Intel Dazzles CE Week with Jimmy the Robot
Brace yourself, Sarah Connor: The robots are here, and they’re smart.
That was the thrust of the CE Week Keynote Address that kicked off a day of conferences on June 25, the penultimate day of CE Week in New York City.
Intel Futurist and Principal Engineer Brian David Johnson was the speaker for the presentation, which was entitled “Meet the Makers: Re-Imagining the Future of Computing.” In this case, the session enabled attendees to meet the primary maker of an exciting new line of products that could be the future of CE: robots.
The session culminated with Johnson’s presentation of two iterations of the robot he’s developed for Intel, named Jimmy.
As a futurist, Johnson said he is focused on “what it will feel like to be human 10 to 15 years from now. … I wrote a spec so we can start building the future today.
“Ten years ago, we started talking about the future of robotics,” Johnson recalled. He mentioned that the first popular robot widely adopted by consumers, the Rumba—which performed household cleaning tasks—was the equivalent of a laptop, as it did rudimentary tasks but was cumbersome and utilitarian.
“What we wanted was the equivalent of a smart phone,” he said. “Something that was social—not built to fold your laundry or work in factories.”
The advent of 3D printing and other advanced technologies such as open source hardware and software—along with the army of makers and students focused on furthering these technologies—was the “big change” that impelled Johnson and his associates to “bring this robot to life.”
Intel teamed with Make and other companies to move this project forward and take advantage of the exciting new technologies available. And for inspiration, he went to the source, the people who are most into robots: children.
“Talking to kids, we realized robots are imagined first,” Johnson recalled. “And robots should be easy to build.”
Johnson asked the panels of children aged 8 to 10 questions like “What would your robot do? What would your robot’s name be?” (The latter question, he said, stemmed from the idea that “every robot should have a name, because every robot is built by an individual.”
From these panels he learned the two keys to a successful robot:
1) It should have a cape
2) It should fart.
Beyond that, the feedback from the children provided some unique inspiration: “One young lady wanted ‘a robot to sing with me,’ One wanted ‘a robot to dance with me.’ One went to a bilingual school and wanted ‘a robot to translate for me,’” Johnson recalled.
This gave Johnson the idea of creating a “smart phone with legs”—a robot that, like a smart phone, could be customized with apps to be different things for different users based on their needs.
“You can download apps to personalize how he acts,” Johnson stated, “and customize his personality.”
Then Johnson brought out Jimmy.
Jimmy the robot, the first iteration of his smart robot, was brought out and said some things to attendees at the session, introducing himself and even throwing in a Star Wars quote to appeal to the geeks in the audience: “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”
This version of Jimmy, Johnson said, retails for $16,000—but then he brought out the second iteration of Jimmy, of similar construction, appearance and performance, but with a much lower price tag: $1,600.
He said the lower price was possible through evolutions in 3D printing technology and servo mechanisms among other technologies.
Besides being an incredibly fun toy and playmate for families, Johnson mentioned some other important potential uses:
• For children with autism, Jimmy could help with their development
• For the elderly trying to stay in their homes, he could remind them when they need to take their medications.
“He’s not only fun,” Johnson added, “but actually could make people’s lives better.”
Intel and Johnson plan to work with developers to further Jimmy’s evolution as a robot that can be “authored” by individual owners.
But don’t worry about those Terminator/Matrix scenarios, movie fans: Johnson said Jimmy will never have full autonomy or a real personality, so he and his ilk won’t be taking over.
“We’re not trying to do human-level intelligence on it at all,” Johnson said. “Just don’t put the world domination app on it.”