Valerie is a domestic android. Valerie will clean your house, change light bulbs, wash the dishes, do the laundry, check the sports scores for you, book plane tickets and call the police if there's an emergency. She speaks English but more importantly, understands English and hence be programmed by non-programmers. Valerie will be on sale by Christmas 2004 for US$59,000 with a two year warranty. Gizmo spoke with her creator, Chris Willis.
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The Personal robotics industry may still be in its infancy, but ten years from now, Chris Willis expects that 10% of the American population will have some form of personal robotic assistant. Willis' Androidworld.com is tracking the development of the industry and he is in the process of developing his own domestic android prototype named Valerie, for sale by the end of 2005.
Willis' site lists and links to 60+ major android projects around the world and a further 50+ entertainment android projects, so it's fair to say that he is keeping in touch with the competition and the prospects for the industry.'Androids are going to be the best thing since sliced bread,' enthuses Willis. 'You get a 24 hour security guard, a helper which will do most of your household chores and help you organise your life and one which will work tirelessly 24 hours a day for the price of the electricity required to provide power - it's a very compelling proposition, and the technology is all there to create it now.
''I'm expecting that in 10 years we'll see a huge market developing and that the US, Europe and Japan will each account for around a third of global sales. By that time, I expect 10% of US households will have a robotic assistance of some kind, and that will only be the beginning.
Despite the ambitiousness of the Valerie Project, Willis remains optimistic of playing a major role in this future marketplace despite the millions being invested by the likes of Honda, Fujitsu, Sony, Toyota, Takara, Omron, sega, bandai, NEC, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Tsmuck, Sanyo and Epson.
'There may be some economies of scale in the Japanese marketplace because a large amount of expertise is concentrated in a small geographical area, but I'm not so sure that the expertise is being shared. There's also an enormous amount of work being done elsewhere in the world and individual systems are being developed for many of the systems which make up an entire android system, and there's a lot of opportunity to leverage off that work.
The Valerie prototype is set to be one of the most advanced ever shown to the public when it is released later this year. 'We have the hands done already and our hands have 40 degrees of freedom,' said Willis, comparing it favourably to Honda's Asimo which has 35 degrees of freedom in its entire body. 'The hands are more than 30% of the entire project for us because Valerie has to be able to perform many complex tasks,' said Willis.
Willis is also optimistic that Valerie will be able to master the art of bi-pedal movement which comes so naturally to humans yet has always proven to be a problem for robots.
'The key is in the area of balance and we have several systems all working in this area - we have the vision system, a gyro accelerometer board and the sense of touch in the feet all contributing. Asimo, for example, has six force sensors in each foot. We're using 30 force sensors in each of Valerie's feet. We're confident we can do better than has been done previously. We think a lot of people have had a lot of problems because they don't have a lot of movement in the pelvis region.
'To date Willis has sold three prototype Valeries, all destined for a delivery date of late 2004 and has the capacity to deliver another four in the same time frame. How is the schedule coming along?'Well we haven't put it all together yet, so it's a bit hard to say whether we're on or behind or in front of schedule.
'Willis expects the price of personal robotics to drop quickly over the coming years. 'In a year or two, I expect that once production gets underway, the price will come down to maybe half what it is now. It's only a few years away that the price performance equation will become very compelling to the average household and the market will begin to accelerate.
'We've taken a lot of effort to make Valerie easy to use so we have used a natural language interface. We decided to program our robot in English so that you don't need to be a programmer to tell her what to do. There are many advantages to doing it that way, including that the robot is self documenting.
What Valerie will be able to do:
Muscle movements equal to a person.
- Understand spoken commands (in several languages)
Speak to you in English (or several other languages)
Remember previous conversations with you.
Remember a daily list of chores to be done.
Perform household chores such as:
Clearing the table
Changing light bulbs
Lift and carry things up to 50 pounds
Picking up things
Putting things away
Setting the table
Access the internet to do such things as: Check stock prices Check sports scores Find information for you Book plane tickets for you Find addresses or phone numbers Find directions Call police in an emergency. Call the fire department in case of fire. Dress or undress herself. Have a sense of touch all over like people do.
What Valerie will NOT be able to do:
- Eat or drink
Perform other bodily functions.
Hurt people (Asimov's first law)
Have sex. Put her head under water.
Take any water or other liquids into her head or mouth.
Drive a car (because she can't go outside).
Run a lawn mower (because she can't go outside).
Physical actions which people cannot do.