France’s Kompaï robotics, which Editor Steve first profiled in May 2011 (!), is still developing assistive robots for older adults, the disabled, and their caregivers. In another instance of technology integration and crossover into an area other than healthcare, they are a finalist in one of 5 consortia of 16 companies competing in the European FABULOS challenge to develop an automated minibus. Kompaï is partnering with Actia Automobile as the Kompai-Actia Consortium. Phase 1 of FABULOS starts 1 January with a feasibility study with conclusions for the start of prototype development. In autumn, the consortia will move to lab testing prototypes with real-world testing of the final three starting March 2020 in Estonia, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal. The R&D is being financed by the European Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme with a total fund of over €5,5 million. FABULOS release.
Robots, robots at CES: ElliQ, Sophia the ‘humanoid’, companions, pets, butlers, maids…and at a supermarket near you?
Back in the Real World. Welcomed into Scottish supermarket chain Margiotta was ‘ShopBot’, dubbed Fabio. In an experiment run by Heriot-Watt University for the BBC’s Six Robots & Us (UK viewers only), Fabio was programmed with directions to hundreds of items in the store. It had an abundance of cute. Customers initially liked Fabio. Unfortunately, its conversational quality and conveyance of information were sorely lacking. For instance, Fabio told customers to go to the ‘alcohol section’ when they wanted beer. (Now if they wanted Scotch….) On top of it, its mobility was limited, and the disability laws don’t apply. So the Margiottas sacked Fabio, with regrets but no severance, after one week on the job. Oh. Telegraph (paywalled), Yahoo News UK
Social companion robots for older adults and the disabled are hot again. Tel Aviv and now San Francisco-based Intuition Robotics is enjoying a $14 million second Series A investment from Toyota Research Institute (TRI) for the ElliQ ‘active aging companion’. The ElliQ desktop robot is tethered to a proprietary tablet to connect an older adult with the outside world via video chat, using machine learning about the person to recommend activities, and assist with appointments, medication reminders, music, wellness, and environmental monitoring. ElliQ is still in pre-release. The $14 million is being put to immediate use in initial testing with users in the Bay Area, and Intuition is ramping up with a team there.
TRI is based in Los Altos CA and is wholly owned by Toyota North America. Earlier seed and Series A investments totaling $8 million were made by iRobot, Terra Venture Partners, Bloomberg Beta and ManivMobility. This is the second older adult-targeted robotics news in as many weeks, with the more fully-featured and ‘humanoid’ KOMPAÏ in France going the crowdfunding route (as Intuition did early on) for €250,000 to fund the next generation [TTA 5 July]. After viewing the video below, it seems to this Editor that a lot of the interactive voice command technology has been overtaken by assistants already in market like Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home. TechCrunch, Home Health Care News
The KOMPAÏ company and funding is profiled on the European crowdfunding site Hoolders. Investors can join them for as little as €250. They are located on the Basque Coast of France in Bidart in the Izarbel Technopole (la Technopole d’ Izarbel). Website and KOMPAÏ-2 product flyer (English) Hat tip to Founder Steve Hards
A long (and in need of editing), anodyne article on the European tech website Cordis updating the status of the EU/UK robotics project known as MOBISERV and the Kompaï companion robot, has generated a bit of controversy in the mHealth LinkedIn group (membership required). Group manager David Doherty, better known for his mHealthInsight (3GDoctor) website, objects to the design, the time and funds spent on it, and more. To summarize his points:
- It’s a waste of money on a device and R&D which could have been used on more targeted solutions to real problems
- A ‘touch screen robo-vehicle’ may not be usable by an older person who has trouble with smartphones or tablets for cognitive or mobility reasons
- Mobile and other companies are already surpassing the EU project in both innovation and R&D in the job to be done; example Samsung’s gesture control and the LiquidWeb Brain Control brain interface from Italy. (And the ever-popular speech recognition in the here-and-now)
- It’s a closed system versus open innovation, where other developers especially those on Kickstarter build in access (SDK–software development kits). Example is Romo, the small wheeled desk robot for the iPhone. (However, Editor Steve in his coverage of Kompaï in early days reported that its SDK is open source TTA 4 May 10)
We will leave side-taking to our readers, but David’s points are strongly worth considering, as this project has taken at least four years and perhaps more, and funding–who knows? (Editor Donna notes that Editor Steve followed Kompaï since 2010 in articles such as Kompaï by Kompaï, the Dutch TV video, and experiments in gesture-based control for those with strokes and similar impairments.)