Q.bo One: Leveling the playing field in AI and Robotics
TheCorpora S.L. is a robotics and artificial intelligence company based in Barcelona, Spain. Founded 10 years ago when the company recognized a market opportunity to create low cost, open source interactive robots, Q.bo was the team’s first product. Developed and built from scratch, Q.bo has now been shipped to hundreds of customers, including a number of universities and multinational technology companies.
Enter the next gen Q.bo One
Q.bo’s success as a research platform has been driving the team to design the next generation product. Based on input through the Internet of Things and feedback from user experiences, TheCorpora team is getting closer to achieving their goal to produce a mass marketable product in the near future.
Rumor has it the next generation of Q.bo (Q.bo One) will be available in the upcoming months. Developed from Q.bo, Q.bo One is embedded with significantly more advanced technology. Created for children, educators and developers, Q.bo One is a robotic platform that enables anyone to engage interactively using robotics. Q.bo One users will be able to assemble the robot piece by piece, step by step, learning the basics of robotics – from circuits and nuts, through to connections and conversations.
To further aid the learning process for kids from 8 to 88, Q.bo One ships with a simple programing interface which operates like a jigsaw puzzle. Using Q.bo One will allow users to experience the wonder of robotic coding and programing, while allowing them to easily write the applications that define the functions they want their Q.bo One to perform.
Artificial intelligence for the masses
Q.bo One is a practical solution for many Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems that need to interact with human beings. For an AI system to work effectively with humans it needs a conduit that enables ambient awareness. By creating an intimacy that fosters empathy, Q.bo One encourages communication between humans and machines.
‘Robotic professionals need to actively work to change misconceptions about the impact robots will have on the human experience. The future of robotics is ambient and interactive, not detached or exclusive.’– Francisco Javier Paz Rodriguez, CEO, TheCorpora
Q.bo One is conducive to ambient learning because of its integration with IBM Watson. Watson allows deep question and answer applications to be used.
Facial expressions give Q.bo One a lifelike disposition
Designed to enable communications between humans and robots, Q.bo One has speakers and microphones to capture human speech while filtering out surrounding noises in limited or enclosed areas. Q.bo One’s face is also equipped with LED lights, giving it the ability to express itself through its mouth and nose. Having facial expressions gives Q.bo One a lifelike countenance – an important quality for interacting with people on a one to one basis.
Everyone wins when Q.bo One is used in commercial settings
Watson IoT enabled Q.bo One has the potential to be used in various commercial settings, including hospitality, financial services, medical assistance, home health care, and other service industries. By accessing and utilizing Watson’s deep knowledge base through the Watson IoT Platform and Q.bo One, commercial users will be able to provide better functional services to their clients, while freeing up headcount to provide higher value care and services. For example, a hotel could utilize a few Watson IoT enabled Q.bo One units in their lobby to provide guests with standard concierge services such as local information, weather forecasts, points of interest, even make itinerary recommendations for the day.
In this instance Q.bo One is left to take care of the more routine or mundane services, while the ‘human’ concierge staff are free to provide higher value guest services, things like personal shopping, or guest executive assistant services. In this example everyone wins – the hotel is able to expand its spectrum of billable services, enhance its guest experience, and potentially increase guest loyalty; guests are exposed to a higher quality of care (without skimping on the basics); and hotel staff can engage in more satisfying roles which require a greater degree of personalized attention.
IoT is critical in ensuring robotic devices are useful to humans
TheCorpora team believes the Internet of Things (IoT) is critical in ensuring robotic devices become more useful to humans. TheCorpora team envisions a world where AI systems coupled with interactive robots in ambient environments will drive broad productivity and service level improvements across many areas.
‘We have been interested in IoT for many years. The IoT provides ideal conditions to make our products more interactive and useful to the market.’ – Francisco Javier Paz Rodriguez, CEO, TheCorpora
The IoT offers the perfect domain in which robotics can process data points, interact and learn from different environments, apply real time context to data, and subsequently take action based on the insight gained.
But how does Q.bo One work in practice? Let’s continue to use the hotel scenario. Take the example where many people start to enquire about a particular event – a concert, a parade, or a national or local celebration. Using Watson IoT enabled Q.bo One in different hotels, Watson is able to pinpoint that there is growing interest in an event, log that the event is important, and then recommend the event to other guests after ensuring any relevant safety parameters designed to protect guests are observed. Using machine learning with Watson IoT, Q.bo One is able to enhance the hotel guest experience, without relying on a human filter to determine risk through misinformation and outliers.
Inspired to create an affordable, open source AI design
When asked what inspired the vision for Q.bo One, Rodriguez admits his passion for AI and robotics has been fuelled by “Hollywood” films. But as exciting as cinematic depictions of AI might be, the CEO insists the real life journey that AI and robotics has made in the last twenty years is far more intrepid (and exciting).
There are many examples of failed or obsolete projects rusting in the gutter, and very few early iterations which still function due to the high cost of prototyping and research and development. For Rodriguez, it’s the attainment of a dream that drives him. Designing an affordable, open-source robot that integrates components that are readily available, and on the market at a low price (PC board, ultrasound sensors, webcams, compasses, batteries, etc.) is the dream he is making a reality. It’s a puzzle that wants to be solved; an opportunity too great to miss; a huge step forward.
Lowering the barrier for entry to AI and robotics
By using an affordable, open-source, component-based design as the foundation for Q.bo One, TheCorpora team is paving the way for early use and adoption of AI technology – for the masses. Rodriguez enumerates, ‘logically, it stands to reason that as more people experience AI through Q.bo One, inevitably the quality of interaction and level of engagement between humans and robots will also improve as well.’ By raising the bar on expectations, while lowering the barriers to acceptance, TheCorpora team is hoping their work will move the AI needle closer to acceptance. Q.bo was first conceived with this as its mission.
