That mystery robot that we've been teased about for months now, originally rumored to be something developed by either Apple or Google, is in fact a project by a company called RoboDynamics. It's called Luna, it's a personal robot designed for people to use at home, it's fully programmable, and will start shipping later this year.
As of right now, the embargo has been lifted and we're allowed to tell you more about Luna and how RoboDynamics, in Santa Monica, Calif., hopes that it'll revolutionize robotics in the same way that the PC revolutionized computing and the iPhone and Android are revolutionizing mobile electronics.
Before we get to the overall concept, here's a rundown of Luna's hardware and software specs, which RoboDynamics says is subject to change:
Processor: Dual Core Atom 2 GHz
Graphics: nVidia 94000M
Storage capacity: 8 GB Flash, expandable to 32 GB
Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11g), optional Bluetooth via Luna Expansion Port (LXP)
Cellular comm.: Optional 3G or 4G via Luna Expansion Port (LXP)
Operating system: LunaOS (includes Poky Linux, ROS, and other packages)
Display: 8" touchscreen capacitive LCD
Camera: 8-megapixel primary camera with digital zoom
Microphone: 3 microphone array with DSP front-end with sound localization
Speakers: Yes (no specs available yet)
Sensors: 10-bit wheel encoders, PrimeSense 3D Sensor
Expansion ports: Luna Expansion Ports (LXP) x 7 [Each LXP comprises standard USB Female Type A and 12 volt and 5 volt regulated power with mounting holes]
Battery: 12 volt, 26 amp-hour - SLA
Battery life: Between 4-8 hours
Charge time: 4-8 hours for full charge
Size: Height: 5'2" (157 cm) - Base: 22" (56 cm)
Weight: 65 lbs (30 Kg)
Clearly, this is not some kind of fancy, futuristic new platform. It's got a pretty good computer in it, with a pretty good graphics card. It's got some pretty good sensors, pretty good mobility, and pretty good design. All very pretty good. So why get excited?
Because, at least in principle, Luna could do something that no other robot has been able to accomplish: bring a programmable, general-purpose robot to a vast number of home users and establish an ecosystem for developers to create and sell software that gives the robot more capabilities.
Let's use the computer as an analogy. Starting with the Apple II (or thereabouts, our memory only goes back so far), it was possible to buy a computer system that would come out of the box offering immediate usefulness without requiring specialized technical knowledge. And that's what made everybody want a computer: it would immediately make your life better, and furthermore, the ability to teach it new things makes it increasingly useful.
To take the analogy further, and to get closer to the idea behind Luna, think about the iPhone. You buy it because it makes phone calls and you can get the Internet on it, but that's just the beginning. What makes the iPhone (and Android platforms) stand out from other phones is the fact that you can make it increasingly useful, thanks to the app store. And not just that, but making the iPhone useful by writing apps has become lucrative, which makes the iPhone itself more lucrative, and so on.
RoboDynamics CEO Fred Nikgohar [the guy in the suit, right] wants Luna to do for robotics what smartphones did for mobile computing. He argues that the robotics industry has failed to make home robots (beyond toys, kits, and vacuum cleaners) available to consumers, and that even open-source software platforms like Willow Garage's ROS are still too hard for people without a PhD in robotics. He hopes that "a well-designed, open, and affordable personal robot will kickstart a rush of innovation."
We applaud the idea, but we see some hurdles along the way. RoboDynamics had mentioned previously a price tag of around US $1,000, which would make Luna a very competitive offering. To put that in perspective, remember that a TurtleBot or a Bilibot will set you back $1,200. And they're not five feet tall with touchscreens. But now RoboDynamics is saying that the $1,000 is a target price and that the initial model, to ship later this year, will sell for $3,000.
It's still reasonable for the hardware you're getting, but way above the psychologically appealing price point of $1,000, which would certainly entice a lot of people. So whether RoboDynamics will be able to bring the cost down is still uncertain.
Another issue is software. We haven't had a chance to check out the robot's Linux-based operating system, called LunaOS, and we haven't seen Luna's interface system, the SDK, and the Luna App Store that RoboDynamics says will be available. Software, perhaps even more than hardware, will be key to Luna's success. If the robot ships with good apps, and more apps start to show up on the store, Luna's appeal increases dramatically. But so far this is all a big question mark.
In the next few weeks, RoboDynamics plans to release more information about Luna's first edition, as well as future models, prices, and availability (if you're interested, go to their website and fill out the form). We'll report back as soon as we have a chance to meet the robot in person and check out its full capabilities.
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