Commercial Robotics

914 PC BOT: Better Late than Never!

Posted 25 Aug 2006 at 02:01 UTC by steve Share This

Just when you thought it might be time to rename the White Box Robotics 914 PC BOT to the 404 PC BOT, James Bruton sends news of a new announcement that 914 PC BOTs will arrive "by the end of September" with a price of $4,995 plus an addition $799 for the Mini-ITX "CPU kit". We've been reporting on White Box Robotics and their struggle to develop and manufacture the 914 PC BOT since they first appeared on the scene with a prototype. The robots were original supposed to ship in the summer of 2004, priced at $599-699. A series of delays and price increases followed with the most recent being a May 2006 delivery date and $1199-1699 price tag. The latest hefty price increase has created a bit of stir on the 914 PC BOTS discussion forum, resulting in a statement from White Box that once they "hit volume production", they hope to lower the price to $2,000. Read on for all the details from James.

Bit of an update on the White Box / Frontline Robotics 914 PC Bot:

Firstly delivery has been confirmed for the next 30 days for those who pre ordered units over a year ago. White Box / Frontline Robotics have announced that the price for everyone else will be $4995 (for now) as the first short run is essentially over engineered at high cost, but the pre order price will be honoured for those that reserved and paid at the time. They are offering refunds with interest to anyone who wants to opt out which I understand (unofficially) to be no one.

However, this annoucement which was be email to the 'pioneers' (pre order people) for some reason caused absolute uproar in the forums (www.914pcbots.com - forums / check out the 'delivery status' section) with such suggestions of Frontline using White Box as a 'tax write off' and general rantings about abandoning the enthusiast community etc.

Although it was obvious to some that the first production run of any new product will cost more than the mass produced versions (think about the first VCRs / mobile phones etc, let alone the first production runs of these items). Richard Lepack of Frontline Robotics has responded with a statement to put everyone's mind at rest - stating the future price target to be sub $2000, that it IS intended as an enthusiast / low cost personal robot, and accepting issues such as poor communication on their side etc. (This is currently on the front page of 914pcbots.com if you'd like to quote from it). Hopefuly this will cheer the community up a bit and we can see some positivity going forward.

I'm now the full time moderator and admin of the 914pcbots.com site, so we have a redesign coming shortly with new features, and of course a new colour scheme... no more orange, Horay!

Hopefuly we'll have some people saying positive things about the bots when they get them in the next month, I should have the image gallery functionality up by then so owners can post their 'pioneer' pics. And of course I can motivate the community with some projects / tutorials and all sorts of stuff... basically all my personal projects are on hold for this so not too many more androids on my own site.

Cheers James


Insane., posted 25 Aug 2006 at 05:30 UTC by amramsey » (Apprentice)

Obviously someone blew a brain gasket over there.... way out of line for a bit of metal and plastic bolted together with some wheels.

Full Spec, posted 25 Aug 2006 at 07:33 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

You can get the fuller spec from the White Box corporate site if anyone is interested.

The controller board there will work with Microsoft Robotics Studio as well as the open source Player/Stage Project for Linux btw.

White Box and Frontline are expecting to see cheap 'knock offs' along the lines of 'a bit of metal and plastic bolted together with some wheels' so this competition will also drive down the price in the future.

Excellent Machines., posted 25 Aug 2006 at 12:17 UTC by marev » (Observer)

Excellent Machines.

development costs, posted 25 Aug 2006 at 12:36 UTC by c6jones720 » (Master)

Thing is although $5000.00 is a lot of money, you have to take into account the initial development costs for these things. From thier point of view they will need to recover these costs some way or another.

Unless you're just building BEAM robots or salvaging stuff from scrap, Hobby robotics can work out pricey.

I mean just building an android like the one I was working on before all this, each of the limbs cost me about 200.00 Quid so I would imagine that If I had finished the whole thing would have cost me around £1000 which is probably about $2000.00 US

Once Tom Burrick has sold the first few and proved the design I should hope the price will drop quite a lot.

