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Cody the Carer – Inspired by Aido ?

From a ‘gun sucker inner’ to an ‘ocean organiser’, children have been applying their unique way of thinking to a range of problems. A group aged between 5-11 from the UK and Australia were asked what they would invent to make the world a better place. An illustrator then interpreted 10 of their drawings to help bring their inspiring ideas to life.

” Cody the Carer brings to mind Aido, a company that is on a mission to improve quality of life for humans using affordable and easy-to-use robotics and automation products. Aido is a service robot that can carry out tasks such as playing with children and helping people with household chores.”

Thanks Laura – Great to see that you got inspired with our Robot.

Read the Article here

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Design Philosophy

When we began discussing the idea of Aido, we explored various options for the design.

Research around robotic aesthetics also shows that humanoid robots face the challenge of the uncanny valley: the hypothesis being that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, there is a threshold beyond which it starts feeling strange and invoke unpleasant emotions.

We wanted to the robot to be mobile and be able to navigate around home on its own. But a biped robot can easily slip into uncanny valley territory.

What could a mobile robot be if not a humanoid?

While exploring options, we came across a ballbot design – where the base of the robot is a single omnidirectional ball on which the robot can navigate. The ballbot base fits a lot of our requirements around mobility, balance & recovery.

We figured with a bit of ergonomic research that the best height for such a robot would be between 3 and 3.5 ft. This meant that the interactions with Aido would seem natural whether you’re standing, lying on a bed or sitting.

Our industrial designer turned to biology for inspiration: he began studying the dolphin.

Dolphins are highly social animals, living in groups. Dolphins teach, learn and cooperate amongst themselves. They are known to form strong bonds, not only with their species but also with others.

Across several iterations, Aido began to take shape.

Aido would be a ballbot, about 3 to 3.5 feet in height, would have a touchscreen ‘head’ for tactile inputs, would support voice recognition, have a projector for output and special charging rings that could allow it to charge on its own.

And so began the journey of getting Aido’s physical features defined. In coming posts, we’ll talk more about the ballbot design, interface mechanisms and more.

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User Interface Design

When we began work on Aido’s UI, we realized it was a unique challenge. We had to factor in multiple elements in the interaction design – behavioral patterns, speech commands, motion and a large visual interface.

Our challenge with Aido’s interface was to balance likeability and utility. We decided to use a faceplate for Aido as the primary visual interface. Our consumer research showed that this gave Aido a warm and friendly look. However, the research also highlighted that we don’t appear ‘too close to being human’ – a threshold beyond which people begin finding robots creepy.

Designing the faceplate UI

Our UI design team led by Divesh Jaiswal iterated multiple designs with prospective users to figure out the faceplate UI. We finally split the faceplate visual design into three clusters:

1. The face

Eyes, they say, are windows to the soul. We subconsciously seek and meet the eyes of those we speak to, humans or pets. It would be natural to seek the same for a robot designed for the home.

Aido has a pair of friendly eyes as the primary communication medium. Aido blinks at regular intervals to indicate that he’s awake and ready to hear you.

The visual style of the eyes was chosen to reflect friendliness, but maintain a visual distance from being too human.

Aido has an iris that moves to indicate he has registered some visual input. A little bridge between the eyes balances the eyes and serves as a voice guide when Aido speaks or listens. This makes the user comfortable that Aido is actively engaging with him/her during conversations.

2. Notifications

Aido can monitor and manage a lot of your smart home devices as well as connected services. In addition to controls, many of these send notifications that Aido has to display.

Aido uses large flat icons with a sharp background to display notifications. These have been tested to ensure that they can be seen at a distance or when the device is moving, both essential for the environment that Aido will be used in.

While a user may ‘see’ a notification, s/he may often then ‘speak the next command. The visual interface accommodates voice and touch commands, so you can see a notification icon at a distance and just ask Aido to act on it (eg: see an email notification and ask Aido to read out the message)

3. App Interface

In addition to running regular Android apps, Aido comes preloaded with a set of apps specially designed for it. It also has skins for commonly used functions like playing music, setting an alarm and more.

We consciously designed the interface for these elements so that only key visual elements are shown on the UI. While Aido can run entirely on voice commands, having some key controls on the interface brings an element of comfort to users who have learnt to deal with other technology devices.

Users can use voice commands to activate more functionality (eg: show me the complete playlist), but most of this is hidden behind a menu icon, a planned redundancy. Once people get comfortable using voice commands with Aido, we expect them to rarely (or never) make a trip to the menu functionality.

Putting the interface elements together

Given the three distinct visual elements that make up Aido’s UI, we needed a way to allow for seamless transitions between states. This transition needed to be simple to learn, but powerful enough to factor in complex interactions in day-to-day usage.

