Archive for the ‘Robotics’ Category


Wednesday, 20 September 2006; 13:20

It was to revolutionize personal travel and was launched with all the hype in the world. However, the Segway never quite made the segue from blueprint to mass adoption that was intended. Its cost has been cited as one factor. Another has been local transportation ordinances. Regardless, it never lived up to the hype.

That said, is the Segway still something you might want? The Distillery thinks so. Give it a little more time, hopefully some manufacturing economies of scale, and one day there may be one sitting in most garages. But until then, as is implicitly evidenced by the onsite video, the Segway is in dire need of buyers.

As for the Segway web site, it could use some consideration. The Distillery very much dislikes web sites that continually open new pages. The first three clicks at generated three open windows. (Do they think we use Segways to navigate web sites?) And, why is there a mini-site when there is only a single core product?

Then there are the helmets used by the site’s Segway demonstrators. The Segway was hyped (and is still) as being really cool, but those have to be some of the dorkiest helmets ever seen! Even the old Bell Biker from the 1970s looks better. It seems Segway does not comprehend that cool is only as cool as the dorkiest link. The only person wearing a helmet that equals the Segway’s cool-factor is the policeman.

The manufacturer might take a lesson learned some time ago by the bicycle industry. That is, consumers often see not just the product itself, but the whole package–even when the package exceeds the core product and is an additional expense. You will not see any bicycle manufacturers making the mistake of  combining their expensive wares with cheap-looking, inexpensive, and ugly helmets.

In fact, the Segway site clearly shows that both marketing and manufacturing are handled by the same parties. Why else would a beautiful 3-D tour of the product being entirely devoid of music or a voice-over? Silence seldom sells. It has an especially tough time selling a completely new product about which potential buyers want all the information they can get. There is also keeping the visitor as immersed in the product as desired and possible while at the web site. In summary, the Segway web site is a great piece of steak, but someone most certainly forgot that customers like hearing that steak sizzle on the grill.

Home page:  Segway

Segway logo graphicSegway photo graphic


NEC Personal Robot Research Center (Japan)

Tuesday, 22 August 2006; 12:10

Apparently hidden away in the same underground chamber Japanese physicists and others from around the world have been using to detect very rare elemental physics particles is the NEC Personal Robot Research Center. There we find the R100, NEC’s first personal robot.

It’s only a prototype, but it still has big ambitions. It one day hopes to live with you at home as a useful and lovable partner. Let’s just hope its programming includes Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. (You don’t know what they are? Then hold off on buying any robot. You would not want a robot without them.) In fact, NEC itself still knows very little about the robot’s future, as evidenced by a FAQ with FA (few answers). The robot’s color scheme has also not yet been determined, but it seems NEC is open to consumers’ suggestions.

Those issues aside, let’s have a peek at NEC’s proposed additions to a Jetsons family lifestyle. The first video explains NEC’s aims and hopes in developing the personal robot. The second video summarizes what the R100 can do.

Home page: NEC Personal Robot Research Center
Home page: NEC Laboratories

NEC Personal Robot graphic 01 NEC Personal Robot graphic 02 NEC Labs Personal Robot logo graphic

NEC Labs notebook graphic 01NEC Labs notebook graphic 02

NEC Labs logo graphic

Boeing: Integrated Defense Systems

Wednesday, 9 August 2006; 13:21

2005 was a banner year for weapons suppliers like Boeing and its Integrated Defense Systems division. The Distillery can find no joy in that observation.

Home page: Boeing IDS

AH-64D Apache Longbow photo graphic

Roomba & Scooba (iRobot Corporation)

Thursday, 1 June 2006; 10:32

iRobot Corporation’s name is likely unfamiliar to you. However, at least one of its products likely is not. Certainly you have heard of iRobot’s self-governing vacuum cleaner, the Roomba. (Click on Product Video to see the video demonstrations.)

Simply amazing, isn’t it? It appears the Jetsons and their wondrous technologies from TV past and a looney future are alive and well in the 21st century.

Red iRobot Roomba Roomba Discovery SE Roomba Scheduler

And while you are at the iRobot site, also have a look at its Scooba, the little robot that assumes the tedious burden of washing your hard-surface floors. (For additional videos, look for Product Video on the upper-right side of the page and Scooba in Action on the lower-right side of the page.) And from where did iRobot get that spokesperson with the squeaky and somewhat irritating voice? Might I suggest another voice-over instead by James Earl Jones (a.k.a. Darth Vader)?

iRobot Scooba

Texas Instruments

Tuesday, 21 February 2006; 19:06

Texas Instruments has come a very long way since 1973, when I purchased my first TI calculator for the outrageous price of $175 USD. As I recall, the calculator’s most significant and advanced features were operations for exponentials, squares, and square roots. But, times have changed.

Texas Instruments now offers Digital Light Processing (DLP) chips in televisions and other video products. Although far from being the most exciting of online multimedia presentations, TI’s DLP demonstration does a nice job of explaining DLP technology. Only a little more exciting, and lasting only a few short seconds, is a demonstration of DLP Cinema.

I can only assume TI expects geeks, and not typical consumers, to get excited about such boring Flash presentations. They did not leave me wanting to rush out and buy a DLP TV or see DLP Cinema anytime soon.

Only a tad more exciting is TI’s video presentation of its DaVinci Technology in either Windows Media or Quicktime. And just what is that? Quoting from the TI DaVinci web site: See live action like you’ve never imagined: closer, clearer and crisper. DaVinci™ Technology enables you to stream live, high-performance video directly to portable, handheld devices, an on-board intelligence system in your car, or even the command center in your television, just to name a few. Wow! (Not.)

Digging a little deeper into the Texas Instruments web site, we discover “cars that drive themselves”, TI’s entry in DARPA’s (Army Research) annual contest to build an unmanned vehicle capable of completing an obstacle course over rugged terrain.

Requirements: Flash, Quicktime, Windows Media


Saturday, 18 February 2006; 21:22

With its MindStorm NXT, it is official. LEGO has entered the 21st century. This little robot has USB, Bluetooth, 3 interactive servo motors, 4 sensors (ultrasound, sound, light, and touch), and “intuitive programming software.” It is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2006.

Update (20 February 2006)

Somehow overlooked at LEGO was its Make and Create web page. Have fun being a kid again and playing with World Builder 2. Adults unable to master it might first practice their skills with the original World Builder and then move up to World Builder 2’s more difficult adult-proof and kid-friendly challenges.