Tag Archives: Robothespian

Home Robot: Rise of the Fadbot

“The third batch of 1,000 Pepper sold out within one minute again on Saturday, August 29th. The next sale is scheduled at 10am on Sept. 26 on the Softbank corporate website. We are very pleased with this very promising start.”
Aldebaran Newsletter, September 2015

Are home robots just a passing fad? Things come and go. The latest must-have invention may be in great demand when it first appears, but will it have staying power? Remember the Apple iPod? The peak year for worldwide sales was 2008 when almost 55 million were sold. By 2014 sales had dropped to “just” 14 million. Of course that’s not bad, but other things have taken their place.

Mobile phones, iPads and other tablet devices have gradually taken over from iPods as technology has advanced. However there is now talk of the iPad boom coming to an end.

Should we think of home robots in the same technological field? Are they going to be just a fad? Admittedly it is only the beginning, but are robot sales going to peak and then just drop off year by year when something else comes along to interest those members of the general public with disposable income?

Rise of the Fadbot

The majority of robots available, or soon to be available, are really only just toys with a few useful functions. Those functions could easily be supplied by desktop computers. The present-day Fadbot will not take away the jobs that need to be done each and every day in the home.

If I was going to spend a lot of money on a robot, I would want it to do more than chat to me, even if it was trying to cheer me up. My ideal home robot would go round tidying up the house, perhaps a bit of light dusting. My robot would also be able to clean the windows, take the rubbish out, weed the garden, clean and polish the car.

I think that the robots we will be able to buy over the next two or three years are just Fadbots. They will be looked at in the museums of the future and children will ask why they were so basic.

The potential income for major companies, such as Apple and Google, from robots that can be classed as proper modern domestic servants, is so great that when sales of the initial Fadbots begin to decline, new, and truly useful robots will take their places. But will it be harder for the big companies to sell their domestic servant robots after people have become bored with their Fadbots?

Lucy Black, writing on i-programmer, 7th September, has much the same view as me:

What is it about social robots that makes them so attractive? The latest is Buddy as its Indegogo campaign is coming to a close with over $500,000 pledged – 500% over the inital goal. I don’t know about you, but I want a robot to help with the chores not the chats. But I seem to be in a minority if the recent crowd funding of Jibo and Buddy are anything to go by. A social robot is one that is designed to interact with humans and be “helpful” in ways that are not particularly tangible. The robot might take a photo, or remind you of an appointment,or play you some music, but it won’t physically interact with the world which means it cannot bring you a drink or load the dishwasher.

The above-mentioned Indegogo campaign actually closed at a massive 618% funded – $617,830 raised in just two months. The first Buddy robots will ship next year.

Here is what Buddy’s inventors have to say: “Open source and easy to use, Buddy protects your home, entertains your kids, and helps you stay connected with the ones you love.”

Will the families of the future, with their domestic servant robots, feel like the folks upstairs at Downton Abbey? Will their robots be dressed in traditional Edwardian servants’ clothes?

I would love to have some kind of sponsorship for this Blog. Sadly, by announcing that all the robots available to buy are just Fadbots, I have probably just shot myself in the foot.

Your comments and views on this topic would be most welcome.


Engineered Arts – learning to walk

My first meeting with RoboThespian

My first meeting with RoboThespian

In November 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of Engineered Arts in Cornwall, UK, to meet RoboThespian and his chief creator Will Jackson. Since that time, RoboThespian has been getting about a bit, meeting a wider audience, and is becoming quite famous. Will’s other robot Byrun is not only learning how to balance, but is also taking his first steps. There are also girl robots on the scene.

EngineeredArts logoI asked Will four questions about Engineered Arts’ recent progress, and found that the company is going great guns. The future is certainly looking good for this progressive, and very entertaining British business.

DR: On your website, engineeredarts.co.uk, you mention a question that won’t go away: ‘Can it walk? Can it walk?’ Well I’m asking the same question. When I was with you back in November last year, you were waiting for a treadmill to arrive so that you could test-walk the robots. How has this been progressing?

WJ: Byrun prototype 3 has been on the treadmill for a few months now – you can see a video here:

We discovered some problems with the force sensing – too much hysteresis caused by friction.

We are now working on Byrun prototype 4 – it’s quite a radical redesign: new method of force measurement using deflection in plastic beams, improved angular ranges and speeds on all axis – can get knee to chest and leg folded 170 degrees at knee – very important for getting up when you have fallen over!

We are also building better high level modelling software for control of dynamic balance.

W5 Belfast


DR: I see from the RoboThespian Facebook page that RoboThespian is now appearing at W5 Belfast. Can you tell me where else people can see the robot in action?

WJ: We will be at Innorobo in Lyon France – which is worth a visit for any serious robot enthusiast. In the UK we also have an upcoming event at The Science Museum in London.


DR: Can two RoboThespians hold a conversation with each other, with one listening to the other to detect the end of a question?

WJ: We have done some experiments using ChatScript a chat program developed by Bruce Wilcox – the converstions can be comical but don’t make a lot of sense. We also had a problem where the robot would listen to its own words and then try to answer them – which is very confusing!


DR: When I spoke to Marcus (Marcus Hold is the Design and Production Engineer at Engineered Arts), I asked him if I should refer to RoboThespian as “He”, “She” or even “It”. Marcus said that the robot is definitely male. Have you considered making a female version with an obviously feminine voice?

WJ: There are female RoboThespian’s, the latest one is Doris – she belongs to Global 360 a UK company who produce shows and events with our robots.

Engineered Arts electric humanoid robot arm

The video below, recently uploaded by Engineered Arts in Cornwall, shows an amazing feat of engineering skill. There are so many parts working in unison to produce a wonderfully fluid motion of the robot arm.

It immediately made me think of the conductor of an orchestra, such as Vladimir Ashkenazy (who is also one of the world’s greatest pianists). I wonder if RoboThespian could be shown how to conduct an orchestra when fitted with this new arm?