Housework bot code cleaned upAPRIL 24, 2007
|IMAGINE having someone to serve you a glass of water whenever you ask, or dance if you put on your favourite music.
Now imagine that certain someone is a something - a robot, in fact.
A French startup named Gostai has created just that.
The year-old company says it has developed simple, easy-to-use robot software that works with all operating systems.
It's just in time, company officials say, since they expect the global market for domestic robots to boom in the next few years.
"We want to do the same thing Microsoft did with its Windows software for personal computing," Gostai founder Jean-Christophe Baillie said.
The idea of having robots handle mundane tasks may seem the stuff of science fiction to many people, but some countries are taking the technology very seriously.
In Japan, the ageing of the population has become a concern, and South Korea has announced its intention to have robots in households by 2010.
As a way of creating buzz, Gostai has offered free, downloadable versions of its software, called Urbi, that allows programming of robots from Danish toy giant Lego.
It has sold the software to 25 universities worldwide for use in robotics research.
"At specialised trade shows, you have 12-year-old kids who, after 10 minutes, tell us, to get out the way, and they start programming," Mr Baillie said.
Mr Baillie recently demonstrated the software with a Sony robot dog, programmed in a weekend.
The dog moved to the rhythm of music from French group Daft Punk.
The code to program the robot's head to follow a bouncing ball was only three lines long, Mr Baillie said.
It all sounds intriguing, but there's a big problem standing in Gostai's way: Microsoft.
Gostai considers Microsoft its main competitor in the robot software business, but the startup, which currently has eight employees, says it has a strategy.
It has worked to make the software as simple as possible, which gives it an advantage over the Microsoft version.
Gostai also says its product's versatility gives it an advantage, since Microsoft's software is intended to be used with Windows.
The next challenge for the company is to find finance.
Convincing investors won't be easy, and Mr Baillie said potential backers asked about competition from Microsoft.
"We have to grow very quickly because we have large ambitions: to have Urbi in all robots," Mr Baillie said.
"When a platform emerges, people are going to begin developing applications and the phenomenon will take care of itself."