The end of an era?


Walking through Akihabara this afternoon after our presentation we were reminded how quickly technology shifts and morphs, and the businesses it creates, and destroys along the way.

The small shops, especially those on the back streets of what has to be the world's most well known electronics district, offer clues to the latest trends, and foretell the short term future, if we pay attention.


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Kindergarten Size Robot Interacts With Humans (Video)

In addition to the two smaller, dare we say 'younger' infant robots we covered in our earlier post, the Asada Synergistic Intelligence Project team also demonstrated “M3–Kindy”, approximately the size of a five year old.

To emulate the motions, sensing, perception, and interaction of a kindergarten age child, the robot was equipped with microphone ears, video camera eyes, and over 100 tactile sensors as well as 42 servos.

Thanks to KMoriyama, here are a series of videos from today's symposium:

M3–Kindy waking up, rolling over, and starting to crawl:

Seeing another person smile, responding with a smile, and interacting with others:

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Asada Synergistic Intelligence Project Baby Robot Progress (Video)

Looks like the ERATO Research Project group has been making a lot of progress, especially the Asada Synergistic Intelligence Project focused on developing human shaped robots that can communicate complex and a wide variety of movement.

One key objective is to explore motor learning and cognitive development in babies. It's important to understand that the researchers are not trying to develop robots that would replace human babies in any way. Quite the contrary. They hope that by developing robots that can replicate or mimic a human baby's cognitive development process they can discover and validate significant principles that will support similar adaptive learning for future robots that will be able to cooperatively coexist with people in our complex human society.

Here are a couple of videos uploaded by KMoriyama showing the latest project demonstrations in action. The videos were taken earlier this afternoon during a symposium at Tokyo University. First, the “Noby” baby robot:

And, the “M3–Neony” robot:

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Early Observations on the iPad

 Photo Credit: Johan Rooms

A lot of readers and friends have asked how I like the iPad, and whether it can replace a laptop. Here's what I wrote after my experience last weekend:

“I used the iPad with the BT keyboard exclusively during BarCamp Tokyo 2010. BarCamp was an extremely intense, day long (9 am to 9 pm) event with short (typically 15 minute) sessions packed back to back continuously with only short breaks for lunch and dinner.

People had to move from room to room to participate in the sessions they were interested in. With the iPad I was able to shift locations quickly without having to worry about cables, power, or weight. More important, with the keyboard and my ability to touch-type, I found it easy to take notes while keeping my eyes and attention on the discussion/presentation - often participating in the debate without getting distracted by a computer.

The normal laptop is a distraction, and forms a 'wall' between the participants. The iPad is non-obtrusive. And I was able to use it all day without being plugged in, carrying spare batteries, recharging. The instant-on feature made using it a pleasure instead of the frustration I've experienced with WinDoze laptops.

I also used the Camera app for the iPad that allowed me to take photos with my iPhone and have them automatically transferred to the iPad via BlueTooth. That worked well, basically *as advertised* by the app developer, and I was able to capture images during the sessions then create blog posts using them real time. The major drawback is that the iPhone camera currently doesn't allow you to change the image resolution when taking the shot. All the iPhone images are 2 megapixel, which can take a while to transfer using BlueTooth. Of course other iPhone camera apps allow you to take lower resolution shots, but the iPad Camera app doesn't support that feature yet. This would be especially helpful while blogging since blog post images can be just a fraction of a megabyte.”

Do I like the iPad? Well, in the four weeks or so that I've been using it I've only resorted to turning on my laptop about three times. That was to grab some files off it, and in one case to process a large batch of photos and videos.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

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USS Enterprise Lands In Washington State

We stopped in Pasco, Washington to enjoy a couple days of rest and relaxation before heading down to San Francisco for RoboGames 2010. Imagine our surprise when we found a fully functional, two passenger, completely street legal, USS Enterprise docked in the local shopping mall parking lot, waiting for Captain Kirk to return:

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Join Us At RoboGames 2010!

Just a quick reminder that RoboGames 2010, the worlds largest, best known, and without a doubt most exciting robot competition, is set to kick off in just a few days. We’re already in the US and will be arriving in San Mateo to cover this fantastic event starting Thursday and will be there until the last robot is left standing in the ring victorious late Sunday evening. Come on down and join the fun!

In addition to the best, and craziest, robots on the planet, cheering fans that seem like a flashback to the ancient Roman gladiator games, incredible fun and excitement, you’ll get to hear the latest and greatest from the official RoboGames sponsors, including Robots Dreams:

Jameco Willow Garage Robot Marketplace

RobotisKowatecDiesel Sweeties

Champions Servo Lego Education

Evil Mad Scientist Labs Tech Shop Trossen

Robots Dreams

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Good News From Mattel, But Is It A Market Trend?

It's only a single data point for a single quarter, but the fact that major toy maker Mattel Inc. posted financial results for Q1 2010 that were a huge improvement over the same period last year may be a sign that the toy and hobby business is finally showing strong signs of improvement.

According to a Mattel feature story released by PlayThings:

"Toy maker Mattel, Inc. has returned a first-quarter profit of $24.8 million, a dramatic improvement over last year’s first-quarter loss of $51 million. The difference is 7 cents per share profit as opposed to 14 cents per share loss in those time frames. For the quarter, revenue was $880.1 million, up 12% compared to $785.6 million last year, including favorable changes in currency exchange rates of 3 percentage points."

Gross sales in quite a few important categories, including Mattel's girls and boys brands, increased strongly with some categories posting sales with double digit percentage gains, lead by Mattel's entertainment business with a whopping 35% jump.


All things considered, the news is quite encouraging, not just for Mattel, but for the overall toy and hobby industry in general. It could certainly be the light at the end of a long economic tunnel.

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Roomba Clone Appeals To Geek Egos

We're used to ads that tout, and often way overstate, the features and benefits of the products they are trying to promote. It's rare to run across one that even mentions the fact that their product might have some short comings. 

And, it's even rarer to discover an ad like this Mistral Instruments robot vacuum cleaner ad (in Japanese) that includes a long laundry list of reasons why you really need to reconsider the urge to buy it, and includes a link to YouTube videos like these to prove its points.

Damaging furniture:

Confusing carpet edges with drop-offs:

The list of negatives and shortcomings is much, much longer than any of the positive features listed. But the real kicker is the first comment they make in the ad:

"This robotic vacuum cleaner is not recommended to housewives. Please consult with your husband."


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