Is It a Lamp? Is It a Vase? No, It's Patin the Robot

Image: Flower Robotics
This Japanese robot can do different things depending on what you put on its back.

Flower Robotics, a Tokyo-based design studio, is envisioning a future where common household objects like lamps and flower pots spring to life and move around our homes. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a concept device called Patin, a service robot platform that can use special attachments to perform a variety of functions.

Unlike task-specific robots like the Roomba, Patin consists of a mobile base with an upper deck to which you can attach different modules. So rather than having separate robots for specific jobs, you’d need just one Patin and the desired attachments to give the robot new functionalities.

Flower Robotics, known primarily for its robot mannequin Palette, has been working on a prototype base [right], and plans to market the robot by 2016. The attachments that will make the robot useful are still at a conceptual stage; in a promotional video, the robot is shown carrying a lamp closer to a person reading a book, among other things.

The current prototype has an omni-directional wheel base that allows it to move smoothly in graceful arcs (hence the name Patin, which is French for “skate.”) The robot is powered by NVIDIAs Jetson TK1 CPU and runs Linux. To navigate and detect people and objects, it uses an ASUS Xtion Pro Live depth camera. It also carries a host of cameras, an Arduino board, and contact and proximity sensors.

Flower Robotics doesn’t plan to develop the functional attachments alone. It hopes that other companies (even those that may lack expertise in robotics) will build specific modules for the robot, which can carry up to 5 kilograms and has an interface that can be programmed with an SDK. Patin can also connect to cloud services to access data (like music) as well as new behaviors, the company said.

As a home robot designed as a kind of companion and helper, Patin will face competition from robots like Pepper (the new humanoid from Aldebaran and Softbank) and Jibo (the friendly robotic device created by MIT social roboticist Cynthia Breazeal), as well as the home assistive robot expected to be released by Hoaloha Robotics sometime in the next few years.

But of course, Patin’s biggest challenge (as with any other robot) is proving that it can provide enough value for its users. The applications shown in the video (like the flower pot scenario, in which the robot uses its sensors to locate and soak in the sunlight during the day) probably wouldn’t convince many people to buy the robot. 

Perhaps more complex applications tailored for Japan’s rapidly aging society—for instance, monitoring users throughout the day and helping them connect with family members and take their medications—would make Patin more compelling. And if the robot looks like a flower pot, that might be a plus.

[ Flower Robotics ]



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