Telepresence robots become inexpensive and … botiful
I work on a text about telepresence robots. These types of robots will be remotely controlled by someone via internet. They are currently used mainly in hospitals and in the military. And unfortunately the systems are still very expensive. But new developments show, that we can expect low-priced solutions soon. Several robots make it to the market – some are still prototypes such as iRobot's AVA – that are controlled with tablets instead of an included “brain”. I don't know yet, what AVA will cost, but for example MantaRobot TeleMe, which also works with a tablet, costs only $ 1.500.
But it could even be less. At Kickstarter I have found two telepresence robots that include smartphones. One of them is Botiful and it has been developed by Claire Delaunay. She has agreed to answer me a few questions about her idea.
Claire, how did you get the idea to develop Botiful?
I am working in robotics for about 6 years. When I moved from France to California, I spent a lot of time on Skype and was feeling like something was missing. I decided to play with some electronic parts I had at home for others robots and created the first prototype of Botiful. It was ugly, but definitely working. And suddenly, using the robot, my family could connect to it and visit my house or play with my cat - in short be present. That was such a great experience, that I decided to study what would be the best way to share it with anyone.
How important is Kickstarter for the project?
Any project involving manufacturing needs funds to get started. The setup of the manufacturing chain can be really expensive, there is a lot of fixed costs, like the tooling to do molds for injection molding. Without Kickstarter, you need investors to start this kind of project. And it can be hard to find these investors if you are on an emerging market, or if you product is really innovative, as it's hard to forecast the market when similar product does not exist yet.
With Kickstarter, when you launch a project, you are at the same time studying the market and funding your project. If your project is a success, you are proving the market exists and you are funded at the same time. If there is no market, you project just won't get funded. It's totally risk free ! On this aspect, Kickstarter (and other crowd-funding platforms) are definitely boosting the innovation by enabling the apparition of new technologies and validating new markets, even the ones not favored by investors.
And yes, I can continue the project now, as Kickstarter helped me setup this very first step, which is the establishment of the manufacturing process.
Do you have a partner for manufacturing already?
Yes I found a manufacturer in Taiwan. Actually to be accurate they find me on Kickstarter. And it was perfect match, as they are already manufacturing small robots using similar hardware. I flew to Taiwan last September to meet the team who is going to build the robots, and it was an awesome experience.
Where do you see a market for Botiful - mainly private or office users?
Both private and small companies. People who usually use Skype in fact. But one of my ultimate goal would be to provide a very simple development kit, and just let the robot being hacked and use a toy you can program and interact with via the network. Education is one of the strongest benefits of robotics. All the kids love robots, and are naturally inclined to understand how it works. That's the best way ever to promote sciences in general: robotics are teaching you about electronics, mechanics, computer science, in a fun way.
What price do you expect finally?
The final price is going to depend a lot on the volume and the distribution channel. It's hard to tell precisely right now but it should be between $150 and $250.
You also developed semi-autonomous robots - is this something you are also think about? I saw, you plan for example an edge detection - anything else?
I am indeed planing on developing such feature. Obstacle and edge detection will be the first step, but in the future I would like to implement autonomous mapping functionality. Vision based algorithms likes movement detection, face recognition are also in the pipe.
For more information about the project, check the webpage: www.mybotiful.com
"Laws of Robotics" is also on Facebook (in English and German): http://www.facebook.com/Robotergesetze