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Top five business-friendly robots that could change the world

13 Jan 2014

LAS VEGAS: Almost all children – and if we're honest most adults – dream of having their own personal robot. But it's only recently through advances in a number of core technology areas, that this dream has begun to be even remotely possible.

Since then numerous technology companies have begun building productivity and business-friendly robots. Straight from the CES showroom, we round up the five best robots currently available.

5) 5ElementsRobotics Budgee5ElementsRobotics Budgee
Despite all our technological advances, most business folk still have a number of core items they have to carry around with them. In any one day most businessmen and women will find themselves laden down with paperwork, tablets, laptops and – at times – their weekly groceries.

Luckily, robotics experts at 5ElementsRobotics have created the perfect solution with Budgee. Despite being a meagre two feet tall, Budgee can carry up to 50lbs of weight and can be set up to automatically follow its owner. Testing the little carry companion on the showroom floor we found his sensors were suitably up to the task: he managed to pick us out of the crowd and follow us like a loyal dog, removing our need to carry our heavy laptop bag and camera.

4) Ecovacs WinbotEcovacs window cleaner
Keeping up appearances is a constant challenge for any customer-facing company and a dirty office can ruin what would otherwise be a solid first impression, ending any chance of future business with potential customers.

Keeping the office clean is easier said than done, though, especially in glass-heavy showrooms. Until now this has meant business have been forced to spend vast amounts of money hiring professional cleaners to keep their surfaces dust and dirt free. But Ecovacs has created a solution to the problem, unveiling its shiny new Winbot cleaner. Able to stick and travel up surfaces faster than Spiderman, the dirt-tracking Winbot can automatically clean and scale even the largest of glass surfaces.

3) MantaroBot TeleMeMantarobot Teleme
The life of a jet set executive is nowhere near as glamorous as most movies would have us believe. While the company chief executive may get to jet around the world in first class, sipping champagne as he goes, for most of us work travel means 11 hours of sitting in economy with a screaming child, followed by a restless night's sleep in the local Travelodge.

Looking to end this misery MatraBot has created the TeleMe Robot. Using an iPad or 10in Android tablet as its brain, TeleMe is a video-conferencing robot that not only lets business users remotely talk to overseas colleagues, it also lets them move about the office, using its four-wheel motorised body. Even better, as an added touch TeleMe also features an optional robotic arm attachment that will let executives remotely interact with their overseas colleagues without ever leaving the comfort of their own home or office – though be warned, it takes the idea of a firm handshake to a whole new level.

2) Furo Future RobotFutureRobot
Probably the most useful – but also the creepiest – robot we saw on the showroom floor was Furo's Future Robot. Designed for use in service industries, the Future Robot uses a Microsoft Kinect sensor to navigate its surroundings and interact with potential customers. As well as being able to display information using its attached touchscreen, the Future Robot was also able to understand audio questions and respond accordingly. Even more impressive the Kinect sensor also lets it recognise when people are trying to get its attention and automatically move towards them.

1) Rapiro Rapiro is a Rasbperry Pi powered robot
Starting out as a Kickstarter project, the Raspberry Pi-powered Rapiro robot was without a doubt the most impressive robot we saw at CES 2014. Despite being less than a foot tall, the tiny humanoid Rapiro is a seriously impressive bit of kit. Boasting 'servos' automatic correction and movement components in each of its 12 joints, the fully customisable Rapiro can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks.

The demo units we saw were able to do everything from clean a dusty keyboard, to boogie down to Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive. Add this to support for add-ons such as the Raspberry Pi camera module and we can't help but give the CES 2014 best robot award to the tiny intern replacement.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Google Glass in-car use looks more realistic as DfT softens stance

08 Jan 2014

driving

"Turn around where possible," your satnav says when you're doing something silly. The Department for Transport (DfT) looks to be under similar instruction with its stance on Google Glass.

In August, the DfT said that it would be "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before anyone from the department had even had the chance to try out the tech for themselves. Now, according to Sunday Times Driving supplement, they may be having a change of heart, and the possibilities are exciting.

"We have met with Google to discuss the implications of the current law for Google Glass," it is reported as saying. "Google are anxious their products do not pose a road safety risk and are currently considering options to allow the technology to be used in accordance with the law."

That's a pretty big change of heart, although it remains to be seen whether it will be legal in the UK, more importantly, the rest of the world. The state of California is currently debating the legality of Glass, for example, and we hear there are a lot of cars in that neck of the woods. Meanwhile, Nissan is developing its own '3E' glasses for in-car use.

So, assuming Glass is actually legal, what can we hope to do with it? Well, Mercedes has a few ideas. In-eye and in-ear satnav is a given, and is already in the very early stages of development. Another, less obvious use for the hardware is the displaying of a car's rear-facing parking camera to allow people with neck pain not to have to turn their heads.

At the moment, more in-depth info about your car such as fuel, mileage and speed doesn't work with Glass, but with Google having announced a partnership with firms such as Audi, Honda and General Motors, we can't imagine Android and Glass compatible cars being far away.

