A Conversation with Robotis President Byoung-Soo Kim
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Feb 24, 2006
Seoul, Korea based Robotis sells three separate products, all of which are centered on their first product class, the Dynamixel family of serially controlled servos. The Dynamixel servos differ from conventional digital servos in that they communicate to the host controllers via a RS485, CAN or TTL half duplex serial communication network. Each Dynamixel servo has its own onboard microcontroller unit (mcu) that handles the serial communication, as well as supports distributed control techniques.

The second Robotis product is the Robotis Bioloid Kit, an educational robotics kit which employs Dynamixel smart servos, and is capable of building multiple types of robots. The Bioloid Kit is based on element assembly, and allows multiple types of robots to be constructed easily. The final Robotis product is the Cycloid Robot which is built using a number of Dynamixel servos, and comes out of the box as a fully assembled and functional humanoid.

Robotics Trends President Dan Kara recently spoke with Robotis President Byoungsoo Kim to discuss the intelligent, mobile robotics industry in general and the Robotis family of products in particular.

Robotic Trends (RT):
Can you tell me a little about the formation and evolution of Robotis as a company? How did you and the company get its start?

Byoung-Soo Kim (BK): Like other Robot companies, Robotis was founded by robot experts. However, one slight difference that a sets Robotis apart for many other companies is that each member of the Robotis team is a robot enthusiast, as well as a robot expert. Every Robotis employee has experience competing in robot contests in the past. One other difference is that we are not sticking only to the development of robots. We are trying our best to add value in other ways. The reason Robotis makes robots is not limited to our love of robots, but because we also believe in the personal robotics market and that our company can be competitive in that market.

RT:
Your company focuses on what is termed a ‘Robot Platform’. How do you define that term?

BK: Let me explain about the term ‘Robot Platform’ briefly. We develop products that allow people to build a variety of robots. Some people think of the robot platform market as a small market, but we think differently. In many ways robots are similar PCs. The most important thing robots and PCs have in common is the concept of an ‘All-Round Device’ which is capable of doing everything. A necessary element in this kind of all-round device is the ‘Contents’. In PCs, platforms such as busses, compilers and operating systems, allowed the contents – namely software programs - to be developed and executed in a consistent fashion. Likewise, in robots, after a standard platform which will play the role of a PC platform is supplied, it will become much easier to develop robot contents… the software which will actuate the robot.

RT: The Dynamixel product is often described as a “smart servo”? What is meant by that? How is the Dynamixel product different from other servos?

BK:
I should first mention the purpose of a Dynamixel, not about specific functionality. A Dynamixel is an element of a robot, designed to all robot developers to quickly build robots without specific knowledge of the underlying hardware. You can say that it is similar in concept of object-oriented functions in C++. With C++, software developers can use encapsulated routines without knowledge of their internal structure. In the same way, by considering a Dynamixel as a basic object, robot developers do not need to waste time dealing with details like the hardware or gain tuning. This allows them to build robots easily. You can see how this relates to the meaning the robotic ‘Platform’ I described earlier. To play this kind of role, an ID is assigned per unit, input/output devices in units have their own addresses and a formal packet is used. Therefore, when expressing a Dynamixel, the word ‘networked servo’ is also used. Presently, it gives weight to the actuator, but there is also Dynamixels with functions of sensor.

RT:
The Bioloid Robotics Educational Kit is very impressive. What differentiates the Bioloid product from other modular robotics products from Lego, Fisher Technix and Radio Shack?

BK: The Bioloid is a low price Dynamixel robot kit, and is made for the purpose of teaching people the concept of Dynamixels. We did not want to describe the Bioloid as the educational kit, but wanted to call it ‘robot platform’. However, the robot platform concept is not familiar to most people, so we just called it an ‘educational kit’. Products from the other companies you named are also excellent. Comparing them in detail would be difficult. The largest difference has less to do with functionality, and more with the purpose of the products.

RT: Can you describe the software that comes with the Bioloid Robotics Educational Kit?

BK: Robotis hopes that eventually robots can be developed in a more instinctual human way. In this sense, there is more room for development in the software that presently comes with the Bioloid kit. Currently, users can directly bend a robot joint using their hands and make necessary motions, and those motions can be displayed in various ways by conditions of the sensors. It might be better to create an input tool such as a mouse or a PC keyboard. But in terms of price, this might be unrealistic. The lowest cost input device that can be devised is to simply use the robot’s body itself as the input device.

