Although I confess that I am fascinated by robot lawnmowers (somebody up the block from me has one) and robot vacuum cleaners (I have friends who say a dog is a better autonomous unit for cleaning up food particles), I haven't really been moved to buy one.
The White Box Robotics 912 family of so-called pc-bots is a different story. The 912 unit is basically a robotics platform; it runs on a Windows operating system and can use off-the-shelf components.
The 912 comes with a Windows-based application to control the robot. It is a GUI-based application that provides vision-based navigation, object recognition, speech recognition, speech synthesis and other features. The company shows several versions so you can see what is possible. The 912 "MP3" version features a DVD-ROM device with a 5.5 inch screen on the back of the robot for playing games or watching movies. You can tell the robot to play mp3's, or burn them to a disk to give to friends. The 912 "HMV" version shows its tough-guy side as a sentry-duty robot.
The 912 is not functional out of the box; it is up to the hobbyist to add their own parts and customize it. To me, this is one of the most interesting features; it reminds me of when microcomputers were new and customizable. It really was up to you to decide what it was good at, and then make it work.
Burn, baby, burn:. The 912 HMV makes tracks
In the opinion of this reviewer (neat site, by the way), the White Box Robotics 912 is a best bet for being a real-life R2D2, the iconic Star Wars robot. As you may recall, R2D2 is an all-purpose kind of robot - like the 912. For example, R2D2 shows Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi a hologram of Princess Leia, demonstrating his multimedia features. The 912 also comes in a multimedia version; it can play back MP3s on voice command. Which is better than R2 can do, if you will recall C3PO's frustration with R2 when R2D2 refused to play the hologram for Luke alone.
Maybe they should have installed a parisol: R2D2 walks the walk.
Also, R2D2 has an extendable sensor arm that can be used for a wide variety of tasks. The White Box Robotics has nothing like this built-in, but since you can customize it as you please, it shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. A higher-end robot, the European Space Agency's Beagle 2, comes equipped with an extendable arm with a cluster of sensors. Beagle 2, regrettably, is not yet available to basement hobbyists. But the White Box Robotics 912 will be available commercially this year.
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)