Gadgets

Robots need apps too

Is your robot stressed? Robot yoga for the humanoid robot Nao is just one of the applications you can download from the RobotAppStore, which just landed a $250,000 investment from Grishin Robotics.

RobotAppStore is the first robot app marketplace. The store supplies apps for consumer robots like iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner, InnvoLab’s pet dinasour Pleo or Sony’s Aibo robot dog. The infographic below shows the full range of robots and the types of apps supported.The apps range from a new personality for your Aibo to songs for Pleo to perform. Many of the apps are free but developers receive 70 percent of earnings. The site also provides a knowledge base and programming manuals covering core robots programming topics and access to experts in particular robot models.

Grishin-Final-SB

Software may be the next frontier for robotics. Traditionally, robots used proprietary operating systems and software but efforts like Willow Garage’s open source ROS (Robot Operating System) are helping to build an infrastructure of libraries for robot capabilities like navigation or vision recognition. The app store is somewhat different since, like mobile apps for the iPhone or Android, the applications need to be developed for a particular model. Extending the functions of robots via apps is a similar approach to that being taken to the Internet of Things by startups like SmartThings.

Grishin Robotics is the brainchild of Dimitry Grishin, CEO of Mail.ru, a Russian email and social media portal worth around $7 billion. His Mail.ru co-founder Yuri Milner runs headline-grabbing investment firm DST, whose investments include Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon.

The RobotAppStore is Grishin Robotic’s second investment after Double Robotics, whose slinky telepresence robots seem designed to glide soundlessly around a chic interior. Grishin Robotics will make investments of between several hundred thousand dollars and several million from its $25 million fund. Funding is one of the biggest problems for robot startups. Hardware requires a bigger upfront investment than software, and Venture Capital is still reluctant to make bets on risky hardware projects.

When I interviewed Grishin a few months ago he talked about how he wanted to bring Internet startup culture to the robot world. “Roboticists spend years and years on research. Then years on a prototype. They need to do quicker iterations and get feedback from users. Without user feedback, you can’t create a good product.” Adding apps seems a logical step in that direction.

Of course no driving app is required for a cat to hitch a ride on your Roomba.