After trying out multiple visual transitions, we hit upon the solution – a Toblerone-inspired switch menu with the three visual elements (Face, Notifications, App) on a side each.

A simple clockwise flip across the central axis would switch between Face and the App UI and an anti-clockwise flip from Face to a notification. The transition from the App UI to a notification is also just a flip away.

Our preliminary testing with users indicates that this simple model helps them quickly get a hang of Aido’s states and navigate the UI with ease.

Factoring in behavioural elements

As Aido breaks ground being a new category, we also considered behavioral aspects of human-robot interactions.

Research shows that there is a ‘desirable interfacing distance’ – roughly translates to the distance at which a mobile home robot should stop while approaching a human. This ensures that the robot doesn’t violate a human’s zone of comfort. Aido maintains this distance from you unless you walk over to it.

Voice is a key interface element with Aido. While having a conversation, people need an acknowledgement that they’ve been heard. Humans have various visual cues to demonstrate this – direct eye contact and head shakes, for instance.

Aido plays a short ‘ding’ sound to confirm it has finished hearing you. Cues like these make Aido appear more connected, rather than just a gadget.

Aido also has haptic sensors that let you tap it to close a task or wake it up from the sleep state. We found that this simple gesture made Aido appear friendly and connected.

We’ve put in a lot of work thinking through Aido’s interface elements and are waiting for users to start welcoming Aido to their homes. The dream of every designer is to have a happy user. We believe that with Aido, we will have many happy users who see robots as friendly companions at home.





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Popular Science

5 ways to use AI in your own home

Artificial intelligence promises to change our lives in a multitude of different ways, from driving our cars to diagnosing disease before doctors can spot it.

A lot of these more ambitious AI projects are still some way off. But there’s plenty of fledgling artificial intelligence already running in our phones, computers, and household gadgets—and you may not even be aware of it. Here are five different ways that AI is already able to make your life a little bit easier.

Read Article here

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16 Products the whole family will enjoy – GadgetFlow

Stumped on what to get your family this year? Rather than divide your budget between all your family members, grab one of these products. They’re sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face whether you guys love to lounge or are always on the go.

Thinking about adding another member to the family? We don’t mean have another kid – just get Aido! This delightful robot can help you with everything from running schedules to manage your home security. Plus, it’s built on an open platform so you can expand Aido’s functionality at any time.

When it comes to your house, family really makes it home. But, that’s not to say that you can’t improve your living space and the activities you do together. From family game night to pets to capturing all the memories you make, here are some exceptional gifts the whole family will love.

How Aido finds his way

As humans, we quickly recognize furniture and step around it. We see pets moving and take care not to bump into them.

But come to robots, and this is a difficult task. Robots have no intuitive understanding of rooms, furniture or pets. They need to learn how to navigate and avoid obstacles.

Aido handles navigation using a mix of Wi-Fi fingerprinting (to identify where he is at home) and object recognition (for getting his bearings right and obstacle avoidance).

How Aido senses what’s around

  • During setup, Aido fingerprints Wi-Fi signal strength across the house as the primary marker to identify different rooms.
  • Aido also uses IR and object recognition to build a topographic map of your location, including elements like furniture, doors  & structure of rooms. These are stored in a navigation database.
  • Aido maintains these in a navigation database. Aido judges the space between obstacles, and if it is sufficient for him to traverse, will plot a path between them.

Image or object recognition is crucial for an autonomous robot like Aido. Aido needs to identify items when navigating and decide real time how to avoid them when it’s moving.

Indoor navigation and obstacle avoidance

  • You can setup waypoints by taking Aido to various spots at home. For example, you can get Aido to your kitchen and mark a spot as ‘Kitchen’. Aido stores this entry with a Wi-Fi fingerprint.
  • Aido builds a path between waypoints to navigate. He judges the space between obstacles. If it is sufficient for him to traverse, he plots a path between them.
  • Aido constantly does a frame-by-frame evaluation for moving objects like pets or people. If Aido encounters a moving object, he waits for it to get out of the way before proceeding.
  • Aido has sophisticated edge detection built in that prevents it from spinning uselessly when he encounters an obstacle like a staircase.

Home Monitoring & Security

In our discussions and research, home security turned up as one of the key features people looked for in a home robotics solution. To enable this, we included a powerful set of sensors that include:

  • Air Quality
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Noise
  • Light
  • Pressure
  • Gravity (4-axis G-sensor)

In addition to these, Aido has sophisticated image and scene recognition capabilities.

The output of the sensors can be used for incident alerts or task automation.

Incident alerts

If you set up a patrol path, Aido can periodically visit different rooms in your house and monitor data across the rooms.

You can set Aido to patrol your home when you aren’t around.