Well Said Mate,Excellent Machines., posted 25 Aug 2006 at 16:20 UTC by marev » (Observer)

Excellent.

Crazy pricing, posted 25 Aug 2006 at 21:11 UTC by amramsey » (Apprentice)

Seems that they are a little confused at the white box robotics webpage (linked above)... they claim it comes with a MiniITX motherboard. ;-) I wonder why many on the forums were upset?

Regardless, lets look at what it comes with:

* 2 DC stepper motors + wheels. Stepper motors? Ouch. Say $100 to $200 * Motor controllers ($100 to $200 perhaps... would have been better to use regular DC motors + encoders and then be able to use something like the Parallax h-bridges) * I/O board ($50 to $100... just use a USB hub from the PC motherboard + a simple USB I/O expander) * USB camera ($25 to $100) * 8 Sharp IR sensors ($100 to $150) * SLA type Batteries + charger ($50 to $100) * USB wifi adapter ($25) * molded plastic panels and aluminum case ($4400 apparently).

Come on.... it is way out of line. They'll likely never make it to production quantities because the original machines won't make it off the shelf at that price.

Realistic hat on please Aaron, posted 25 Aug 2006 at 21:39 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

tell me:

-How much to set up injection moulding for pieces that size including stereolithography testers, not to mention the design stage?

-How much to develop the custom software services that will control a mechanical device and make them ready for mass production?

-How much to develop a mechanical robot that will pass health and safetly and public liability / insurance rules so it can be sold and exported globally?

-How much to develop a custom controller with all those features and motor drivers to be inline with commercial as well as 'hobby' standards. It's a bit more than a 'USB hub'.

And then... since Microsoft are developing robotics software and have the 914 featured on the robotics studio home page - how much 'pocket money' do you think a commercial such as Microsoft has to spend on robots for testing?

Then, think back to when the first mobile phones came out but they were really expensive. But people still bought them because they REALLY needed them for business... then the rest of us got them when they were a little cheaper... or the first VCRs... the first flat screen monitors... or anything... let alone the first production run of these items.

Then think about someone you know who has a real passion for <insert interest/hobby here>... like my brother bought a bass guitar for $2000 and then a bass amp, a US fender strat for $1000 and then a guitar amp... a Korg Trinity keyboard and then a digital multitrack... just because he likes to write music. $2000 is certainly in scope for the enthusiast, $5k isn't totally out of scope for a really rich enthusiast and certainly isn't out of scope for a commercial company.

It's organisations like the 'Ottawa Robotics club' that should be driving the enthusiast scene for this. Since you're in Ottowa why not drop Richard Lepack a line and pop around there for a visit?

Oh, I fogot to say, posted 25 Aug 2006 at 21:52 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

Sorry, forgot to polish the post off...

Once you've developed those things (my first 4 points), you don't have to do them again for the next production run... so estimate savings of having no development costs, considering development took well over a year+++.

Think commercial ;-)

Better be Competitive than Never !, posted 26 Aug 2006 at 04:22 UTC by Ragooman » (Apprentice)

Although the product design here is commendable, I dont find a significant amount of innovation included (perhaps in the Software later on). There's still not a sign of a high price/performance ratio involved here to warrant the steep cost. Compare this to existing (and former) robotic products.

Competition is not supposed to be 'subsidized' by the consumer, a product has to prove it self to be worth the expense. Creating a business marketing strategy which has a short term break-even point (quite apparant here) usually implies some level of weakness in its operation(where's the investors ?) Investors should be lining up to offset the low volume production and prolong the break-even turnaround to make the introduction price much more attractive. That should be a first priority in a business.

