Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wifi Rabbits for High-Tech Geeks

The new must-have high-tech gizmo is not a TV-MP3 cellular phone but a wifi rabbit. Nabaztag is designed by a French Company called Violet ( It look likes a 23-cm high white rabbit with moving ears, and a set of flash lights of different colors. Nabaztag can access the internet, and it can change its colors and move ears to signal changes in weather, car traffic or reception of emails. The product was launch in june 2005 at a retail price of 95 Euros. Its success was so important than the rabbit disappeared from stores until recently.
This new approach of communicating objects based on a model of smart artificial creatures is very interesting from the usage point of view. Compared to its success, the design is surprisingly minimalistic: a very simple white and smooth form with two slowly moving ears. It recalls me the success of some other very simple creature designs: Barbapapa, Tamagotchi, Pikachu, etc.
I think this is probably due to the fact this sort of design enables a large number of people to project on the creature what they want to find. Another explanation could be the unconscious memories of our very young life... Anyway, after discussing with some Nabaztag owners, there is a strong need to customize the creature in order to make it truly personal. Unfortunately, Violet has no offer for any customizing features (at this time) so users try to find another way by using socks, hats, ... I also don't agree with the fact that this interesting rabbit is the clear inverse of an open-system (even if there is a small API for programming applications). I think, on the contrary that Nabaztag users and the company itself would benefit from giving a free access to this technology in order to enable people to invent new usages that they have not even think about. From a technology point of view, the rabbit is based on a PIC18F 8-bit microcontroller and 8 Mbit of flash memory. The microchip controls all actuators, various LEDs and a PCMCIA Benq WIFI (B) card. Many people are trying to free the rabbit ( Please Mr. Violet, help them…

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bio-inspired Expiatory Temple

Beside my participation to the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona (read earlier post) it was also an opportunity to visit the famous expiatory temple of the Sagrada Familia. Its construction began in 1882 and, one year later, Antonio Gaudi was apointed its project director. He worked on the projectover 40 years until his death in 1946. The temple is still underconstruction since this date, sponsorized by private donations.
There is a very interesting exhibition for all people interested in artificial life and bio-inspired architecture. It shows the origins of the organic architecture used by Gaudi in all his works. Many architectural parts and details of the temple were designed using models quite common in nature in both flora and fauna.
The inside of the temple is like a forest of giant trees, with trunks, branches and masses of leaves as ceiling. Between them, some holes let us see the sunlight as in a large wood. The stairs inside each bell-tower (90 and 112 meters high) are based on the internal structure of seashells. Another example among may others is the geometric shape of a Gaudi Column based onthe helicoidal growth of leaves on an oleander branch.
Antonio Gaudi said himself: "I captured the purest and pleasing images of Nature, who is ever my Mistress."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Future will be Mobile

This week I was at the 3GSM world congress in Barcelona, one among more than 50,000 participants. This is to say that it was, by any standart, a huge event. No wire and big business.
Beside all the new 3G handsets, MP3 and TV devices, nVidia was demonstrating its GoForce 5500 processor chip adding 3D graphics, image and sound processing to mobile phones. The prototype demo was showing a 3D avatar designed in OpenGL by the Go!Figure Mobile compagny. NEC was presenting its personal robot called PaPeRo. This small robot has a built-in mobile phone. NEC is looking for new applications as part of children's groups at daycare centers and kindergartens.
When a parent calls PaPeRo, it locates the child using facial recognition and starts playing with him or her. The parent can then watch his child via the cameras in PaPeRo's eyes and the TV conferencing feature of the mobile phone. I'm not sure that this is the "killer app" for a 10,000$ robot, but who knows...
Sometimes ago, someone argued me that all these digital screens will make people alone and fixed at home. I rather think that people will continue to move, but with their screens, everywhere. Most people would rather leave home without their wallet than their own personalized mobile phone. There are roughly two billion of mobile phone users around the world. 3G is now ready and the next generation (4G) will be available near 2010. We are on the road towards the infosphere...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

May the force be with us

This afternoon I have visited the Star Wars exhibition at the"Cité des Sciences" in Paris... There is a strange relation between science & technology and science-fiction (SF). They respectively influence themselves in a deep and necessary loop. SF was made possible only by the rise of modern science itself. All SF Writers have been deeply influenced by the advances in science and technology. But in turn, scientists are also influenced by SF novels and movies. SF is an incubator for imaginative minds to create visions, to transport us beyond the horizon of our current technologies. SF enable us to "experiment" the possible incarnations of scientific progress not only as it is, but also as it could be, to paraphrase the terms coined by Christopher Langton for Artificial Life. In this sens, SF offers an imaginary window to possible futures.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dear AIBO enthusiast... bad news

Sad days for all people interested in artificial creatures… AIBO is dead !
« Following the Sony Corporation FY05 3Q announcement, the production of AIBO Entertainment Robots will be discontinued as of end March 2006. As for the sales activity, we will discontinue the sales of AIBO once all remaining stock runs out. » « Sony as a whole will be focusing on three core business domains: electronics, games and entertainment, with an emphasis on profitability and strategic growth opportunities. In light of this focus, it has been decided to discontinue the AIBO business. Sony is not planning any new research and development specifically for AIBO or QRIO products, but R&D for the elemental technologies (visual recognition, sound recognition, etc.) will continue for research on Artificial Intelligence. The knowledge and technology Sony has gained in robotics may possibly be applied to future Sony products. »
This is the end of the AIBO story that began in the early 90’s at Sony. Since its commercial launch in 1999 more than 150,000 AIBOs have been sold worldwide. I take this picture of the « last AIBO » at Sony Building in Tokyo last september. I suggest that it could be a good idea for Sony to make this technology available as an open-source project, instead of just being lost for everybody. We will miss you guys.