Sunday Times Driving reports that manufacturers are justifying the legality of Glass by saying the superimposed images displayed don't require drivers to look away from the road, similar to a windscreen-mounted satnav.

Road safety organisations want to make sure users are given ample choice as to the level of interference posed by their headwear, asking for what would in effect be a "driving mode" for headwear that connects to a smartphone.

There's certainly a line to be drawn between apps that are suitable for driving and those which are not. Playing Angry Birds on your Glass using eye and head movements, for example, would be utterly inappropriate.

We still don't know how much Google Glass is going to cost, and its uses while walking around town are questionable. In-car headwear looks like a much more exciting proposition, although whether it's anything more than a gimmick remains to be seen.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who will drive you round the bend

CES director's cut: Michael Bay fluffs Samsung CES presentation

07 Jan 2014

There were red faces at Samsung yesterday afternoon after Transformers director Michael Bay fluffed his lines at the firm's CES keynote and left the stage saying "I'm sorry". You can find the video below, but please be aware that it's eye-wateringly uncomfortable to watch.

The shot-caller for blockbuster films was going to be taking part in a Q&A session with a Samsung executive, but as off-the-cuff conversations so often go, he didn't have a lot to say. Blaming it on the teleprompter, Bay said he'd "wing it" instead, but failed to come up with the right words to describe the curved TV he was supposed to be endorsing.

Far be it from us to judge. We can't find the words to describe the Samsung TV either, although perhaps for different reasons than Bay.

Talking in front of huge crowds is a big challenge and it's clear Bay wasn't comfortable, so no blame should be imparted to him. Instead, we should perhaps blame Samsung – and the rest of the tech world – for constantly subjecting the world to pointless, unenthusiastic celebrity endorsements of products that should be able to speak for themselves. Let's not forget Desmond Tutu and Big Bird's cameos in last year's Qualcomm keynote.

Michael Bay posted this update to his blog, attempting to make amends for the gaffe: "Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome curved 105in UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the exec VP's intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren't my thing."

Stay behind the camera Michael, it's clearly where you're happiest.

Skype and Snapchat security woes show risks ahead for 2014

02 Jan 2014

Digital security padlock red image

The New Year is barely a few days old but already the headlines are dominated by security stories of hacks and data thefts from major companies in the form of Skype and Snapchat.

For Skype, this saw its Twitter account and blogs targeted, while Snapchat had data on 4.6 million users released online in a warning to the firm about the need to take security seriously.

For firms of all shapes and sizes the fact security incidents are so immediately in the headlines for the start of the year should serve as a warning. 2013 was full of similar incidents and prove that no firm can rest on its laurels.

Indeed, while the PRISM spying scandal dominated the majority of the security agenda, it is important not to overlook stories such as the hacking of the Lakeland website as proof firms of all types face threats from cyber criminals.

The incidents prove that security is not a static area, but one where criminals and good-hearted ethical hackers are in a constant arms race to try and out do one another and find vulnerabilities to exploit them.

Firms cannot just assume that a single solution will cover everything or that a staff seminar on the things to be aware of such as phishing emails that is delivered in January will be relevant by next December, or even February for that matter.

Perhaps there is a silver lining for the industry from the incidents at Skype and Snapchat, though.

IT chiefs and those with security in their remit can use these incidents at the start of 2014 to make sure all those in charge at the company, especially those holding the purse strings, take security seriously and ensure that adequate resources are provided to help protect the firm from the risks that are present and growing all the time.

Otherwise, it could well be your firm in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Nelson Mandela tops Google searches for 2013, iPhone 5S and Galaxy S4 not far behind

17 Dec 2013

As we approach the end of the year Google has once against listed its annual zeitgeist list of the most searched terms over the past 12 months to show what most people around the world wanted to know during the year.

Despite only passing on a few weeks ago, the topic that has dominated the list is the death of Nelson Mandela, as those around the world searched for more information on the great leader. This was just ahead of the death of Paul Walker, the star of the Fast and Furious franchise of movies.

Elsewhere, though, technology was well represented on the list, with searches for the iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S4 both appearing, with Apple scoring more hits than Samsung, as it chalks up another, admittedly minor, victory over its nemesis.

The PlayStation 4 (PS4) also featured, unlike the Xbox One, as Microsoft’s console fails to quite match Sony for hype and interest in the games market.

The top 10 list is below:

1.    Nelson Mandela
2.    Paul Walker
3.    iPhone 5S
4.    Cory Monteith
5.    Harlem Shake
6.    Boston Marathon
7.    Royal Baby
8.    Samsung Galaxy S4
9.    PS4
10.  North Korea

Google has also made an interactive globe that shows the most popular search terms from different locations around the word, with London showing a weird demand for sport with both BBC Sport and BBC Football both scoring highly. Other UK cities such as Manchester and Bristol also show an enjoyment for sports information.

By V3's Dan Worth, who searches high and low

Google’s latest hubris: we’ll design our own chips

13 Dec 2013

Google is said to be looking at designing its own chips rather than using processors from chip giant Intel, according to reports from Bloomberg.

