Can You Really Own a Robot?

I want a robot.  I’ve wanted one for quite some time.  I would love it if my robot could do things like bring me my cell phone, or clean the bathroom.

I’ll be honest here; it would be great to have a butler-robot.  But here’s what I really want:  I want my robot to go to meetings for me, and to wander around the factory floor.  When it comes right down to it, I don’t just want one robot.  I want several.  One in each of the plant locations where I sometimes need to work.  It would be great to have a robot I could wake up and send out to check on inventory.  Or see if the reconfiguration of a product flow has been completed.  Or to be able to ask intelligent questions about how things are going.  Or congratulate people on my team for doing a great job.

Maybe like me, you have seen the Verizon Powerful Answers “Attendance” commercial.  The spot shows a sick boy who is able to be present in the classroom via Verizon’s VGo robot.  That’s the robot I want.  The VGo is cool… But it’s $6000.  And I want a robot for each plant location.  And maybe one at the corporate office.  And one at home for when I’m away.

So imagine my interest in the newest version of Lego Mindstorms, the robotics offering from the makers of brightly-colored plastic blocks.  I remember Legos from the 1980s.  My brothers once received a Lego replica of the Milleneum Falcon.  That model is no joke.  My boyfriend and I hijacked the gift and stayed up all night, occasionally dozing on the floor under the Christmas tree, then waking up to go back to work, carefully stacking and connecting the blocks.

Lego Mindstorms EV3 is different.  In addition to the familiarity of interlocking blocks, the kits add gears, wheels, touch and motion sensors, motors, cables, and even a microcomputer.   The EV3 edition is the third generation of Mindstorms.  It’s not even due to be released for a few more months, but the $279 kits are already sold out at the Lego store online.  I can imagine why.

Maybe like me, there are others who think they can start with a self-designed, Lego-constructed body.  Fabricate a frame out of more Lego elements, intended to hold an iPad at the top of the frame.  Sign up for a Skype video account, and use local wireless networks (at home, office, or factory) for communications.  Engineer motion capability with elements from the EV3 kit.

So what have we invested here?  Let’s say it’s $100 worth of Lego Technic pieces to build a body.  Another $20 or so for a frame to hold the iPad.  $250 for a used iPad2 on craigslist.  Free Skype-to-Skype accounts.  The Mindstorms EV3 kit for $279, plus an $80 battery pack for power.

For $730, I can have a robot.  Rudimentary, I imagine.  And I would still need someone to charge it up from time to time.  And turn it on and sign in to Skype.  Maybe my robot is still a little impractical.  But it’s imaginable.  I can see a time, not too distant from today, when I can have at least one robot of my own.



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