RoboDynamics, based in Santa Monica, California, has unveiled a new household robot called Luna. It uses an open-source operating system, is fully programmable, and at $3,000 is thousands of dollars cheaper than its competition.
Although Luna is being billed as a “personal robot”, RoboDynamics will no doubt leverage their existing telepresence software (their focus for the better part of the past decade). It’s got the necessary camera, microphone, speakers, and 8″ touch screen for holding live video conversations (defaulting to a cute emoticon face). Moving on a stable wheeled base and operating for up to 4 hours per charge, Luna’s slender 157cm (5’2″) frame weighs only 30kg (65 lbs), but somehow still manages to look a bit overbearing in photos. That said, the build quality looks fantastic for the price, and the sleek design is a vast improvement over the nuts and bolts TiLR, Luna’s $10,000 older brother.
Eschewing expensive laser range finders, Luna makes use of the PrimeSense 3D sensor, the same depth-sensing technology used in the Microsoft Kinect. Properly harnessed, it should be capable of decent navigation and obstacle avoidance. What users will do with it beyond that is hard to say. Its adjustable arms can carry a meal tray or other light objects, so perhaps we’ll see a forward-thinking American entrepreneur start a robot-themed restaurant like the ones in China and Thailand. With similar software, it could even serve as a mail delivery robot, stopping at your desk or cubicle when “you’ve got mail”. Maybe someone will duct-tape a broom to it and have it sweep their floor, Roomba-style.
Meanwhile, the next major player to enter the race will likely be iRobot’s Android-based AVA. If they ship AVA with the laser range finder I spy on its base, it’ll be too expensive to start the robotics equivalent of the mobile app boom, which is what iRobot CEO Colin Angle suggests it will do. Everyone seems to want to, but no one seems capable of delivering the must-have platform at a desirable price. The Vgo is $6,000, the Jazz Connect is $10,400, and the Anybots QB is $15,000. Anybots just launched the QB late last year and they’re already looking dreadfully over-priced, and could use some serious damage control at the moment. For the time being RoboDynamics seems positioned to do well, if businesses can see the value of telepresence, which remains a big question mark.