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.
What we didn't expect, probably no one expected, was that a crowdfunding project team would accuse funders of defamation and refuse to ship their product – even though the product was over half a year late and the funder's claims seem to be somewhat justified. This appears to have happened after Cobblebot LLC failed to deliver 3D printers to their backers long after the due dates.
One can certainly debate whether or not the original project description was credible or not. After all, Cobblebot (the company name might have been a red flag) offered a state of the art 3D printer with performance claims that rival commercial printers at 10 times the price for less than USD$300. Be that as it may, the company had the balls to take aggressive action against one of the project backers, including quoting sections from Texas law regarding defamation of character.
To make things even more interesting, the company stated that the backer's actions were being “…reviewed by the legal department for inclusion in our fourth round of upcoming legal actions being filed to protect our company's reputation from the illegal act of defamation.” Did you pick up on that? Apparently this is the fourth round of legal actions for the company.
To put it in context, Cobblebot raised well over USD$300k for the initial project, and now has a second active Kickstarter project that has already raised USD$108k. For obvious reasons, we're not going to link to that project in this post.
We're certainly not trying to take a position on who is right, or wrong, in this dispute. That's a problem for the courts, assuming that things devolve to that state eventually. All we're trying to do is to raise awareness of the potential risks and pitfalls involved in crowdfunding. There are no guarantees. Backing a crowdfunding project is very different from buying a commercial product from a well known manufacturer or retail shop.
Be careful. It's a jungle out there. Exploring jungles can be fun, but only as long as you understand the risks involved and plan accordingly.
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.
A strong competitor to the DJI Phantom drone series, the BeBop has a number of unique features that PARROT hopes will help to differentiate it from the Phantom drone models. Smaller and lighter than the Phantom series, the BeBop drone is easier to transport and deploy. Being totally self-contained it may have a shorter learning curve for those that are new to the drone market.
At the same time, the BeBop build quality seems cheaper, and less robust than the Phantom. Certainly the battery installation/swap-out process is more problematic for the BeBop. And users are constrained to using the built-in internal camera while Phantom users have the option of using other manufacturers cameras. They can upgrade video performance by swapping cameras as suppliers release newer improved versions.
Frankly speaking, Bebop appears to be positioned as a high end, high performance toy. In comparison, DJI's Phantom series is positioned as their low-end, low-cost professional product.
Japan list prices for the BeBop put it head to head with the Phantom series, which could pose a significant problem. The BeBop purchase case would be much easier if it sold for about $200 below the Phantom. Even at $100 lower it might be a reasonable alternative. But, having to pay as much as the Phantom for a product that doesn't deliver equivalent build quality, flexibility, and performance in some areas, may be hard for customers to rationalize.
Moreover, customer expectations in Japan are significantly different from U.S. and European customers. For example, a well respected member of the Japanese press asked if PARROT would take any responsibility for accidents caused by customers using the drone. The company representative took the question seriously and answered politely that operational accidents are the users responsibility. Of course, the Japanese don't expect the company to take full responsibility, especially in cases where the drone is used incorrectly, but they do expect that PARROT would take some partial responsibility.
It will be interesting to see how well Bebop does in this market - whether it will take off or not (pun intended). Honestly, I was very tempted to purchase one but have held back because of the pricing. It could be a good addition to my existing robots and drones. At the same time, I'm not sure that PARROT has any longer term plans for a Bebop 2 or Bebop 3 - and I know that DJI will certainly continue to evolve and enhance the Phantom product line.
On Monday, April 13th, the Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ bank unveiled a new robot information assistant that listens to customers questions and provides helpful guidance and advice.
The robot, essentially an Aldebaran NAO humanoid with some custom datafiles and programming, is the first experiment and based on the trial results the bank plans on introducing the robot in hundreds of their branches throughout the country.
As they collect data on customer reactions to the new robot, typical inquiries, and the like, the bank in conjunction with Aldebaran will make adjustments and improvements to the system.
NAO isn't intended to replace human bank staff. Quite the contrary. Bank management seems to using the robot as a combination customer service and marketing tool providing a higher level of customer support and consistency while presenting the bank as a user of the latest technology.
Several of the customers attracted to the robot asked about the meaning of the NAO name. Consistently, at least while I was there, they assumed that the robot was a Japanese design and were mildly surprised to find out it comes from France. One of them even told us with a straight face that NAO must stand for “Nihon Automated Otoko" (Japan Automated Man).
Related links: NAO robot: intelligent and friendly companion | Aldebaran #robotsdreams
More information at Robots Dreams
While the basic concept underlying the ROBO-ONE initiative is to promote humanoid robot entertainment along with education. over the years many competitors have tried to design robots that take advantage of the rule.
Currently, each robot is carefully inspected as part of the event check-in process to insure that they comply with all the regulations including height, weight. balance, arm reach, design, and a number of other factors.
The two robots featured in this video, Garoo and Chrome Kid, have partcipated for many years and typically capture some of the top awards including the ROBO-ONE Championship multiple times.
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.
Everyone knows how crazy the Japanese are about humanoid robots, but it's hard to really appreciate how extreme the mania is unless you can go behind the scenes and experience it first hand. In mid-March we were lucky enough to have access to all the pit areas for the 10th bi-annual ROBO-ONE Light competition.
Keep in mind that this is just one of the many humanoid competitions that take place regularly in Japan. There are regional competitions across the nation, some colleges and universities stage regular competitions, and some robot companies like KONDO hold competitions as well. It’s hard to get a good estimate of how many people are actively involved in the sport, and learning experience, nationwide. We can only judge from the large crowds of participants and audience that turn out in force for events like this.
Moreover, each one of those robots represents an investment of typically USD$1,500 or more plus countless hours of assembly, testing, motion creation, modifications/improvements, and practice. It’s not unusual for a fan dedicated to the sport to invest USD$10,000 or more constantly evolving and improving their robot over a period of many years.
Competitors come from all walks of life, age groups, and genders. While some of the participants are professional engineers, many are students, housewives, and even truck drivers. The one thing they have in common is a passion for robotics.
Related links: ROBO-ONE 10 #robotsdreams
More information at Robots-Dreams.com