May 10, 2005 4:52 PM PDT

Robotics industry hypes drive to market

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to several research organizations and is being used in an ongoing research program at Vassar College.

Company executives claim that new markets for the machines are popping up on their own.

"We have people coming to us from the real estate sector because they can use it to show remote locations, and from the health care field to help in surgery and instruction," said Martin Harvey, a principal consultant with CoroWare. "These aren't purposes we had originally devised for the robots, but the markets are identifying themselves to us and we're trying to respond."

Harvey said that CoroWare expects to sell several dozen of the robots this year.

In another nod to computing technology in robots, Frontline Robotics and White Box Robotics announced that they plan to merge to pursue business in the security robotics sector. Frontline Robotics markets the Robot Open Control (ROC) operating system, which is used to coordinate teams of the devices, while White Box Robotics has created the PC-Bot, another mobile robot made from off-the-shelf personal computer parts.

For consumer companies, the growth in the number and variety of robots coming to market presents new opportunities to sell gadgets to robotics fans, observers said. Eric Blair, a mechanical design engineer for retailer The Sharper Image, pointed out that his company has sold robotic devices for more than a decade, making it something of a trailblazer in the field. Despite that length of experience, he said the company is hungry to discover what the next big consumer robot might be, and to get that product into its stores.

"We're here because we want to be part of the evolution, to continue to be there for consumers as more of these products gain acceptance and find their way onto the market," Blair said. "You look at the growing acceptance of robots in pop culture and elsewhere, and you can see that a lot of the ideas that came from science fiction are finally becoming reality."

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