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The robots walk among us

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Almost exactly a century after the term ‘robot’, was coined in fiction, the automatons have finally gone mainstream. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK meets a trio of humanoid consumer robots.

I first met Pepper the life-sized robot waiter at a conference in Hungary last year, and was smitten. As soon as he/she/it greeted me with the words, “Hello, human”, I was captivated. However, I knew it would be many years before I would meet my new friend in a local restaurant.

But what about Pepper’s smaller relatives? What about humanoid robots designed for education, entertainment and service in the home, office and school? Back then, they seemed just as distant. But suddenly, they walk among us.

It was almost exactly a century ago, in 1920, that the term was first coined by Czech writer Karl Capek in his science fiction play, R.U.R. – short for Rossum’s Universal Robots. Since then, fiction has mostly treated these constructions as a threat to humanity. Now, the tide has finally turned.

Today, one can buy robots off the shelf, or online. It seems that only budget dictates the limitations of what the gadgets can do, say or sing. Here are some of the models I’ve recently tested, previewed, or encountered:

Cady Will

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If there’s such a thing as an entry–level for robots, this is the starter model, but you’d have to go online to bring it under your control. It costs a mere $42 from Gearbest, although shipping adds $14, but for a total that is still under R1000.

For that, you get an “Intelligent combat robot with multi-control modes”.  These modes include sending instructions via a handheld remote control device,  touching its head, shaking its body and – most startling of all – gesture control. While that is expected in higher-end robots, it is rare to find a gesture sensor in a budget robot.

The clue that this is about fun rather than education lies in the word “combat”, but Cady Will accepts rudimentary programming. One can set sequences of movements, sounds, and actions, ranging from walking and sliding to dancing and singing. This means that, even while used exclusively as a toy, it exposes one to the principles of basic programming.

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This doesn’t mean one needs a thinking cap for engaging with Cady Will, though. The remote control is clearly labelled, with instructions like Right hand Up, Turn Left, Speed Up, Dance, and Music.

You would quickly get tired of hearing it perform Gangnam Style but, in reality, it is more of a demo of the moves the robot can make.  It comes with a set of missiles that can be launched from one hand, while the other sports a “laser cannon” that is probably going to scare a good few pets.

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Cady Will probably personifies the phrase, “bang for your buck”. Buy it here:

https://www.gearbest.com/rc-robot/pp_924336.html?lkid=11958179

Alpha 1 Pro

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At the opposte end of the scale, a robot that is both taller and sleeker than Cady Will, Alpha 1 Pro, will set you back R8 499, or the price of a mid-range smartphone. For that, however, you get a delightful educational and entertainment tool. Controlled via an app – Android or iOS – it features numerous built-in modes, moods and content.

Yes, the obligatory Gangnam Style puts it through its dance moves, but then it features a collection of songs, an action-version of the story of Troy, and bedtime stories. If those aren’t enough, music can be played through the Alpha 1 via Bluetooth. Demonstrations of exercises, yoga moves and martial arts turn the robot into a coach and gym partner.

The key to a robot’s movements is its servo motors, and Alpha 1 packs in 16 high precision servos, and can rotate 180 degrees,

As with Cady Will, basic programming comes in the form of recording actions in sequence. However, true programming is also introduced, using a visual programming language called Blockly. One chooses a code module in the app and adjusts the parameters to program the robot to dance, demonstrate specific moves or go off on a secret mission.

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Manufactured by UBTech, it is dsitributed in South Africa by branded technology specialist Gammatek. For more information on Alpha 1 Pro, visit: http://gammatek.co.za/product/ubtech-alpha-1-smart-toys/

UBTech Cruzr

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At the distant high end of the scale, a corporate answer to Pepper has arrived in the form of Cruzr. It is described by UBTech as “a cloud-based intelligent humanoid robot” designed for both industrial applications and domestic environments. Taller than the average human, its key features include an 11.6” touch screen, flexible arms, facial recognition, video recording, navigational mapping, video conferencing, and surveillance capabilities.

That makes it ideal for anything from security to remote employee interaction and data collection. Combined with customisable artificial intelligence business applications, including big data analysis and question and answer libraries,  it also becomes a tool for collaboration, sales and customer support.

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A two-channel stereo speaker and a camera with depth perception rounds out the multimedia features. A sensor array in the head, along with one one Lidar sensor, six sonar sensors and 12 infrared sensors, make it not only good at aviding obstacles, but position the Cruzr as the state of the interactive robot art.

It has between five and eight hours active battery life and, best of all, when it runs low, it automatically returns to its self-charging dock.

Local distributors Gammatek doesn’t have pricing for the Cruzr, as it is individually customised and priced for corporate clients.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entires via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist

Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.  

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Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.

The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.  It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.  

“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time.  We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”

The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba.  It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.

Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.

“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”

This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.

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