#Plugin…to Robotics: The Robots Are Coming

Imagine a world where… Robots are taking over. They drive our cars and fly our planes. They perform surgery and replace lost limbs, augmenting the human body to almost superhuman qualities. A man with a fully automated lower body wins the summer Olympics. He clocks in at 65 mph. In this world, Robots threaten our traditional […]

Imagine a world where…

Robots are taking over. They drive our cars and fly our planes. They perform surgery and replace lost limbs, augmenting the human body to almost superhuman qualities. A man with a fully automated lower body wins the summer Olympics. He clocks in at 65 mph.

Credit: Simon Lesley

In this world, Robots threaten our traditional education with implanted cerebral nano-bots that broadcast data through Wi-Fi directly into a person’s neural tissue. In the UK a newborn baby captivates an entire neo-natal team by reciting all of Lady Macbeth’s lines from Macbeth.

An Artificial intelligence researcher finds a way to project his consciousness into the Cloud. When asked what it was like to be one with all of human data, he shrugs and says, “There were a lot of cat videos.”

Robots are going to rule this world one day and any one who stands against them will be dismantled and turned into a toaster. We may as well sit back and wait for the inevitable, right?

The truth is… 

Most of what you just read isn’t true (I hope), but robotics technology is progressing and it’s not always the sensational robot products that are ACTUALLY getting funding and traction. We review thousands of startups each year at Plug and Play and whenever we pick up an industry trend, we share it throughout our network. Two of our startups are pioneering robotics, for real.

Knightscope is developing autonomous data machines to patrol for, report, and eventually prevent crime. The machines are sleek egg-shaped droids that resemble the famous R2D2, totally equipped with night vision cameras, proximity sensors, and the ability to detect chemicals and pathogens. This robot can also analyze people’s behavior and recognize when they are committing a crime.

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“We like to try and solve the big problems.” William Santana Li, the Chief Executive Officer of Knightscope said. Crime and efforts to contain it are responsible for $1 Trillion every year in America, and according to Mr. Li security efforts are behind the times. The next step in anti-crime efforts will be the integration of human and robots, which will hopefully cut the cost of crime in half.
“Physical presence is half the battle in safety.” Mr. Li said, “We have millions of police and security personnel, but there are over 7 billion people. Law enforcement will not scale.”

Knightscope’s robot will attempt to be a constant physical presence with the deterring qualities of a security camera and the data processing and mobility of a squad car. While this may sound like something from a cautionary tale by Ray Bradbury, Mr. Li is convinced that the technology will do more to serve the community than antagonize it.

“When the robot detects a crime being committed, it alerts the police. Then the camera turns on and the footage will be public to the entire community.” Mr. Li said.

The success of the technology is dependent on the community’s acceptance of it. The robot will be plugged into to all of the existing social media, which will create a two-way radio between the robot and the community. Mr. Li offered a historical allegory, citing the fear and skepticism that the automobile was regarded with when it first left the factory floor, and how it eventually became the ubiquitous mode of transportation.

The company was founded in April of 2013 and is already part of the State Farm Insurance Accelerator (Calling for Applications!). Knightscope has big plans in future, hoping to use their technology to do things ranging from selling their data to insurance companies to make real time risk profiles, to working with digital mapping companies to provide the safest route home.

The Autonomous Data Machine will be unveiled on December 5th at the Plug and Play winter expo.

Another Plug and Play robotics company to take note of is XYZ Interactive. They’ve partnered with WowWee to create MiP™, a robotic toy that reacts, follows, and dances at the wave of your hand. The name is an acronym that stands for Mobile Inverted Pendulum, the toy’s stabilizing technology that was created by the UCSD Coordinated tech labs.

XYZ Interactive created the “GestureSense™” sensor technology in MiP’s ™ eyes that allows him to ‘see’ and react. They used the same sensor technology that you find in your television remote, but paired with firmware that enables someone to use a series of gestures to give commands. While this kind of touchless technology has been around for a while, Michael Kosic, CEO of XYZ Interactive, believes that it was gaming that brought the technology into the living room.