Every design has development costs, but this is not a defense dept project. A project which makes use of a majority of COTS parts in a commercial product which is open to intense competition. Although there is mention of a price drop afterwards, it still seems leary as to when, as if it still depends on 'we' the consumer to support them.

just my 2cents

Competition / alternatives, posted 26 Aug 2006 at 09:47 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

You have some fair points there. However, at the end of the day it's up to Frontline to decide their marketing and pricing strategy. The only other option is to only sell the robot to people who had pre paid (honoring that price as they have done), then just make the product unavailable for everyone else until the next production run. Obviously every unit is sold at a loss if it's for less than $4995. So, I'm not sure I really understand the sensationalism over a company producing a product and selling it for what they need to in order to sustain a viable business. Money has to come from somewhere and the books have to balance.

As far as other robot products of a commerical grade... so we're not talking about toys or cheap hobby kits. I'd suggest you check out the prcing for a unit from someone like http://www.activrobots.com , you won't find prices on the website but we're looking at tens of thousands of dollars. Infact, go to : http://linuxde vices.com/articles/AT2717739661.html. Check out the 'ActivMedia Patrolbot', a snip at $30,000...

Anyway, open question; what other commercial options could you get for $5k?. Obviously you could buy a lot of tools and materials to make your own for that, but when it comes to simply 'adding up' off the shelf parts it's not quite the same as putting something into mass production.

To be or not to be Commercial, posted 26 Aug 2006 at 23:44 UTC by Ragooman » (Apprentice)

I suspect that their website is still under construction. As more pertinant technical information should be available to elaborate on how this is qualified as a commercial product. Merely stating what customers you intend to have doesn't define the classification of a design. A commercial product is required to pass a variety of product testing and certifications to prove that is it capable of performing within the required parameters.

There are a whole slew of product testing requirements which one has to pass in order to be deemed qualified in a specific class, either commercial,industrial, military or space. This is typically found on a company's website and outlined as to the relevant testing that it passed for each specific product, begining with UL CITS. Product Certification also applies to software if it is supplied. All this is above and beyond whether it's compatible with Windows XP, Linux or USB 2.0. Otherwise, all the glitz and glamour doesn't help justify anything.

do you mean this?, posted 27 Aug 2006 at 00:13 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

Do you mean this?, listed with the other commercial and military robots: http://www.frontlinerobotics.com/2005/roboticstechnology/platfo rms.htm

(lower down under 'PC Bots')

Clarification and summary, posted 29 Aug 2006 at 09:48 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

Just wanted to add a couple of things...

Frontline only make commercial and military robots. So this is why, since White Box and Frontline merged, the development has taken almost a year longer than originally annouced pre-merger, as well as the obvious price increase to make it stand up to the standards Frontline require for their products.

However, I think this is what makes the product great, because it will be accessible to the enthusiast community at a reasonable price as a result of the next longer production runs, but you'll be getting something that is of 'commercial' quality.

Also, as third parties begin to produce hardware accessories such as arms, tank tracks, rocket launchers... (imagine the possibilities), they will be producing them for commercial customers as well as the enthusiast scene, so the quality will always be maintaned over the cheap knock-offs.

Personally I can't think of anything better, hopefuly it will become a new global standard for personal robots, just like the PC components it is based upon. I suppose this is why I have a passion for the product and running the fan site, despite the early negatives I think that overall the product concept has the merits to succeed. Imagine a time when you can buy 'What PC Bot' magazine, or you go to a computer show and half the stands have accessories specifically for your PC Bot as well as your PC.

PC Bot the next wave of the robotics revolution, posted 29 Aug 2006 at 14:15 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

Although this particular bot is way out of my current expendable cash price range, it's really not all that unrealistic a price and it's the wave of the future. If you were to try to hack one together yourself, you'd easily spend as much.

Little 8 bit microcontrollers make great little robots that can do amazing little things. They have a real limitation as far as brain power, though. PC's have limitations on brain power too, don't get me wrong, but their limitations are way higher. Little micrcontroller robots have been taken about as far as they can go (ok maybe a little further), but PC bots have just scratched the surface of their usefulness and power. Hopefully, we'll see a transition from those wanting to tinker and play around with little microcontroller boy toys and move up to something with some real power more a kin to man toys.

