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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

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

UK government prepares to cope with a nation of cyborgs

21 Jan 2013

Terminator robot

The British government has started to plan how it will cope a population of cyborgs within the next decade as our notion of identify is radically transformed by technology.

A new report, The Future of Identify, published by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills lays down the challenge for UK law makers that the huge change technology will create in society.

For the most part, the report is a fairly sensible and comprehensive look at the challenges that the emergence of net natives – those young adults that have grown up with the internet, and regard their virtual identities as every bit as important as their physical ones – will place on society and government.

It examines the impact that a hyper-connected society, awash with persistent data on people's behaviour, will have on crime prevention, healthcare, employment, education.

But there are is also consideration of some of the more esoteric problems that technology will bring.

“Interventions to slow the effects of ageing and improve quality of life for the elderly, drugs to improve memory and cognition, developments in reproductive technologies, cloning, animal/human organ transplants, and genetic modification are also likely to have implications for identities.

“Some of these developments may challenge notions of what it is to be human, as interfaces between humans and machines are also being explored in new ways.”

As medical technology improves, it could even be possible to monitor people's brain activity and understand something about what they are thinking.

“If these technologies become more reliable and accepted in courts as evidence, there are implications for personal identities as thoughts and intentions may no longer be private,” the report notes.

So the government wants to be able to read our minds as evidence in courts. That's a cheery thought for a Monday morning.

FTC offers $50,000 prize to thwart robocall schemes

19 Oct 2012

We've all heard those annoying prerecorded marketing voice messages before. They're the spam of telephones. While many might just grind their teeth bear it, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided to put a stop to it.

The FTC is starting the Robocall Challenge in order to once and for all put a stop to those annoying robotic telemarketers. The challenge offers a $50,000 bounty to anyone who can come up with a technical solution to the robocall menace.

Participating challengers will be given de-identified data on robocall consumer complaints made between June 2008 and September 2012. Data will include information on call dates, call lengths, and consumer area codes.

With the data the challenge participants will have to come up with a technical solution that lives up to the FTC's three prong criteria. Winners will be chosen based on their solutions ease of use, roll out potential, and effectiveness.

While the challenge may sound easy enough the real reason for the competition is because killing off robocalls is hard. The people behind robocalls use caller-ID spoofing so that when a consumer tries to call back the robocaller gets a different number. The method makes it remarkable difficult to trace the source of robocallers.

This will be the FTC's first use of the US government's new challege.gov contest. Challenge.gov was created by the US General Services Administration as a way to offer citizens a chance to come up with solutions to issues facing the nation.

Those interested in stopping the robocall menace have until 17 January to enter the contest. Participants can submit their ideas on the robocall.challenge.gov website starting 25 October. Winners are expected to be announced next April.

Humans will live forever...in 20 years

06 Jul 2012

According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, we will all be able to live like Highlanders in about 20 years.

Kurzweil predicts that with the rapid growth of nanotechnology we will never die. The renowned scientist believes that we will soon have the technology necessary to halt and reverse aging.

"I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogram our bodies' stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nanotechnology will let us live for ever," wrote Kurzweil.

"Ultimately, nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively."

If Kurzweil is right, nanobots will improve human physiology in just about every way. His hypothesis states that technology will make us all athletes and geniuses. Not only will we live forever, but we will also live much better lives.

"Within 25 years we will be able to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen," Kuzweil continued.

"Nanotechnology will extend our mental capacities to such an extent we will be able to write books within minutes."

Imagine, in just 20 odd years you too could end up the next Olympic gold sprinter all because you opted for those bionic legs. Plus, you'll never die so you can win multiple gold medals if you want. Maybe you can win one for each category?

Ford says self-driving Cars on the horizon

04 Jul 2012

Ford predicts that we'll see completely autonomous vehicles by 2017.

According to an article at Extreme Tech, Ford expects self-cruising cars within five years. The automaker believes we're not that far off from seeing cars driving themselves without the need of human drivers.

Using pre-existing technology like Active Park Assist, Ford envisions a future without terrible drivers. The Focus creator says that robot chauffeurs will reduce the time it takes to commute and prevent accidents.

Ford expects that self-driving cars will reduce travel times by 37.5 per cent and cut traffic jams by 20 per cent. All figures that point to the obvious conclusion that it's a terrible idea to drive a car.

Robots are just better at driving than humans. They beat us in chess, on Jeopardy, and now in driving. It's clear that soon humans will just have to pack it in and let robots create other robots that will eventually become better than even them. It's the cycle of robot life.

Humans used to have the upper hand on robots when it came to driving, but now we don't even have that ace in the hole. So while Ford predicts automated cars by 2017, we predict the robot apocalypse by 2020.

On a side note, whatever happened to flying cars? Why isn't anyone investing in that technological breakthrough? With all this talk of robo-cars you'd think it wouldn't be that hard to build a hover car.

Not that we're bitter or anything...

Amazon splashes out $775m on laser-guided robots

20 Mar 2012

Online retailing giant Amazon likes to do things a little differently. So when it found it had $775m burning a hole in its pockets, it realised that the best way to spend it was – on what else – a laser-guided robot drone army to man its vast warehouses.

Amazon has agreed to stump up the cash for warehouse picking and transport robot maker Kiva Systems – the brainchild of a former employee at dotcom poster child, Webvan.

Kiva chief executive Mick Mountz saw first-hand how Webvan's inability to get orders out of the doors quickly enough hamstrung the company. The MIT-trained engineer put his mind to devising a more forward-thinking approach to fulfilment.

And what better way, than through the use of robots?

Over the past 10 years, Kiva has landed a string a high-profile customers, including high street fashion retailer GAP.

The Kiva system relies on custom-designed facilities, so that its open floor space can be transformed into a information grid for its robots, which use a combination of 2D barcode stickers and a wireless network to navigate around a warehouse.

Amazon's aim is clear: Kiva's rack-shifting robots should help it reduce the cost of operating its warehouses.

“Amazon has long used automation in its fulfilment centres, said David Clark, vice president of global customer fulfilment, at Amazon.

But if that doesn't prove a fulfilling strategy, it can always just make the robots dance around its warehouses, which would look pretty good.

About The Frontline

Insight into the latest tech news from V3.co.uk's team of reporters

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