“The Kinect was the first big win on that front. The idea of gesture technology used to be something like the control room in Minority Report. Then the Kinect brought it from Hollywood and Science Fiction into our homes. Now folks that didn’t get it a few years ago are now coming back and saying ‘can we talk about this again?’“ Michael said.

While these particular sensors are helping to creating reactive robotic toys, the possibilities of sensor technology and gesture tech seem endless, from wearable technology to making every interactive device touchless.

“Because of the games and toy robots there is a mass awareness about our technology, and we can tell product designers that they can add touchless and gesture control to a product for the price of a cup of coffee. Almost any device with a switch can be augmented with our tech” Michael said.

People that watch the little yellow robot shimmy back and forth on its wheels, it’s blue eyes flashing peevishly, may not realize that they are looking at a large part of the future of human-machine interaction.

In most companies the burden of finding innovation is usually an internal process, but the company EZ Robot has taken a different approach. The have created kits full of the open source technology that allows people to build their own robots, capable of doing anything the user can imagine. Companies, as well as individuals, who use EZ Robot are free to follow what inspires them about robotics, instead of getting bogged down in the technology and software. The company’s motto is “simplicity inspires creativity” and by owning the user experience with intuitive technology and up to 200 tutorial videos, they are truly offering the opportunity of creating a robot to anyone who is interested.

“We’re different than other robotics companies because we build robots for people.” The Founder DJ Sures said. “We help create entrepreneurs. People have used our technology to create robots for paraplegics, robots that help the elderly, robots that greet you at the door when you come home, and robots that you can have full on conversations with.”

The belief is that with the task of researching technology no longer an issue, other important aspects of robotics can be explored, two of which are design and customer interaction.

“We look at all the upcoming products in robotics, like Doublerobotics’ Telepresence.” Sure said.

“Most robots are either ugly, don’t have a good use, or they’re made out of metal and look like they belong in a university. None of that is what people want from robots. People should focus on making their product ergonomically correct, elegant, beautiful, all the things that technology should be. My mother’s not going to buy a Telepresence unless it looks like it can work with her lifestyle.”

EZ Robot scales and designs their products to science fiction expectations. This means that technology in movies and fiction, and the inspiration they evoke, is now more easily manifested through this technology. Humanoid machines like I-Robot and smart homes like the one in the Iron Man films are finally coming into being. This is possible because of the open line of communication between designers at EZ Robots and the users.

“Our software is huge, it has hundreds of lines of code that we just keep adding to, and we add crowd sourced requests.” Sures said.

DJ Sures has a long history with design and robotics, a passion that began at a very young age. When most young kids were getting up early on Saturday morning to watch cartoons, Sures was preparing to make robots.

“I come from a very technical family. For Christmas when I was five years old, my dad got me a computer. I opened up the box and there was circuit board, a bunch of chips and sockets, a power supplier, and a keyboard. I learned to solder the parts together, and everyday I was taught how to write programs before I was allowed to have games. Over time I became less interested in the games and more interested in writing my own games.” Sures said.

EZ Robots is opening the limitless possibilities of robotics to everyone, reminding us that if the resources are available, innovation can come from surprising places.

There’s a reason that robots are so pervasive in science fiction. The people who write it, and the people who read it, never stop dreaming about the future. Not some utterly impossible fairy tale, but one that celebrate the abilities of human ingenuity and determination.

There are a lot of obstacles for people trying to find the next step. Knightscope and their robo-cops will surely receive at best some reticence, if not full-blown revolt from communities who perceive their machines as following in the footsteps of the NSA. But they have conviction and they are thinking of the big picture, it’s a matter of time and assimilation.

The people at XYZ Interactive are already neck deep in a thriving market that now understands and is working to integrate their technology. They are working to make tactile interactions more efficient, a technology that only serves its own end.

The best entrepreneurs don’t create a single product, they create a platform that enable others to innovate. They are not thinking about the next technology to arrive, but how they can make better use of the existing technology. Without the spirit of this idea, our world today would be a much different place.

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