RT: What type of robots have you seen built with the Bioloid product? What was the most interesting Bioloid based robot you have seen so far?

BK: Biped robots like humanoids or droids, as well as walking robots like puppies or dinosaurs, are interesting. One day, one of our clients asked us whether a Bioloid robot could be actuated by a remote controller. Our motto for the Bioloid is “With it, we are able to make everything”, so we were embarrassed by the fact that we did not provide a remote control option. We did not regard remote control to be consistent with our definition of a robot, so during the development process a remote controller was not considered. But following our client’s request, we realized that we were mistaken. That is, remote control is a legitimate communication mechanism for robots. We have even have found ways to control Bioloid robots with a joystick, which surprised many of our customers.

RT: With regard to the Cycloid Robot, what type of functionality does it have? How is the robot programmed to move?

BK: Cycloid is a humanoid robot made of Dynamixel, which is presently is not available for sale. We are, however, supplying Cycloids to a few exhibition halls and we have a plan to launch Cycloid at the end of 2006. The Cycloid is a generic humanoid platform that users can add the functions they want with ease. It is up to the customers to decide what they want to do with Cycloid. In some ways Robotis is just like a PC manufacturer in that they cannot guess about what customer will do after buying PC. We believe that with the Cycloid platform on the market engineers will develop the ‘contents’ for it. Eventually the general public will purchase the Cycloid humanoid and make use of the contents that has been developed for the Cycloid ‘platform’.

RT: What are the primary target markets for the Cycloid and Bioloid products?

BK: Currently, we are targeting the educational market with these products. Most customers will be schools, universities and academic institutions, research centers and so forth.

RT: What is the cost of the Bioloid Kit and the Cycloid Robot?

BK: Three Bioloid kits are available with varying levels of functionality. These are priced at $350, $900, and $2800 each. The price of Cycloid is varies by use. Pricing for the Cycloid is based more on support costs than material costs.

RT: Robotis products are currently for sale in Korea and Australia. Are you selling the products in Japan? When can we expect to see Robotis products for sales in North America and in Europe?

BK: Robotis products are just about to be put on sale in Japan. At that time we will engage is a vigorous public relation effort to get people acquainted with the Robotis product line. We expect to release Robotis products in the North American and European market in the second half of this year.

RT: I understand that Robotis is looking for a distributor in the US. Can you tell me what Robotis is looking for in this respect?

BK: With our products, simply placing robots on sale will not suffice. This is especially true for the educational robots which require information and other resources designed for specific regional markets. For example, in Korea, robot academies are famous, but in US, I heard that there are no such things. Therefore, those companies that we partner with to distribute our products internationally must have a great knowledge of both the local cultures and robots.

RT: Can you comment on any of the robotics tournaments and competitions Robotis is involved in?

BK:
I personally like the Japanese Robo-One event, but I have not been involved with it yet. At present, I am preparing a new contest, but it is not a proper time to talk about it specifically yet.

RT: What is the state of intelligent, mobile robotics in Korea at this time? How do you see it differing from what is happening in the United States?

BK: In Korea, the robot industry is flourishing, but it is still at a very early stage. The market has some visibility, but over time this will increase dramatically. Humanoid robots, which are hardware-oriented, are popular in Korea and Japan. On the other hand, the US seems concentrating more on robot intelligence. I think these are mutual complementary elements,

RT: What can you tell us about the future of Robotis? Can you comment on Robotis products that we might see in the future?

BK: If the plans of Robotis are realized, it will be possible to find and purchase robot modules in catalogues, and then to use those modules to build complete robots. That is, building robots will be a similar experience to choosing PC memory modules or graphic cards and them adding them to a PC ‘platform’.

RT: Thank you.

For More Information
Robotis
#605 Ace Techno Tower 55-7,
Mullaedong, 3ga Yongdungpogu
Seoul, Korea 150-992
P: 02-2168-8787
F: 02-2168-8795
E:
W: http://www.robotis.com

RT: Can you describe the software that comes with the Bioloid Robotics Educational Kit?