Aido can send you alerts on the companion Aido app for iPhone/Android or over email for:

  • Intruder detection
  • Smoke detection
  • When vital parameters at home like air quality go down
  • Noise detection
  • Sudden increase/decrease in humidity
  • Periodic updates during autonomous patrol

You can use the companion app to get Aido to send you pictures or videos of incidents as well.

Home automation

Aido comes with a visual drag-and-drop Task Automator.

In the Task Automator, Aido supports integration to:

  • All smart devices (Aido connects using Zigbee, BLE, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave or DLNA)
  • A vast suite of devices with an infrared remote control (including TV, microwaves, music systems, and more)
  • Integration of other appliances using the optional smart plugs (plug your water heater into the smart plug and control it using Aido)
  • Online services using IFTTT

With the Task Automator, you can:

  • Select predefined task flows from a large list of templates
  • Add and save your own template list
  • Share and download new task flows from the Android Store

Examples of actions include

  • Displaying an alert when you receive an email from a particular friend
  • Automatically project your news feed 10 minutes after your alarm goes off
  • Switch on lights if ambient lights are very low

Aido’s Task Automator allows you to create weekday, weekend or even holiday schedules.

Aido’s Connectivity

Aido supports Zigbee, DLNA, WiFi, Z-Wave, Bluetooth and IR.

Together, these let Aido communicate with over 10000 smart devices. New devices supporting these standards will automatically be compatible with Aido.

These also let Aido connect to your smart home security system and act as an interface to it.

Aido allows you to control thousands of devices by acting as a remote control. Once connected, you can issue voice commands to Aido to control the devices (eg: to turn down the volume of the TV)

  • Aido uses an open database of over 1000 devices
  • Aido’s IR blaster can mimic timings and signal codes for the remote controls of these devices
  • In addition to this, Aido’s infrared blaster and receiver help Aido build a topographic map of the house with obstacles that Aido uses to navigate around the home

Remote operation

You can also use Aido’s app on your phone to check on devices at home when you’re out, or set your Netflix to download your favorite movie and schedule it for playback when you get home.

Aido can talk to various devices1, including:

  • DVD/VCR
  • CD changer
  • Laserdisc player
  • Amplifier
  • Tape deck
  • Game console
  • Computer
  • Light controller
  • Climate controller
  • Cable box
  • Satellite box
  • Smart Cookers
  • Refrigerator
  • Washing machine
  • stoves and more

Smarten up your home

Aido comes with an optional smart appliance kit allows you to control appliances that do not have interactive capabilities built in. Aido’s smart appliance kit consists of:

• 3 smart plugs: Plug your appliance like an A/C or a water heater into the smart plug. Aido let’s you turn them on or off, schedule timings or set triggers.

For example, you can program Aido to turn on the water heater 10 minutes before your alarm goes off in the morning.

If you forget to turn it off, you can use the Aido app on your phone anytime and turn off the appliance.

• 2 smart bulbs: Replace your regular bulbs with the smart bulbs, and control features like light dimming or turning lights on/off using Aido.

For example, you can program lights to dim automatically when you turn the TV on or after a certain time of the day.

Aido listens to you..

We believe that voice will play a huge role in making robots more useful.

When designing Aido, we wanted users to talk to Aido, and Aido reply back in a conversational & more personal manner:

  • Aido has a 6 mic array set around a circular base with a dedicated hardware chip for listening to human voice, even in noisy environments. It is the same design that many smart TVs use to allow users to control functions using voice.
  • Aido uses a leading 3rd party speech engine based on a custom deep neural net architecture for continuous speech recognition.
  • This allows Aido to listen to commands and parse them into instructions that Aido understands.

Aido can listen to voice commands and reply as well, perfect when you are busy with something else

While there has been great progress in voice recognition and response for smart devices, many of the interactions still come off with the device sounding robotic. Voice is a key part of personality, and we wanted Aido to sound as friendly as it is:

  • We broke down most commonly used sentences and phrases and created a library for these
  • We will have a voice artist render these, along with commonly used words
  • Aido will store a library of the words, phrases, sentences as well as the audio files
  • Aido will use these snippet in real time to talk back to the user
  • We expect we can cover most of the daily interactions this way. For the bits that we don’t have voice snippets for, we will use a standard text-to-speech engine.


Moves around the house seamlessly

Aido is a robot to be used at home, and that has its own constraints. Aido would have to navigate around objects like chairs & tables. He would have to change direction easily as it moved around obstacles at home.

Aido balances on an omnidirectional ball – a ballbot design.

  • Balancing Aido on a single ball means it is easy to spin around a central axis, so turning Aido around is much simpler.
  • With a single ball base, Aido is able to move out of the way quickly if it bumps into something.
  • By balancing forces between Aido’s body and the ball, Aido can navigate floors & even carpets.