Rodriguez believes the birth of Q.bo was a formative step for interactive robots. Engineered on a plate frame with a suitable external design, Q.bo uses open source Linux as the operating system to integrate and handle every component through controllers. Likening Q.bo’s impact to Ford’s Model-T – which was positioned as a reliable, easily maintained mass market transportation, or Linux for operating systems – which ushered in a new era of non-proprietary software and open collaboration, Q.bo One is well positioned as an easy on-ramp for a broad set of users – appealing to individual consumers and developers, research and educational institutions, as well as enterprises interested in exploring how AI and robotics can be used commercially.
Interactivity in an ambient environment sets Q.bo One apart
Q.bo One stands apart from other interactive robots. With Q.bo One, TheCorpora is instigating a paradigm shift – moving the discipline away from “What the robot can do” to “What you can do with the robot.” The difference in these two statements is central to the organization’s operating philosophy.
‘We engineer our products to be highly interactive within their ambient environment. Q.bo One is designed to establish a high level of rapport, enabling users to benefit from deep AI services and information.’ – Francisco Javier Paz Rodriguez, CEO, TheCorpora
TheCorpora team is not building robots that share the same functions as a mobile phone. Q.bo One offers users an expansive number of possibilities – limited only by imagination. By bringing a new product to market, one that is easy to assemble and program, using open source, TheCorpora is in effect a crowd-sourcing innovation. Through a community of collaborating users, the company aspires to accelerate the normalization of interactive robots as a part of our daily life.
Timing is everything
When TheCorpora team first started, home robotics was a futuristic speculation. Admittedly, the technology was expensive with systems being largely inaccessible to anyone without a huge research and development budget. But the industry has seen improvements in this area, enabling organizations like TheCorpora to make huge strides towards putting interactive robots in the hands of everyday people. But progress over the last ten years has not come without obstacles. TheCorpora team has faced a lot of hurdles along the way, timing being one of the most acute challenges to overcome.
‘Sometimes working in advanced technology fields such as AI and robotics means waiting for the right market conditions; other times, it’s a combination of waiting and working to create the right conditions.’ – Francisco Javier Paz Rodriguez, CEO, TheCorpora
Walking among giants: gaining visibility and credibility
In today’s disruptive, entrepreneurial climate, being small can be both a blessing and a curse. Partnering with larger organizations like IBM, Arrow and Indiegogo has proven to be invaluable to smaller-sized TheCorpora – enabling them to expand their footprint in a competitive industry dominated by bigger players.
Collaborating with IBM and Arrow through Indiegogo’s entrepreneur program has given TheCorpora a leg up in gaining awareness through exposure at large events, trade shows and media coverage. For example, in June 2017, TheCorpora will be featured in an Indiegogo campaign to further broaden the aperture, showcasing Q.bo One’s unique capabilities and features to a new community of early adopters, users and developers.
Building a next gen robotics solution
Developing a productive relationship with partners like Arrow, IBM and Indiegogo is more than a point in time effort. It’s an evolving dialogue which exists on a continuum, one that can be extended over time, with mutual benefit and reciprocity across all parties.
While TheCorpora team feels that working alongside IBM, Arrow and Indiegogo helps to boost their street credibility, ultimately, they know the proof is in the pudding. TheCorpora team is betting big on the insight gained through cognitive Watson, IoT and the collective experiences of Q.bo One users. When it comes time to delivering Q.bo One to the market, the start-up is confident their strategy to embrace an open, collaborative approach to research will help to generate a winning product.
People at the heart of AI
Ironically, the AI and robotics team emphatically proclaim that people are the single most important factor contributing to their progress and success:
‘From day one, the human factor has been at the heart of our mission. When you work in a field like AI and robotics, the ability to earn trust is paramount to gaining acceptance. Building that confidence from our users, backers, and partners is what keeps us on the edge. As we grow and become more successful, people will continue to remain central to everything we do.’ – Francisco Javier Paz Rodriguez, CEO, TheCorpora
The future of AI and robotics is wide open
TheCorpora team don’t want to openly speculate on the future direction of AI and Robotics. After all, interactive robotics is a complex field where the outcomes are as unknown as they are numerous. Trying to predict how AI will evolve is almost impossible. Advances in AI and robotics are being made daily with research and technology contributions being generated by enterprises and institutions of varying size, as well as individuals working in the field.
The adoption of interactive robots is at a very early stage in its life cycle as a product. How it will be adopted and used will very much depend on the community. With innovative solutions like Q.bo and Q.bo One entering the market at an affordable price point, AI and robotics is better positioned to become more accessible to a wider cross section of people and organizations.
Creating a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines
One thing is clear: TheCorpora team is at the forefront of robotics development. The team envision the use of their products as transformative – especially for first time users. As new technology comes into play, the more positive early adopter experiences are, the more likely users will be to accept them. In creating simple interfaces that encourage experimentation and discovery, novelty and utility, the Q.bo One team aims to create positive experiences which offer value to the user. The path to mitigating fears about AI is discovery. Q.bo One allows users to explore the realm of the possible through interactive, symbiotic experiences between humans and machines.
To illustrate the point, Rodriguez uses the example of the smartphone. When smartphones first appeared they existed as a completely new category. In the early stages of awareness and adoption, it took time for consumers to understand what value the new category offered – was it a toy, or a utility? How could it be exploited by an ecosystem of users and stakeholders? As the community of smartphone users and developers became more familiar with the technology and its possibilities, the smartphone became more accepted, viewed as a positive disruption, resulting in ubiquity.
TheCorpora team hopes interactive robots will experience a similar trajectory, moving from fear to curiosity, to acceptance and wide-spread adoption.