As prices come down this Whitebox 914 bot will be sitting pretty to take on this new demand for more powerful robots! So, you early adopters that pay the high prices now may be laughing at all those who couldn't see the future vision and next wave of the robotics revolution. This vision was seen a long time ago, and perhaps if the 914 bot came out a year or two ago, it would have been way ahead of its time anyway. Now, it's just about the right time for this bot to arrive. I wish I had the money to have one and tinker with it. Oh, and more importantly, I wish I had the time to tinker with it too. :-/

However, what would make this robot more useful is not to just sell a raw hardware robot but instead a robot with function. Right now, what does it do? Does it vacuum the carpet? Does it mow the lawn? Does it clean the kitchen? Does it deliver mail? Well, the general population doesn't care about getting a robot that isn't already programmed to do something. So it's unlikely to take off and sell to anyone but researches and that's a limited field with lots of hardware competition. At the prohibitively high price it's likely to sell even less. If the robot had function where anyone could use it to do useful things, then we'd see this thing sell and we'd see a robot revolution. I mean, if grandma could turn this thing on and it would act as a maid, everyone would buy one, not just the robot technophile. As it is, I have my doubts that many will sell until then. Hopefully Whitebox has some nice software up its sleve that they will release and not just demos of what little piddly stuff it might be able to do, but real brainy stuff that it does something real. I don't expect that will be so, but that's on my wish list. Real robots are about the software IMO.

correct..., posted 29 Aug 2006 at 19:41 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

I quite agree with you there Swirling...

The bot is currently intended as a development platform, and although it comes with some 'out of the box functionality' for telepresence and autonomous navigation, it is intended for the user to write software for more specific tasks - after all, it does have a variety of uses, so making it be a house maid called Dolly may not suit all buyers.

However, as I understand it, there is an intention to publush some 'task specific' software for the bot in the future, and as accessories such as an arm become available (or build your own), it will be able to cary out some household tasks. The only realistic one I can think of now is remotely feeding pets, but there are probably cheaper ways to do that. The Bot certainly isn't intended to be sold like Roomba right now, but in the future you never know. You can at least use it as an mp3 player that follows you around where ever you go... easier ways to do that too, right?.

Then again I suppose a PC doesn't do anything much until you install some application software on it and control it one way or another. Anyway, there should be an update over at 914pcbots.com hopefuly by the end of this week on the software bundle, and hopefuly the manual too, if anyone is curious...

oh yes...I did see a 5.25" drive bay accesory that was actually a pop- out drinks holder and also a cigarette lighter. Good for entertaining at parties maybe? Here it is at the top of this page:

http://www.914pcbots.com/community/index.php? option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1&limit=12&limitstart=24

Nice machines., posted 30 Aug 2006 at 00:04 UTC by marev » (Observer)

Excellent machines in order to help machine builders desires,Ta.

Initial enthusiasm dampened, posted 6 Sep 2006 at 23:02 UTC by motters » (Master)

I was as enthusiastic about these machines as the next robo-nerd when I first heard about them, and have followed the development ever since. However, I'll remain skeptical that these really will be mass market robots until the price comes down to a lot less than $5000.

It shouldn't be forgotten that these are really bare bones machines - intended to be little more than a PC on wheels. No matter what quality they're built to we still need further advancements in software before we'll begin to see some really interesting things happening.

PC Bot now shipping, posted 21 Sep 2006 at 12:22 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

As you may have aleady noticed, the White Box Robotics corporate site has been redesigned and relaunched, with further technical details on the 9 Series PC Bot now that it is available. There are lots of fancy new graphics as well as a link to buy your Bot on line.

The prices published are those for the first low volume production run, over engineered and hand crafted version of the 9 Series PC Bot. However, there is a cheaper option for just $3995 US for the Bot with no plastic covers which is being marketed as the '9-Series PC-BOT Development Platform'

There is also a new Wiki and Image gallery over at 914pcbots.com, some new pictures have gone up recently of the PC Bot factory which is located in Ottawa.

See more of the latest robot news!

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