Monday, November 9, 2009

Robot stocks rising steadily; iRobot stock up 9%, iRobot Healthcare

The past month has seen a number of good headlines:

iRobot announced Healthcare division

Their stock price is up, showing again investors believe in the future of robotics

Robotic stocks in general are rising

(Courtesy The Robot Report)

People are just beginning to glimpse a new market forming...a world wide need, slow but inexorable, for robot helpers in first-world nations. And investors are beginning to take note.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

iRobot Jumps Further into Service Robotics

Recently iRobot has been talking up a new division they are forming to create healthcare robotics:

This is significant because healthcare robotics is one of the areas where service robots will finally break through to the public eye.

In part this is about money. The United States, Japan, and Europe are in a financial crisis but are facing an even larger crisis. There simply isn't enough money to provide all the health care that is needed for the baby boomers in the next 20 years. Government planners are seeing trillions of dollars of trouble.

So the federal government is writing essentially a blank check to anybody who can provide significant cost reductions for elder and handicapped care. Think of it as an infinite pot of money. Robotics can be a big part of that, and every bit of robotics developed for healthcare has use in consumer, manufacturing, and othersectors. It's a multi-decade long opportunity to build the next high tech superstar industry.

iRobot naturally plans to be part of that, and they are very effective at working with federal grant agencies.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Panasonic Announces Kitchen Robot, Forecasts Billion Sales by 2015

Wow, the cool announcements are coming fast. Here is a new kitchen-specific robot from Panasonic.

It's not mobile, but still qualifies as a service robot.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jeff Bezos Invests $7 million in Heartland Robotics

Heartland Robotics is a startup headquarted in Boston, one of the great robotics centers of the world. Heartland was founded by Rodney Brooks, a distinguished researcher from MIT, one of the most influential roboticists of the decade and co-founder of iRobot.

So with those credentials, we expect amazing things from Heartland and apparently, others do as well. The VC investing arm of Amazon's Jeff Bezos (who is also a technology maven of the first order, and according to all accounts, a very nice guy) just announced a $7 million series A investment in Heartland.

This is not only good news for Heartland but for American industry in general. Heartland's stated mission is to revitalize the american manufacturing sector with next-generation, flexible robots that collaborate with human workers.

Congratulations to Heartland Robotics, and we are looking forward some great new advances.

Willow Garage Ramping Up for Production

Willow Garage has been posting pictures of their facility re-build, preparing to begin production of their PR-2 jservice robot.

Here is the building being stripped out.
Here is a bit of production floor tooling.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Heartland, Rodney Brooks, and Manufacturing Robotics

Heartland Robotics is a startup headquarted in Boston, still in stealth mode. Their stated mission is to build next generation flexible manufacturing robots that will collaborate with human workers intelligently.

Video of Brooks giving speech about manfacturing robotics

Shown above: Rodney Brooks speech at Maker Fair.

This is a crucial mission. The US and other high-wage nations must learn how to compete with workers who make 1/20th the houly wage. The only way to do this is to multiply the efforts of blue-collar workers, in essence, to make them 20 times as effective.

This can no longer be done with only with the high end machinery and mass production lines that American manufacturers have employed so successfully for so long. The markets have changed, with faster product cycles and shorter runs making such "big automation" uneconomical. We simply cannot continue with large up-front costs and long cycle times. The US manufacturing sector needs to change over to much more flexible automation that can turn on a dime and change rapidly.

Chinese manufacturers can undercut our costs because they don't use automated tooling on that scale. They just hire 1000 hard working low-wage workers, give them simpler tooling, and start them working. The human worker is still the most flexible "automation" in the world. If you can get human workers cheap, and deploy them in large numbers, you can drope prices rapidly.

The solution for the US is to leverage our better training and better technology. We need a massive upgrade of the tools provided to our workers. Those new tools should include flexible collaborative manufacturing robots.

Don't think of these robots as replacements for human workers. Think of them as replacements for the older, less flexible tooling.

In fact, it's very likely that the net effect on total manufacturing employment will be neutral. Net jobs will be steady, or will increase, as manufacturing returns to the US from overseas.

Heartland is focused on manufacturing, but we classify their robots as service robots, and look forward to covering them here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Willow Garage Milestone 2

Willow Garage PR-2 robot, in my estimation the most technologically sophisticated service robot (semi-humanoid) in the world, demonstrated it's stuff recently by navigating around a room and plugging itself into a wall plug.