Although E3 is generally regarded as a video games show, one exhibitor stretched the term "interactive entertainment" to apply to an unusual new consumer category — robots.
Evolution Robotics demonstrated at the show a series of robots based on standard Pentium III-based laptop PCs, the Linux OS and C++ programming. The ER1, which is available in two configurations, will retail for $599 (without the laptop), and $499 as a build-it-yourself kit.
The device looks like a laptop stand, with wheels and an attached robotic arm that can grab anything from FedEx packages to beer cans. In fact, fetching beer and soda and accepting FedEx deliveries are two functions the robots were programmed to perform at the E3 show.
Beyond that, the makers say, the sky is the limit. One possible application for retailers is to program an ER1 to roll around a selling floor playing product videos on its opened LCD laptop screen.
One of the breakthroughs in the ER1 is a "patent-pending vision algorithm that can actually recognize objects in a real world setting," said Bill Gross, Evolution Robotics founder and chairman. The ER1 has an attached USB camera it uses for its eye.
Other features include autonomous or remote-controlled mobility, the ability to record events with digital still shots or video, text-to-speech and voice-recognition capabilities, and the ability to take remote commands via e-mail. Also included is a software control center that allows users to control the robot by keying in buttons and selecting pull-down menus on the attached laptop. The user clicks on an "if" command ("if you see red," or "if you hear a sound,") and adds an action ("play a song," or "move forward 10 feet") to train the robot.
The company is currently looking for retail distribution partners and plans to have units for sale within the year. It will demonstrate the ER1 again at January CES and plans to distribute the products online through PC retailer TigerDirect.com.