Future today: robotic vision in the mass market

The new Dyson robot looks around and finds its way. Credit: Dyson

I am usually talking about the future but once in a while the future happens to be on a department store shelf, and this is the case for the new Dyson 360 eye, a vacuum cleaner robot (it is not actually on a shelf yet although you can ask to be notified when it will be available in your Country, with sales expected to start in Spring 2015 in Japan).

Robotised vacuum cleaners are not a novelty. It is actually several years now that iRobots are busy cleaning thousands of houses all around the world.

What makes the 360 eye stand apart is its capability of understanding its environment by ... looking at it, exactly what we do everyday without even noticing it.

All other domestic robots use a radar to gauge distances and create a map of where they "live" that is used to find a path that eventually will clean the whole floor. A similar approach is used by robots cutting the grass in the garden or those cleaning a pool (although here they are using a random cleaning strategy that given the limited, and regular space of a pool tank works pretty well).

The Dyson 360 eye gets its name from the electronic eye it has on the top, able to capture a 360 view of the ambient. Through software analyses of the image, and this is the advance of technology making possible what was just a dream in the last decade, the robot can fix some reference points (the edge of a wall, the edge of a frame...) and calculate its position and the position of the objects in the ambient. Having constructed a map of the ambient it plots a path that will lead it to sweep the floor.

You can take a look at the clip and follow the link to the Dyson web site to get all details.

What is relevant to me, and the reason of the post, is the amazing progress of technology in the area of vision and image recognition. This makes the robot "smart" and in a way "aware" of its surrounding. Couple this with the capability of matching a goal (clean the floor) with the constraints (the ambient) and you have a smart object that, by the way, can connect to the Internet and to you (it comes with an app on your smartphone that let you control it from anywhere in the world).

Also, consider the opportunities. You have a vacuum cleaner but you also have a moving camera that through internet can stream pictures (clips) of your home anywhere you are. It has the potential to recognise who is at home and raise a warning message is something is unusual (a new person, a person stepping in when none of the usual inhabitants are there, a water leakage, a light that has not been switched off....). So far Dyson is selling the robot just to vacuum clean the home but the potential is clearly there.

Interesting to think that appliances like this can improve the smartness of the whole ambient, and not just be themselves smart.

At EIT ICT Labs we are working on smart spaces and innovations like this one can be leverage to shorten the path to the future|

Author - Roberto Saracco

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