BK: Robotis hopes that eventually robots can be developed in a more instinctual human way. In this sense, there is more room for development in the software that presently comes with the Bioloid kit. Currently, users can directly bend a robot joint using their hands and make necessary motions, and those motions can be displayed in various ways by conditions of the sensors. It might be better to create an input tool such as a mouse or a PC keyboard. But in terms of price, this might be unrealistic. The lowest cost input device that can be devised is to simply use the robot’s body itself as the input device.

RT: What type of robots have you seen built with the Bioloid product? What was the most interesting Bioloid based robot you have seen so far?

BK: Biped robots like humanoids or droids, as well as walking robots like puppies or dinosaurs, are interesting. One day, one of our clients asked us whether a Bioloid robot could be actuated by a remote controller. Our motto for the Bioloid is “With it, we are able to make everything”, so we were embarrassed by the fact that we did not provide a remote control option. We did not regard remote control to be consistent with our definition of a robot, so during the development process a remote controller was not considered. But following our client’s request, we realized that we were mistaken. That is, remote control is a legitimate communication mechanism for robots. We have even have found ways to control Bioloid robots with a joystick, which surprised many of our customers.

RT: With regard to the Cycloid Robot, what type of functionality does it have? How is the robot programmed to move?

BK: Cycloid is a humanoid robot made of Dynamixel, which is presently is not available for sale. We are, however, supplying Cycloids to a few exhibition halls and we have a plan to launch Cycloid at the end of 2006. The Cycloid is a generic humanoid platform that users can add the functions they want with ease. It is up to the customers to decide what they want to do with Cycloid. In some ways Robotis is just like a PC manufacturer in that they cannot guess about what customer will do after buying PC. We believe that with the Cycloid platform on the market engineers will develop the ‘contents’ for it. Eventually the general public will purchase the Cycloid humanoid and make use of the contents that has been developed for the Cycloid ‘platform’.

RT: What are the primary target markets for the Cycloid and Bioloid products?

BK: Currently, we are targeting the educational market with these products. Most customers will be schools, universities and academic institutions, research centers and so forth.

RT: What is the cost of the Bioloid Kit and the Cycloid Robot?

BK: Three Bioloid kits are available with varying levels of functionality. These are priced at $350, $900, and $2800 each. The price of Cycloid is varies by use. Pricing for the Cycloid is based more on support costs than material costs.

RT: Robotis products are currently for sale in Korea and Australia. Are you selling the products in Japan? When can we expect to see Robotis products for sales in North America and in Europe?

BK: Robotis products are just about to be put on sale in Japan. At that time we will engage is a vigorous public relation effort to get people acquainted with the Robotis product line. We expect to release Robotis products in the North American and European market in the second half of this year.

RT: I understand that Robotis is looking for a distributor in the US. Can you tell me what Robotis is looking for in this respect?

BK: With our products, simply placing robots on sale will not suffice. This is especially true for the educational robots which require information and other resources designed for specific regional markets. For example, in Korea, robot academies are famous, but in US, I heard that there are no such things. Therefore, those companies that we partner with to distribute our products internationally must have a great knowledge of both the local cultures and robots.

RT: Can you comment on any of the robotics tournaments and competitions Robotis is involved in?

BK:
I personally like the Japanese Robo-One event, but I have not been involved with it yet. At present, I am preparing a new contest, but it is not a proper time to talk about it specifically yet.

RT: What is the state of intelligent, mobile robotics in Korea at this time? How do you see it differing from what is happening in the United States?

BK: In Korea, the robot industry is flourishing, but it is still at a very early stage. The market has some visibility, but over time this will increase dramatically. Humanoid robots, which are hardware-oriented, are popular in Korea and Japan. On the other hand, the US seems concentrating more on robot intelligence. I think these are mutual complementary elements,

RT: What can you tell us about the future of Robotis? Can you comment on Robotis products that we might see in the future?

BK: If the plans of Robotis are realized, it will be possible to find and purchase robot modules in catalogues, and then to use those modules to build complete robots. That is, building robots will be a similar experience to choosing PC memory modules or graphic cards and them adding them to a PC ‘platform’.

RT: Thank you.

For More Information
Robotis
#605 Ace Techno Tower 55-7,
Mullaedong, 3ga Yongdungpogu
Seoul, Korea 150-992
P: 02-2168-8787
F: 02-2168-8795
E:
W: http://www.robotis.com

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