Tech News World is saying that
Japan's robot developers are going Linux. Japan seems to be hot
place for robots and Japan is using Linux for their robots. Probably
isn't scared of the mean old robots like other countries may be and
probably because they need someone to take care of their elderly.
These Japanese robots need an OS, and what's becomming the defacto
standard is Linux.
Although Windows is working other venues such as
and such, it seems Linux already has a shoe in for robots in
This is from an interview by somebody from Red Herring with
Joseph Engelberger several years ago while Engelberger was
trying to get funding to manufacture robotic nurses
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto
Joseph Engelberger, the father of industrial robotics, on the state
of the industry.
The biochemist-turned-science-fiction-writer Isaac Asimov is
celebrated for having written more than 220 books in his lifetime,
but his greatest accomplishment might have been his indirect
jump-start of the robotics industry. While he was writing stories of
mobile robots and mechanical men in the early '50s, his fellow
Columbia University alum Joseph Engelberger, an aerospace
engineer who enjoyed Mr. Asimov's books, was setting about
making the fiction a reality.
A chance meeting with a man named George Devol strengthened
Mr. Engelberger's resolve. Mr. Devol somewhat mysteriously held
a patent to a mechanism for which he had determined no use. It
was called programmable manipulation, and Mr. Engelberger
quickly procured it, engineering what he calls a "hydraulically
powered robot that looked like a cannon on a base, with a big
movable boom, two barrels flanking it, and a wrist and hand at its
end." The artillery-like contraption was designed to replace
workers employed in hazardous factory tasks like die casting and
spot welding, and around it Mr. Engelberger and Mr. Devol founded
the first industrial robotics company, Unimation.
It was almost like a story by Mr. Asimov himself. Indeed, it was a bit
too futuristic for American industry, says Mr. Engelberger, who is
often called the father of industrial robotics. We reached him at the
Danbury, Connecticut, offices of his present robotics company,
HelpMate Robotics, to talk about his past, his future, and the
robotics industry's outlook.
The Herring: Japanese companies almost completely dominate
the robotics industry today. How did American companies lose the
design lead you created several decades ago?
Engelberger: Americans were too worried about next quarter's
earnings to invest in the concept. The Japanese were capable of
making long-range plans. They said, "I wonder how significant
robotics will be three to five years from now." Keep in mind too that
Japan is a monolithic society; they'd rather employ robots than hire
cheap labor from outside their country. Plus, there was a already a
warm feeling in Japan toward robots, which were all over their TV
shows and films.
The Herring: So the U.S. showed no interest in robotics?
Engelberge: I'll put it this way -- Japanese executives formed a
robotics industry association almost immediately following my first
visit to the country; the first three chairmen were from Hitachi ,
Kawasaki , and Mitsubishi . In the U.S. I had previously
approached General Electric , General Motors , and Ford , saying,
"Please, would you give us a senior executive to be the chairman
of a new association? Just to lend a name?" But no one would
The Herring: Is it too late for the United States to rebound in this
Engelberger: Well, Japan owns 70 percent of the market, and
that's because of its continued dedication to implementing and
improving the utility of robots. To this day the U.S. still hasn't
shown the same degree of interest; in fact, the robotics business
here is largely made up of divisions of Japanese companies. I
know of only one independent industrial robotics company in the
The Herring: Not Unimation?
Engelberger: No, Adept Technology in San Jose. We sold off
Unimation in 1983 to our investors, who by that time had a much
larger stake in it than George and I. At that point, I bought a big
sailboat and set off for a while.
The Herring: But you returned to the business -- only this time your
company is focusing on service robots, rather than on the
industrial robots Unimation produced. Why?
Engelberger: Industrial robots are used in manufacturing. Service
robots have the same capabilities but are used for service jobs.
I wasn't about to go head-to-head with the Japanese in spot
welding, so I created a robotic hospital courier to transport medical
records, drugs, and so forth to keep institutions from wasting the
time of skilled workers.
The Herring: What do you envision beyond courier robots?
Engelberger: Asimov always said a robot will be an analogue of a
human. We're creating a robot now to serve as a companion to
older people that will use voice recognition, tactile sensing, stereo
vision, and navigation using ultrasound. When it's completed, it
will be able to fetch and carry, cook, have conversational gambits...
The Herring: Gambits?
Engelberger: If the patient forgets a luncheon appointment, the
companion robot could respond, "Don't you remember? We're
having lunch at Johnny's today."
The Herring: The idea sounds a bit impersonal, don't you think?
Engelberger: When you consider how difficult it is to find a
compassionate caretaker willing to put up with a cantankerous old
person, a thick-skinned robot starts sounding like a great idea.
Don't hold your breath waiting for a robotic nurse to take care of
you. A west coast hospital supply company bought Engelberger
out a couple of years ago and cancelled the nurse project.