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In contrast to the anthropomorphic robot development in the segment of robotic telepresence can monetize now. The founder of the Moscow company “RBOT” Alexey Knyazev says that in this area has already left behind Russian competitors. And now it’s time to compete with imports.
Important meetings in the absence of the office manager in most companies are almost identical: the staff sitting at the table, and the boss turns to them from the screen – for example, through a video call to “Skype.” The effect of the presence of the head on the ground there, but not very convincing: employees are bored, distracted and sometimes drop out of the conversation.
But the effect can be enhanced by using psychological tricks. For example, by placing the screen to a height corresponding to human growth, and ensuring their mobility – so that the remote interlocutor can rotate the screen in either direction, as if looking into the face of the person to whom the currently drawn. This is the simplest system telepresence allows a person to “be” where it is not. And even in the other body: in the long term for each person can create a backup with the robot by remote control. Businessman Alexei Knyazev, founder of ZAO “RBOT”, one of the first to put the thought of telepresence into gear, vaguely reminiscent of the person.
Not all are like telepresence androids. American robotic company Double Robotics, in which the fall has invested $ 250 thousand Mail.Ru Group co-founder Dmitry Grishin, cleverly placed on the iPad self-balancing wheels (like the scooter Segway) – design and sells for $ 2000, not including the cost of the tablet. The first batch sold out in a matter of days, and now the company is working on pre-orders. Developers French Robopec dressed webcam and speakers into the silicone skin, creating a mini-robot Reeti – toy-sized little animals, capable of facial “muscles”, resembling the human facial expressions. True, on a presentation model Robopec did not get.
Robots Alexey Knyazev – something between a man and a famous R2-D2 from “Star Wars.” They resemble the bright barrels on wheels, but have a head, neck, and in the future will acquire and hands. Increasing the base model Rbot-100 grader – just above a meter. But the prospects for the business it is not for children. Sales of robots actually began only last year, but revenues now close to a million dollars. And the head of the “RBOT” sure it’s just the beginning. The plans – Global expansion: the end of the businessman intends to start supplying products to 30 countries. The company now exports its products not only to neighboring countries – Kazakhstan, Belarus, Lithuania, – but, for example, in the UAE. “I recently shipped a container of robots in the U.S.” – boasts Knyazev.
Perhaps the biggest find of the entrepreneur – a new market. Typically, telepresence application in the areas where you need to improve the communication of people separated by distance: doctor and patient, teacher and student, a specialist on the trading floor and warehouse worker. Knyazev uses them primarily for marketing purposes. Sleek design robots in disguise corporate colors of the customer, they are screwed holders promotional products. Unusual promoter eventually attracted much more attention than a man in T-shirt. Promotional robots controlled by so-called robodrayverami – operators that by connecting via Wi-Fi moves the robot, forcing them to turn his head and spoke to passers-by.
The operator can sit behind a screen a few steps away from the robot, and can be on the other side of the globe. Depending on the modification of robots sold in commercial organizations in price from 199 to 300 thousand rubles, hire a robot to the operator cost of 5000 per hour, depending on the volume. For 2012 the company held more than ninety events lasting from three hours to three months. The overwhelming majority of customers – large corporations: Savings, MTS, Adidas, Nissan.
“Foreign buyers are still too use our robots primarily for marketing and promotion, – says Director of Promotion Vyacheslav Kravtsov. – However, the feeling of interest for their use in education, medicine, and support for older people. “
Social projects, by the way, the company for three years. She set free robots Polytechnic Museum, where they conduct virtual tours, Hospital. Wisniewski, and in a few schools in Moscow – so sick children can remotely attend classes and communicate with classmates. This is not just charity: first, the “RBOT” so testing technology in different environments, and secondly, finds new applications products. This gives then a commercial results. Recently, six robots, acquired by the local administration, went to the school of St. Petersburg, and bought two more Ivanovo regional center for distance education for children with disabilities.
AI Alexey Knyazev interested in childhood. Yet the way in robotics was tortuous and took ten years. The school Knyazev was reading fiction and mastering programming, but after studying at MSTU. Baumann moved to where it was easier to make – in the trade. Begins with the usual “hook”: in the mid-1990s drove Korean leather jackets, clothes from Turkey, VCRs from the UAE. Then engaged in distance education – opened Institute, who taught accounting nonresident students by mail. The initiative has been successful: soon at the institute were more than ten thousand people. However, at the peak of popularity rector Knyazev was in a serious car accident, and the business had to forget.
More, Alex spent chained to his neck in plaster. Perhaps it was then that he first began to think about how to overcome the limitations of a physical presence in one place. Especially in science fiction novels, this idea has long established itself: for example, in the story of Robert Heinlein’s “Waldo” paralyzed protagonist communicates with the outside world by means of radio-controlled manipulators. Next startup Knyazev had direct relation to high technology. In 2000, he organized a private Internet network to Lianozovo, in addition to open a company to repair electronic equipment. This business in the future will become a major source of investment for the “RBOT”: hence deflate profits Knyazev will guide the development of robots. However, at some point, he got bored with the network. “We started looking for an idea that would attract investors and proved that to us as much force,” – he said.
