CRIIF (Centre de Robotique Intégrée d-Île-de-France), a Parisian R&D lab, has built an odd-looking humanoid robot called SAMI. The simple 3D-printed head was first shown at Innorobo 2011, and since then the robot has been selected as one of fifteen prototypes “most likely to be a commercial success” by a French website called Cap Digital. That distinction means little, given that there weren’t many French robot prototypes at the show and CRIIF appears to be a member of the site.
With just three months, six team members, and a paltry budget of $100,000 USD to both design and build SAMI, some corners had to be cut. That meant the body’s exoskeleton is basically a mannequin that was cut in half, and some simple piping covers its arms. The upper-body sits on a large mobile base outfitted with Primesense sensors for obstacle detection, and its arms can be controlled using a Kinect sensor. So far that’s about all this robot is capable of, though CRIIF believes it will go where few robots have gone before.
“We believe that SAMI has endless applications because he is designed to do everything humans can do, including carry large loads and open doors,” said Rodolphe Hasselvander, SAMI’s creator. “For robotic adoption in the mass market, we have to overcome the barrier of interaction with humans. Thanks to technologies used in other markets, we are beginning to see a revolution in robotics which opens up limitless possibilities to reach mass market.”
From my perspective, there is very little chance that SAMI is anywhere near the point of becoming a commercial product. Take a similar general service robot developed in Japan: Yaskawa’s Smart Pal VII, which has been in development for years by a firmly-established robotics company. It is far more capable than SAMI but still isn’t ready and it’s in its seventh prototype. These things take time, and money, and a huge amount of testing and software development once the robot has been built. Even robots that lack arms (and therefore don’t have to deal with the difficult task of manipulation) have spent decades in the R&D stage at huge corporations like NEC and Toshiba.
Robotics may be the hip new thing in France due to the success of Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO and the new Innorobo robotics summit. However, investors should tread very carefully in this sector if they don’t have much experience in it. It’s important to remember that Aldebaran had a promising prototype and the backing of the RoboCup federation, which was key to their initial success.