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Russian bots invade America, absorb Android brains

Nov 26, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Russian robot developer R.bot will soon launch a pair of low-cost telepresence robots in North America. The Synergy Mime and larger Synergy Swan use an attached BYOD Android smartphone or tablet for display, camera, microphone, and wireless communications and control functions, and are being offered for a limited time to Android developers for $250 and $500, respectively.

The Synergy robots are not the first Linux based telepresence bots we’ve seen, but they’re certainly the cutest. Although Moscow-based R.bot doesn’t exclusively design the robots for children, youngsters figure prominently in marketing materials and YouTube video (see farther below). Both Synergy robots are aimed at general telepresence and promotional applications, including in-store greeting and event marketing.



R.bot Mime and Swan features
(click images to enlarge)

 

According to R.bot’s US CEO Dmitriy Subbotin, who answered our questions via email, the company’s robots are widely used in Russia. Sales recently expanded to Europe and Middle East, and the company will soon enter the North American market. A separate model called the R.bot 100, which ships with Windows Embedded, but can also run on Linux, will participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics torch relay in Sochi, Russia.

Unlike the standalone R.bot 100, the Synergy robots depend on a BYOD brain. Any Android device will do, and soon iPhones and iPads will be supported as well. Since these devices act as the brain and sit in a holster on top of the robot, the robot’s capability is in many ways dependent on the capability of your device. The Android phone or tablet supplies the screen, camera, microphone, and sensors.

The robot translates Bluetooth signals from an Android app on the phone into movements, including its drive wheels and the folding neck that holds the mobile device. Both Synergy robots feature integrated speakers and LED indicators.

“All the functions of the robots are controlled by the mobile device’s software,” said Subbotin. “Therefore, by installing different applications to your smartphone or tablet, you can quickly and easily add new functionality to your robot.”
 

Synergy Mime

The Synergy Mime is intended primarily as a desktop device. It measures only 195mm wide and weighs 1.5 kilograms. With its neck fully extended, it can expand from its 170mm fold-up height to a maximum of 295mm, or about one foot. No speed was listed for the Mime’s electric-motored wheels, which can also spin the robot 360 degrees. Its folding neck offers three degrees of freedom (DOF).



R.bot Synergy Mime
(click images to enlarge)

 

Synergy Swan

The larger Synergy Swan is designed to roll around on the floor using its 440mm wide base, which conceals two electric-powered drive wheels and a piano caster wheel. The 14-kilogram robot can achieve a maximum speed of 1.8 kilometers per hour (about 1.6 feet per second), says R.bot.



R.bot Synergy Swan
(click images to enlarge)

 

Extending from its folded height of 350mm, the Swan can unfold its 4 DOF neck to a maximum of 910mm (3 feet). This presents the screen at about eye level to a child and more or less within viewing distance of a standing adult. By comparison, the Beam telepresence robot from Suitable Technologies stands 5.1 feet. On both the Swan and the Mime, the tablet stand can rotate independently of the robot base.

Both devices run on 12V DC power, and can act as mobile charging stations, charging at 5V, 2A DC. The Swan features a changeable, sealed lead-acid battery that can last for up to 12 hours. No specs were listed for the Mime’s battery.
 

Android and iOS apps

In addition to supporting Android devices, the robots — or rather the app running the robots from within the affixed Android devices — can communicate with additional nearby or remote Android or iOS devices, as well as Linux, Mac, and Windows desktops. From within the app, the full range of Android media and apps appears to be available, with Internet access depending on the WiFi and/or cellular connection of the device. (An Android app screenshot appears on the right; click to enlarge it.)

The Synergy robots can be controlled by voice commands, and they can speak using a human speech synthesizer. The Android app responds to the mobile device’s sensor input, and can automatically turn and face a speaker based on visual, voice, and sensor input. The neck automatically unfolds or folds, and the mobile device rotates in response to a person’s location and height. The Android app also incorporates face recognition algorithms, says R.bot.

An open SDK is provided to program the main Android app, called the Bridge, as well as develop news apps. The apps send API commands to the circuit board within the base of the system, which presumably runs on a microcontroller. For example, to control the Swan’s three neck segments, the following commands are used:

  • // Set the angle for one Neck segment
    robotNeckSegment1.setAngle(0.5);

  • // Specify the speed of the neck motion
    robotNeckSegment1.setSpeed(0.8);

  • // Move the neck to the new position
    robotNeckSegment1.move();

 



R.bot YouTube video of the Synergy Swan

 

Further information

R.bot’s Synergy Mime and Synergy Swan will soon be available in North America with special pricing for Android developers of about $250 and $450, respectively. (Normal pricing will be $900 and $450, says R.bot.) More information may be found at R.bot’s Synergy Mime and Synergy Swan product pages, respectively.
 

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