This idea began to video surveillance and biometric recognition, from which it was to full robotic hand. In 2005, the team created a layout Knyazev three-dimensional scanner, providing it with a lens “fish eye” and the system of recognition of the floor. Intelligent scanning systems and surveillance interested in the Interior Ministry. It is proposed to develop the project in the Perm region – to organize a “smart” video surveillance of offenders on the roads. By 2007, the surveillance network length of 500 km, covering all the main routes in the region, and the prince of trial and error trying to bring it to perfection.
For example, introduce a system of maintenance of machines – rapid transfer of information about the offender in the chain, from camera to camera. Bound all the financial limitations to support more cameras require more funds for technical support of servers.
Perm authorities have expressed interest in a further development of Knyazev (it led “Laboratory of the three-dimensional view,” where subsequently highlighted “RBOT”) – RoboCop project, the immediate precursor of Rbot-100. Robocop, as journalists dubbed it, began patrolling the streets of Perm in August 2007. Equipped with five cameras around view and voice synthesizer robot elicited offenses in the city, recorded them on tape, and urged citizens to comply with the law. Detection of offenses conducted automatically: the robot could drive up to drink alcohol for men and threatened to call police patrol. In disputed cases, the information about a possible crime off for the remote controller. Robocop outwardly more like a rocket, but it was attended by all the important features, then migrated to Rbot-100 wheels, to cope with rough roads, sloping egg-shaped body, a small “head”.
However, Russia’s first robot cop quickly fell victim to public opinion, when everyone started talking about the danger of replacing human machines. “The fact of the matter is – says princes – had to listen to reviews of this kind: that the robot would be better not to buy, and pay raises did. I was especially funny, because I paid all the development of their own pockets, including a robot policeman. ” The total investment in robotics was a businessman, in his estimation, six to seven million rubles.
In the end of the Permian robots ruined bureaucracy: the regional administration did not support the enthusiasm of the local traffic police and would not let go robocops further implementation in the region. What’s worse – in 2008, the company Knyazev tragedy: in a plane crash near Perm lost its lead programmer. Without him, and without the financial support of the administration to complete existing projects on time was not possible, and work had to be phased out.
However Knyazev not consider that project a waste of time. “Computer networks, which I did before, are only a percentage of the production of robots, – he says. – It was important to feel this business – gut feel robotics, TV production. Besides project RoboCop is buried: back on it as soon as improved financial rears. “
In search of a model
Failure in Perm taught Knyazev valuable lesson: he realized that he must shift to market b2b, where the financial commitments made ??to deal more responsibly. However, at first, and not everything went smoothly. When the idea of ??Rbot-100 finally found a concrete form, it’s time to get own manufacturing facility. Several months Knyazev partners spent on trying to get the government loan for the organization full-cycle production in Russia, but the efforts were unsuccessful.
As a result, production of major components taken out in China at a cost of more Alexis half a million dollars of personal savings. Some components are still made ??in Moscow – for example, the newest model of a high-speed gearbox for the robot. Here are conducted all development, the build robots for sale in Russia and provides technical support. Engineering team includes specialists from India, USA, Hong Kong, planned joint projects with U.S. and Canadian developers.
When asked about the production capacity, Knyazev gets calculator and start counting: “For every minute of the robot – so … around 525,000 robots in the year.” He later said that some of the mold release to brake up to four minutes, that is, the company can produce about 130,000 robots in the year. But if the braking process details will make four molds, the 525,000 – quite achievable.
Mass production of such household robots are not more involved in not one Russian company, the manager of the “RBOT.” But similar developments have Nokia and Samsung. Sold on the world market for several dozen models telepresence, and their price varies from $ 250 for a simple flexible stand for the tablet Kubi (Revolve Robotics) to $ 95 thousand for the robot Roda (InTouch Health), intended for medical institutions. Roda – dream teleserialnogo character of Dr. House, who was afraid of the panic in contact with patients, preferring to make diagnoses without leaving the office. The robot can not walk down the hall, and calls in the House “displays on the air,” the doctor conducting remote consultations.
Domestic market while before these innovations far: no demand, investors are reluctant to give money for risky projects that require significant development, and the players themselves choose not to invent and sell. “The market is growing slowly – complains Alexey Knyazev. – Many of our competitors do not think about how to refine the product, but just want to repeat the steps of those who create something completely new. The same thing happened at the dawn of the automotive industry. Daimler invented the very essence of the car with petrol. Mass producers began to hone specific details – churning out bagels, wheels, try to somehow close the engine. But Ford has created a dominant model, selected from the best of all developments. Manufacturers of consumer robots is also looking like a dominant model. “
It is possible that it has already found Knyazev: ambitions to conquer the world market, he connects with a certain secret project, which is going to announce in May. “We are working on a completely new line-up, followed by the future” – stirs interest Vyacheslav Kravtsov. Meanwhile, the basic model are also waiting for transformation. Now “RBOT” has about ten modifications Rbot-100. The main sticking point – hands. Controllers obtained either cheap and unreliable, or reliable, but expensive, so the cost of the robot flies up to one million rubles. Until this problem is solved, the company is preparing to expand the range to cover the entire market of devices with similar functions. It’s about robotic telepresence systems of all sizes and purposes. Indeed – the robots are coming.