At first this might be considered as more wackiness from the search giant, following such gems this year as its Google Glass cyber-spectacles and notions about balloons floating above Africa to carry WiFi signals.

However, a closer look at the Bloomberg report shows that Google is considering building server chips based on the ARM architecture, which is a long way from designing your own processor technology from the ground up. In fact, ARM's entire business model lies in creating processor designs for other companies to manufacture.

ARM Cortex A15 chip

ARM has spent the past two decades refining its architecture to operate using as little power as possible, chiefly in battery-powered mobile devices such as smartphones. However, with the explosive growth in data and cloud-based services, many big internet firms and telcos are said to be eyeing ARM-based servers as a way of cutting their energy bills.

In theory, it could be relatively simple to produce your own ARM chip – you can just license one of ARM's designs and contract a semiconductor foundry company such as TSMC to manufacture it for you.

However, designing your own custom chip is somewhat more complicated, and the ARM architecture also has little track record so far in the server market. Startups such as Calxeda – which was founded by ex-Intel engineers – have been working on ARM server chips for several years now, with the first production systems only appearing relatively recently.

Of course, Google has enormous resources at its disposal, but if it is serious about making its own ARM-based server chips, we would expect that acquiring a firm with expertise in this area, such as Calxeda, would be a much better plan than trying to start from scratch. Alternatively, Google would be best advised to work with established chipmakers such as AMD, which is building its own ARM server processors.

Creating your own processor, making it work properly and tweaking it for optimum performance and efficiency, and then building an entire server around it, are processes that take time and a great deal of specialist expertise – expertise that Google almost certainly lacks at the moment.

Tellingly, Bloomberg's source is quoted as saying that Google "has made no decision and plans could change".

HP workers picket firm's Discover event over job cuts

10 Dec 2013

BARCELONA: HP's annual European Discover event has plonked itself down in Barcelona this year and, like previous Discover events, it is being served with a side order of drama.

While in 2011 the firm was dealing with the aftermath of Leo Apotheker's short-lived reign and in 2012 it had to minimise the fallout from the Autonomy accounting scandal, in 2013 the issue is protesting employees who are angry at job cuts.

Journalists were bussed in around the back of the event, which had the side-effect of hiding the protesters from view, but social media channels showed the Spanish workers camped outside the main entrance to the event venue.

HP insisted that the route in for journalists was about providing quicker access to the event, rather than any attempt to hide the protestors from view. After a 20-minute wander to find the site where the protestors were, these claims appear to have some merit. What was disappointing, though, was the discovery that by 3.30pm (once we had a break in our schedule) all the protesters had gone. Come on hombres, make it 9-5 at least.

A noisy protest outside its annual event in Europe is not what HP would have wanted, but it did issue a statement acknowledging the issues being protested and stressed that many jobs were not being cut, but changed or reallocated.

"HP has a long track record of good social dialogue with its employees and social partners through its European Works Council. HP's workforce management plans in EMEA are part of [the] global multi-year productivity initiative that was announced on 23 May 2012," the firm noted.

"The restructuring plan is designed to deliver a more agile and responsive business model in the region, streamlining processes, advancing innovation and creating efficiencies for the benefit of customers, shareholders and employees. HP has a proud history of investing in Spain and continues to be committed to the success of the business here."

The protests in Spain will no doubt be welcomed in solidarity by UK employees that are being affected by job cuts and changes in several locations, with a total of 1,124 jobs said to be going in the cuts according to trade union Unite, although HP has disputed the accuracy of its reports.

Nevertheless, the protesters will hope that their rally raises the issue of job cuts, which is an especially painful topic in Spain at present and comes after HP posted $1.4bn in profits for the last quarter.

Still, it wouldn't be HP Discover without a bit of drama.

By V3's Dan Worth, who's never crossed a picket line

Former Android chief dreams of Google robots

05 Dec 2013

Google has fingers in plenty of pies, but the latest news from Palo Alto is that one of those fingers might be made of cold stainless steel.

The New York Times had a chat with former Android chief Andy Rubin, who's now been put in charge of Google's robotic activities. Rubin has a history with robotics, having worked on manufacturing projects with the likes of Carl Zeiss. To that end, it would seem that Google's intentions are for robots to be hidden away inside factories rather than being walking, talking metal men (or drones) made to carry your shopping.

The piece also states that Google has bought seven technology companies with the intention of developing robots.

Nonetheless, it's an interesting development for a firm that currently doesn't have a particularly huge stake in the manufacturing and retail sectors – which both benefit hugely from robotics – and has only recently started offering home delivery for retail.

Of course, Google has a little bit of experience with creating autonomous machines, with its driverless car making headlines around the world and scaring regular users of zebra crossings to boot.

Rubin, who took Android from a fringe mobile OS to a dominant force in the smartphone space, says he has a "a history of making my hobbies into a career". In other words, he has a track record of getting things right, which probably made his task of convincing Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to get on board a little easier.

It's interesting that this news should come during the same week as Amazon's teasing look at its automated delivery drones. It rather seems like there's a bit of one-upmanship going on in the tech world, with major firms looking to steal headlines as the year comes to a close.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who always obeys the first law of robotics

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