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Robot assisted living for smartphone prices

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When Honda Motor Co.’s ASIMO “multi-functional mobile assistant” robot rang the opening bell at the NYSE the morning of Feb. 14, 2000, many thought the long sought-after era of robot assisted living was finally upon us. But the prospect of robot ownership was hopelessly out of reach, and by and large remains so, with the exception of iRobot’s floor-sucking Roomba.

Brian David Johnson, resident futurist at Intel Corp. and his robot Jimmy joined BNN’s Frances Horodelski Tuesday to explain his plan to bring robots into everyday life for about the cost of a smartphone, and how he plans to leverage the capacity of the app developer community through open-source software to make it happen.

“He’s like a smartphone with legs. You don’t have to have a PhD and an understanding of artificial intelligence. All you have to do is download apps just like smartphones,” said Johnson.

Jimmy currently retails for about US $1,600, but the price is expected to average out to the cost of a new smartphone with increased sales. The robot’s two-and-a-half foot tall customizable exterior is produced in pieces with a consumer-grade 3-D printer, and will start walking, talking, and even Tweeting once combined with a kit from Intel.

Jimmy’s software is open-source, meaning anybody can develop application for learned behaviours. Johnson is engaging the communities of developers currently working on smartphone applications to crowdsource ideas to pair with his hardware.

“We’ve talked about health care. You could have a granddaughter design a robot for her grandmother, and have that robot remind her to take her medication at 7 a.m and 7 p.m.,” said Johnson.

By tapping into the creativity of young developers, Johnson hopes to have a diverse suite of apps for personal robots in the same numbers as Apple’s App Store and the Google Apps Marketplace that range from healthcare, to education, to entertainment functions.

“We had a young lady who went to a trilingual school say she would like her robot to walk around with her and act as a translator so that everybody could understand what everyone else was saying,” said Johnson.

Given the potential for personal robots to function as both a toy and a tool, he says the future of human-robot interaction will be decided by market demand.

“We don’t really know what a 21st century robot should do. It’s up to everybody,” said Johnson.

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