The primary ROBO-ONE competitions, ROBO-ONE and ROBO-ONE Light, are held every six months, usually in February and September. At least one set of competitions is held in Tokyo with the other set occasionally being held in an “away” location.(more…)
An International Drone Exposition, featuring seminar sessions from some of the top Japanese and international leaders in the development and application of drone technology, is scheduled for May 20, 21, and 22nd at the Makuhari Messe Convention Center east of Tokyo.
Staged as a part of the larger Techno-Frontier event, the drone exhibitions and seminars will share the facility with other technology based events including Mechatronics, 3D Printing, Battery technology, Wireless, and others.
Most robot contests award outstanding performance. All the awards and glory goes to the smarter competitors that take advantage of the best, often state-of-the-art technology. Of course, that comes at a price, building champion level robots isn’t cheap. And, more importantly, it leaves out the vast majority of people who are interested in robotics but can’t compete at the top level, or can’t afford the cost of entry.
The answer, at least in Japan, is HEBOCON: The Robot Contest for Dummies!(more…)
We’re huge fans of crowdsourcing and have backed numerous projects on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo in the past. That being said, our results have been mixed at best. In general, our results have been better with Kickstarter projects, though both platforms have served up duds from time to time. As we pointed out in a previous post, the buyer should definitely beware. Choose the projects you back carefully, and make sure that you can afford to lose the money should the product fail to materialize.
PARROT, well known for creating unique products incorporating interesting technology at affordable prices with a great deal of flair, held a press event in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan in mid-March to preview the BeBop Drone. Although the drone had previously been released in other countries, it was new to Japan users and the media, and drew lots of attention and questions.(more…)
Tomotaka Takahashi has to be one of the most well known Japanese robot creators. His humanoid robots, featuring smooth fluid human-like movement, have all been inspired by his childhood fascination with Astroboy (known as Mighty Atom in Japan.) Unlike most children that outgrow their childhood dreams, Takahashi has made the unusual step of building his life long career following, and realising, his dream.
During March, the Konica Minolta Gallery next to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station featured an exhibition of Takahashi’s work, including one showroom with 100 of his ROBI robots.
F.T., short for Female Type, was first demonstrated by Takahashi in 2008 drawing tremendous press and public attention worldwide. Unfortunately it was never commercially marketed.
One of the original founders of Robot Garage at Kyoto University, Takahashi has played a key role in the evolution of RoboCup Robot Soccer competitions as well as advancing the state of humanoid robot technology.
He pays intense attention to the finest details. Many, if not all, of his creations are literally works of art. This has caused some difficultly in bringing them to market in any significant volumes. Some of his robots were primarily demonstration pieces, while others have been sold commercially by working together with third party companies and have met with mixed success.
ROBI has been Takahashi’s biggest commercial success, at least so far. Sold as a subscription kit in Japan, it quickly became popular with robot fans, students, and even senior citizens. Selling the complex robot kit in monthly instalments made the purchase acceptable to those that otherwise could never justify spending over US$1,500 on an entertainment/companion robot. Of course, the total cost ended up being closer to US$2,000 by the time users received the final kit parts, but their monthly incremental cost was about the same as buying a single magazine issue.
One of Takahashi’s robots even made it into space as a part of the KIBO ROBOT PROJECT.
Like many artists, in contrast with pure engineers, Takahashi spends a lot of time sketching out his concepts and ideas by hand as if he was drawing a Japanese manga or anime. His basic approach always starts from the organic, animated perspective. He has to compromise his designs somewhat in order to incorporate servo motors, gears, and linkages since they exist in a Cartesian/rectilinear world, but somehow he is able to avoid any significant performance degradation. The result is that all of his robots turn out to be incredibly lifelike, especially in their movement and actions.
Takahashi’s alliance with Panasonic, entering around the EVOLTA rechargeable battery line, has definitely been mutually beneficial resulting in miniature robots that have bicycled long distances, climbed ropes up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and even pulled a train car.
When we first heard about OZOBOT, a little over a year ago, all the buzz was about this new robot game piece that would make a dramatic difference in the gaming world. Then, very shortly thereafter, all the press and promotion switched to OZOBOT being a new and innovative way for young learners to learn the basics of programming/coding.
After spending a few days getting to know OZOBOT, our conclusion is that OZOBOT is both, and it is neither. It occupies a specific niche, almost an island, where it delivers significant value and can be highly recommended. Beyond that niche, it really isn’t clear, at least not yet, how far OZOBOT can be expanded or adopted to provide more of an extended learning experience.
OZOBOT’s design is quite innovative. It’s tiny, yet packs a lot of technology inside a body that’s just a little bigger than our thumb. In a nutshell, which is a strangely apt reference since the relative size is the same, OZOBOT is a line follower robot with two small drive wheels and a sensor array on the bottom. As it follows line paths, different color segments tell it to change behavior. The overall concept is very simple and straight forward. Students create paths with different colored segments, either with marking pens or by using their fingers to draw the lines and segments on an iPad or Android tablet. This enables them to quickly grasp the basic concept of programming and coding.
OZOBOT also provides visual feedback. For example, when it passes over a blue colored line segment, one of the robots LEDs glows blue. Students can change the robots mode using a button located on one side of the body.
All line follower robots require some sensor calibration since the operating environments and lighting can vary greatly. For OZOBOT, you just use the mode button to put the robot into calibration mode, a white LED will flash indicating it’s ready to be calibrated, then you place it on the provided calibration card. After a few seconds the LED flashes green, and you’re good to go.
In addition to preprinted line paths and some examples students can use to create their own, the company also supports several different smartphone/tablet applications for both iOS and ANDROID.
One application simulates the line creation process on screen. Actually, we prefer using this app over hand drawing lines since during our tests we were able to achieve much more consistent results that way. However, very young students may prefer the hand drawing method and may find it much more engaging and fun. A second application combines music and rhythm with the robots motions - kind of like a robot disco performance. It’s a fun app, especially for demonstrating the robot, but might get old in a hurry.
OZOBOT’s price is relatively low, typically less than USD$50 for one robot or under USD$100 for the special dual set package. Keep in mind that the robot is non-repairable, at least for anyone with less know-how and skill than an Ultra-Geek, and the built-in battery can’t be replaced. Once the robot breaks, or the battery wears out, you’ll have a cute little paperweight - which isn’t all bad.
So, where does OZOBOT fit in the larger scheme of things? It doesn’t appear to have gained traction as a robot game piece, at least we weren’t able to locate any commercial games that have adopted the technology.
On the other hand, many educators have incorporated the robot into their entry level programs. It seems like a natural fit to kickstart students into the core elements of programming and robotics. What isn’t clear is what the next natural learning step for the students should be. How do they transfer the learning and expand on it? At this point that seems to be a decision for each individual teacher or educator.