CADE METZ for WIRED: HANNS TAPPEINER TYPES a few lines of code into his laptop and hits “return.” A tiny robot sits beside the laptop, looking like one of those anthropomorphic automobiles that show up in Pixar’s Cars movies. Almost instantly, it wakes up, rolls down the table, and counts to four. This is Cozmo—an artificially intelligent toy robot unveiled late last month by San Francisco startup Anki—and Tappeiner, one of the company’s founders, is programming the little automaton to do new things.
The programs are simple—he also teaches Cozmo to stack blocks—but they’re supposed to be simple. Tappeiner is using Anki’s newly unveiled software development kit—an SDK, in coder parlance—that he says even the greenest of coders can use to tweak the behavior of the toy robot. And that’s a big deal, at least according to Anki. The company claims the SDK is the first of its kind: a kit that lets anyone program such an intelligent robot, a robot that recognizes faces and navigates new environments and even mimics emotions. With the kit, Tappeiner says, “we’re trying to advance the field of robotics.” He compares the move to Apple letting people build apps for the iPhone. Cont'd...
By Corinne Iozzio for Scientific American: Hong Kong–based WowWee's success stems from bringing university research projects to life that might otherwise languish in the prototype stage. A licensing agreement with the Flow Control and Coordinated Robotics Labs at the University of California, San Diego, for example, provides WowWee with access to patents and the labs with a healthy cash infusion. The collaboration has already netted a series of toy robots that balance like Segways. More recently, the avionics lab at Concordia University in Montreal began working with the company to perfect flight algorithms for a four-rotor drone. Next, chief technology officer Davin Sufer says he has his eye on the Georgia Institute of Technology and its work with swarming behaviors, which would allow a group of robots to function in tandem.
In the case of Switchbot, WowWee adapted a locomotion system developed in part by former U.C. San Diego student Nick Morozovsky. The robot moves on tank-tread legs either horizontally to navigate uneven terrain or on end to stand and scoot fully upright. Morozovsky built his prototype with off-the-shelf parts, including a set of $50 motors. The motors were a compromise; each one had the size and torque he wanted but not the speed. Over the past few years he has worked with WowWee to customize a motor with the exact parameters needed and to cut the final cost of the part down to single digits.
That back and forth yields low-cost, mass-producible parts, which means university-level robotics could become available to everyday people. “One of the reasons I went into mechanical engineering was so I could create real things that have a direct impact,” Morozovsky says. “I didn't expect that to necessarily happen in the process of grad school.” Cont'd...
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