Assuming that everything goes according to plan, Speecys Corporation will be unveiling an impressive new human/robot communication project at TieCon2009 in Santa Clara, California later today. We had the opportunity to discuss the project with Tomoaki Kasuga at the Speecys headquarters here last week, and to discuss his exciting vision for the future.
Kasuga has a long, proven track record of guiding advanced technology products to market. He graduated from Waseda University in 1979, majoring in electronics and information, then spent 6 years with Toshiba working on nuclear power plant controllers. In 1985 he joined Sony, initially as a pc hardware designer, then became the project manager for the Sony NEWS workstation product lines.
Moving to the Sony VAIO product group, he took on responsibility for the VAIO desktop products. Later he was specially selected to become a key technical manager for the Sony AIBO robot dog, and was the window for AIBO’s 3rd party software developer community.
But Kasuga’s had an even bigger dream. He wanted to build a business centered around human/robot interaction, a fusion of technology and personal communication that would result in exciting new applications to enrich day to day human life. So, in 2001 he left Sony to establish a new robotics company named Speecys.
Based on Kasuga’s vision, which has been basically unflagging since the founding of the company 8 years ago, the Speecys mission is:
“Our Goal is to create a wireless internet connected robot and enable innovative ways for consumers to enjoy Informational and entertainment services.”
He forsees a not-too-distant future where robots will be commonplace and are considered to be a part of our daily lives, internet connected wireless mobile devices capable of displaying emotional expressions, working closely and assisting their human counterparts in a very complementary fashion.
Over the years, Speecys developed quite a few humanoid robot products, including the world’s first fuel cell powered humanoid robot, and the SPC-101, a fully articulated and fully functional biped. Now Speecys is ready to take the next step, expanding on their previous success, to create an internet cloud based robotic system that they hope will see strong adoption and broad use around the world.
Speecys basic concept centers around ‘BotCasting’, the idea of a wireless internet robot broadcasting and interaction service. Each customer would have one, or more, robots capable of expression and communication. The Speecys Cloud Computing layer includes a number of unique features including a robot information database containing user preferences and profiles, the human/robot communication engine, a robot advertising engine, robot/robot communication engine, and other functionality like a user community and online sales.
The current Speecys demonstration system also incorporates support of voice interaction using a iPhone or Android equipped cell phone. Here’s a video of the system in action using the earlier Speecys SPC-101 robot:
Of course, as a small start-up company Speecys doesn’t expect to make all of this happen on their own, so they have teamed up with Sega Toys, leveraging the strengths and knowhow of both companies to the largest extent possible.
Using Speecys technical capability and accumulated internet robot knowledge combined with Sega Toy’s world famous brand recognition and marketing ability, they plan to release the first generation product and services by early next year (2010).
Current planning calls for a lower cost, yet still fully functional robot featuring attractive styling and human appeal capable of expressing sophisticated expressions. Pricing has not been announced but is expected to be in the $200 to $500 price range.
Many of the features in the earlier Speecys SPC-101 humanoid robot shown in the demonstration are expected to show up in the commercial product.
The earlier Speecys robot could talk, sing, dance, and even fall down in hilarious laughter.
Notice the LED display in the robots arm to express different emotional states and communicate information.
An onboard camera is expected to enable visual recognition and face tracking. Complex, compute intensive tasks will take place in the cloud, keeping the robots onboard computing tasks, and manufacturing costs, as economic as possible.
Speecys has attracted strong industry talent including Masaharu Kinoshita, the Business Planning Section manager who was responsible for optical disk design with NEC and Sony prior to joining the team.