Tandy Trower, who helped launch Microsoft Robotics Studio back in 2006, has started a brand spankin’ new robotics company called Hoaloha Robotics. The goal? Affordable ($5000 – $10000) socially assistive (i.e. elder care) robots in the next three to five years. Trower envisions a robot able to do all of the conventional remote monitoring and pill reminder stuff, but also able to assist with movement, object retrieval, and potentially provide some degree of intelligent social interaction.
Trower believes he can make an important contribution by developing a common interface and software that will make assistive robots easy to use and customize with applications, similar to the way Apple standardized the interface and application model for smartphones. “This is what primarily I believe is holding back most of the industry right now. It’s not that robots can’t be built, it’s that nobody has defined the software that’s going to turn robots into useful appliances,” he said.
Er, they haven’t? Hm.
“The components exist; it’s not difficult to build such a platform,” he said. “What people have lacked is the ability to envision what the right package should contain and, most important, what the applications and user interface should be.”
Now that’s something I wholeheartedly agree with. Or at least, I agree that the interface is going to be the tricky part. I’m not trying to minimize the amount of work that it’s going to take to get the hardware and programming up to snuff, but in order to be an effective assistive robot, the Hoaloha platform is going to have to be more independent than a Roomba or an XV-11, both of which are designed to be totally independent (more or less) and neither of which quite pulls it off. This, specifically, is what Hoaloha is going to be focusing on, partnering with other companies for hardware development. And when it comes to hardware components, they do exist, and they’re getting cheaper in leaps and bounds, making that three to five year timeframe (and the target price) potentially achievable.
Also, here’s the same obligatory quote we’ve been hearing for like the last decade:
Trower said the industry feels a lot like the early days of the PC, when there were Apple II and TRS-80 computers, but they weren’t yet doing a lot to enhance productivity or change people’s lives.
Dammit, I’m getting old over here… It feels like we’ve been stuck in the roboeighties forever.