With software, we can make sure Aido is balanced when at rest or when moving.

Aido is never really still, even when it is standing. It constantly equilibrates by slowly revolving the ball underneath its centre of gravity.

Aido uses a similar mechanism.

Aido counters sudden changes to its balance (a tilt of more than 8 degrees) with a set of retractable legs that spring out from the base to prevent it from keeling over. Push Aido, and the legs will spring out to provide immediate support. Aido will quickly try to stabilize by itself and draw the legs back in.

When Aido is stationary for a long time, it uses the legs to support itself. The legs also offer support when Aido is charging.

Note: The first ballbot was developed in 2006 at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the USA. Another ballbot was developed at Tohoku Gakuin University (TGU) in Japan and a third one as a student project 2009 at the University of Adelaide (UA) in Australia.







Inside Aido

We wanted Aido’s interface to run Android, as this would immediately give users access to millions of apps on the Google Play Store. However, Android was not powerful enough for what Aido had to tackle at home.

Hence, we decided on a dual OS architecture for Aido.

Android interface

Aido’s Android frontend runs a Rockwell chip with 512MB RAM. This runs a version of Android Lollipop & a custom UI interface for rich interactions with people.

Linux core

Aido’s core system runs on two quad-core 1.6GHz processors, each with 1GB DDR RAM. Aido’s core processor runs a headless version of Ubuntu. We have removed unnecessary drivers & modules that Aido doesn’t need. We are calling this version OpenAido.

OpenAido controls elements like mobility, WiFi signal strength & navigation, system guidance, onboard sensors, and projectors. We will be exposing select APIs for this interface, especially around the sensors for users who would like to play around with controls and data.

We will be releasing OpenAido under an open source license so that other robotics solutions can use the same system.

Interface

OpenAido and Android communicate over a secure VPN at all times.

  • If there is a Wi-Fi connection available, both systems connect to it and communicate over this.
  • If there is no Wi-Fi network available, the Linux system acts as a WiFi hotspot and the Android system connects to it as a client.
  • In the latter mode, Aido will not be able to communicate with internet-based services, but can still run local media and functionality.







Interactive Projector

Aido has an inbuilt head mounted interactive projector that lets you engage with your projected content. And it comes with an (optional) HD multimedia projector that is designed for multimedia usage.

  • The head mounted interactive projector is designed for quick on/off operations. You could ask Aido to do a Google search and show you results. Since the projector has gesture recognition built-in, you can flick to see more results or tap in the air to open a particular link.
  • The interactive projector is also of great use in the kitchen. You can ask Aido to show you a recipe, and as you’re cooking, use the swipe gesture to look through instructions as you go along.
  • The interactive projector lets you play quick and fun gesture-based games.
  • The HD multimedia projector is designed for entertainment buffs. The HD multimedia projector lets you watch media by projecting it on a wall at a distance of up to 3.5m. Since Aido can move around on its own, you can ask Aido to project media near where you sit, or call your friends over and play a movie to enjoy with your drinks.

Battery technology

We know that good battery life is key to enjoying usage of a robot like Aido. No one likes a robot that quickly runs out of power.

Aido has a unique dual-battery design – half lead-acid and half nickel-cadmium, to balance the two requirements of a battery for a device like this – a) it should charge fast and b) it should retain power over long periods of time.

Both battery packs are in hot standby mode. Aido also has a patent-pending power management board that optimizes power consumption.

Aido’s battery should last about 8 hours on regular usage, including 2 hours of mobility.

Aido comes with an optional smart charging dock so that you don’t have to remember to charge it

Aido’s smart dock

When Aido runs low on charge, Aido can automatically detect the charging dock and plug itself in.

Docking Aido

Docking Aido isn’t easy, and our team had to work through multiple challenges to get this to work well. Our patent pending approach involves three phases to dock Aido:

  • Initial ranging is done based on Wi-Fi signal strength tracking and object recognition
  • Once Aido reaches the room where the smart dock is, he tracks IR beacons from the smart dock. When the IR beacons are locked, they guide Aido towards the smart dock.
  • The smart dock also has a small laser diode. Closer to the dock, Aido tries locking into this signal. This helps Aido judge the orientation and entry into the dock

Charging Aido

  • Aido’s dock has a specially designed set of two charging rings, one of positive polarity and the other negative
  • The charging rings are designed in a semi-circular fashion to increase probability of touching Aido’s charging circuits, no matter how Aido rolls into the dock
  • The charging rings have special circuitry to prevent a short circuit in case it encounters a foreign object
  • Once Aido rolls into the dock, the charging rings are activated and drive charge to Aido.






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