitors
around the Expo 02 in Neuchatel. In 2007, the company teamed up with
Nespresso[R] to create Nesbot, a robot that made and delivered up to 150
coffees per day to attendees at a conference in Rome. The prototype is
still being developed further.
In recognition of his achievements, Tomatis won the Robotics and
Automation Society's Early Career award in 2008. Two years later,
Swiss magazine Bilan named him one of Switzerland's 300 most
An uncertain future
Despite an illustrious past and a solid reputation, Tomatis fears
for the future of 'service robots', which are the breadwinners
for BlueBotics SA. An often-used and unclear term, it refers to all
robots that assist humans--both domestically and commercially--excluding
devices used in industry (such as robotic arms in the car industry).
Tomatis fervently believes that the service robot Service robots assist human beings, typically by
performing a job that is dirty, dull, distant, dangerous or repetitive, including household chores.
They typically are autonomous and/or operated by a build in control system, with manual override
options. segment will die
within the next three to five years, if there are no major
breakthroughs. "There has been so much expectation and investment
[in service robotics] that either someone brings out some new successful
applications or this part of the world's robotics chapter will
close," he says.
The 39-year-old entrepreneur, who has a PHD in robotics, explains
that the sight of seemingly advanced robots in the media serves only to
falsely raise investors' and consumers'
expectations--especially when many roboticists who show off their
products are unable to deliver to the mass market. "There are some
fantastic robots out there, but all too often they are made by a
university that has just one product," he says. "There is a
lot of hype with too few deliveries and this poses a danger to the
market," he adds.
Big investors, such as Japan, the United States United States, officially United States of America,
republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The
United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in
area. and the European
Commission, have heavily funded robotics in recent years. But, if they
do not see a return on their capital very soon, their patience will run
out, says the scientist.
"Roboticists are also generally reluctant to
collaborate," Tomatis explains. Small groups of specialists in
Europe often compete with each other, rather than teaming up to create a
successful robot. "This doesn't make sense. If any one of
those companies has success, it's good for everyone. We have to
build up the market."
The cost of robots
Today, the highest-selling robot for commercial applications in
terms of revenue, is a device that pumps milk from cows' udders
(19,000 units sold in 2009). It is followed by unmanned flying
'drones', used by armies in war combat zones (16,000 units
sold in 2009). Next on the list, respectively, are underwater robots
(often used to search for oil), and medical robots (used for complex
In the global domestic sector, the big cash cow Cash Cow
1. One of the four categories (quadrants) in the BCG growth-share matrix that represents the
division within a company that has a large market share within a mature industry.
2. is American company
iRobot[R]'s Roomba, a small, flat, circular vacuum cleaner vacuum cleaner, mechanical device
using a draft of air to remove dust, loose dirt, or other particulate matter from dry surfaces. It is
especially useful on highly textured surfaces, such as carpets and upholstery, that are difficult to
clean by wiping or brushing.,
launched in 2002, that hoovers your entire floor without you having to
lift a finger. Although competitors such as Electrolux[R] released a
similar device around the same time, they were unable to compete with
Roomba's low retail price of approximately 400 dollars, iRobot
achieved this by insisting that each electronic component cost no more
than one dollar a piece. To date, the US giant claims to have sold over
six million Roombas worldwide.
Tomatis believes more cost-effective service robots like Roomba
need to appear, if the market is to survive. But among the big players
like Japan (market leader) and the US, how do countries like Switzerland
fare in the robotics industry?
There are many small robotics companies such as Cyberbotics (mobile
robot A Mobile Robot is an automatic machine that is capable of movement in a given
Mobile robots have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one
physical location. prototyping and simulation software), Skybotix AG (micro aerial
robots) or VIS See (sensor technology). They all do interesting work,
says Tomatis, but what is needed is to take a leaf out of the
Americans' book. "In Europe and Switzerland, failure is seen
as much more of a problem than in the US, where you take a big risk and,
if you fail, then you start again and are more likely to find
success," he says. "Switzerland [and Europe], on the other
hand, is more cautious," he adds.
As for BlueBotics SA, Tomatis says he is "determined" to
adapt to the market. The roboticist is constantly looking to collaborate
with other companies and hopes that if Nespresso were to one day launch
a Nesbot to the mass market using his venture's mobile
technologies, this could really stimulate the industry. In the meantime Adv. 1. in the meantime -
during the intervening time; "meanwhile I will not think about the problem"; "meantime he was
attentive to his other interests"; "in the meantime the police were notified"
the firm is focusing on robots for commercial use, a sector, which in
2009, was worth $13.2 billion, compared to the domestic market's
smaller share of $2.8 billion.
"For us, it's full steam ahead," says Tomatis.
"The worst thing that could happen is that we fail because we
didn't try. Now is the time to try".
Despite many machines such as automata automata - automaton (complex mechanical devices
that could function autonomously) allegedly existing since the ancient
Greeks, it was not until 1920 that Czech playwright Karel apek coined
the term 'robot' meaning 'drudgery' in the Czech
language arid 'labour' in Slovak.
For further information: www.bluebotics.com
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