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Misty I is a robot for developers, not roboticists

Misty I is a robot for developers, not roboticists

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There are approximately one million toy robots on shelves right now that can teach kids to code. But how many let programmers control a “real” robot, without requiring them to become roboticists? Not quite enough, according to Misty Robotics, a spin-off from Sphero, which just announced Misty I Developer Edition. It’s a first stab at an “affordable, easily programmable, advanced personal robot.”

Misty I will ship next month to select developers for $1499. Misty Robotics plans to follow up with a more polished Misty II later in the year, targeted at a wider audience.

The real heart of Misty is the Occipital Structure Core sensor on its forehead, which it can use to create a map of its environment. It also has a camera for face and object recognition, three far-field microphones, time-of-flight obstacle avoidance sensors on the front and back, and two different Snapdragon processors to do the heavy lifting compute-wise. It has an LCD for displaying a face, and you can augment it with your own electronics and sensors — there’s a mount on the back, and the bot has USB and serial ports. The bot moves with tank treads, though the version I saw just had wheels.

I played with a beta version of Misty I that had most of the processing and sensors hanging off the sides of its minimal chassis. Unfortunately, the demo I received wasn’t very impressive. Misty is obviously hoping developers find cool ways to use the JavaScript API to build interesting applications. But the few demo apps (called “Skills”) I saw were either underwhelming — Misty can move away from your hand when you put it in front of its sensors — or inconsistent — Misty was supposed to “spook” when you get up in its face, but it didn’t always trigger.

Also, the real breakthrough here would be if Misty can do successful mapping of its environments, so developers can write simple navigation code like, “Go from this room to that room,” instead of worrying about minutia. Unfortunately, in my demo they weren’t able to get Misty to map anything because the API wasn’t working, and the actual interface for using the mapping data apparently isn’t done yet.

Of course, that’s why Misty I is only going out to a few select developers at first. Hopefully the software gets a lot better by the time Misty II is ready for release.

A $1499 robot packed with sensors and processing power, and enough built-in smarts so developers don’t have to reinvent the wheel, would be really great thing to have. The big question is if Misty can deliver on this ambitious vision.