Everyone is talking about Russia’s, or Putin’s Drive, into Ukraine. However, what is being missed in the headlines is Russia is also invading the robot space in a big way. Two weeks ago at the international robotics conference held in Skolkovo, just outside Moscow, a series of drones, humanoid robots, and other automated task masters were blowing the minds of the 500 tech locals gathered.
For example, a prototype of a lady-housekeeper-robot, named Alice, was featured with her fully functional arm and silicon head that responded to movement. Alice’s uncanny lifelike apperence did not only garner a lot of attention, but gave a peek into the future when robots will assist us hand-in-hand.
“Anthropomorphic robots have very broad application,” said Vladimir Konyshev, the head of Neurobotics, Alice’s inventor and maker. “They can be used for entertainment, education and medical purposes. For example, to treat autistic disturbances arising from a lack of communication.”
According to the International Federation of Robotics, about 3 million robots for personal and domestic use were sold globally in 2012, which was 20 percent more than in the previous year. The value of sales increased to $1.2 billion.
Russia currently is a small player on this market but has a good chance of gaining a foothold in the sector, said Dmitry Grishin, founder of Grishin Robotics, which invested $500,000 last year in Swivl, a U.S. company that produces robotic video devices.
“A sound technological-academic foundation, promising programmers and a fast-growing community of people who have a keen interest in robotic products should help,” Grishin said.
Neurobotics, a Moscow-based company that began producing anthropomorphic robots just over two years ago, is one of a growing number of Russian players in the segment. And it already has plans to diversify its products.
The Alice series can be customized to suit the individual tastes of its owner. Konyshev gave examples of how this could increase effectiveness: a robot with a talking head resembling the poet Pushkin can teach literature. History could be taught by a metal and silicon Peter the Great.
Right now Alice costs about one million rubles (or $27,500) but the company plans to cut its price by almost two-thirds. The robot could also be sold in parts. Computer programmers, for instance, may only need the head with the electronic brain to use for testing different applications. Each part will cost no more than 2,000 euros ($2,740) with an overall price coming to not more than 8,000 euros ($11,093).
“We hope that such a division will help us bring the product to a broader market,” Konyshev said. So far the company, which employs 35 people, has about 20 orders for robots or their parts. Its plan calls for 100 units to be sold by the end of this year and 1,000 in 2015.
I think all is good until they start making shirtless Putin robots…