Intel invests in 'personal robot' future
Today, healthcare. Tomorrow, perambulating laptops
Intel Capital has made its first-ever investment in robotics, becoming the lead investor in a $13m funding round for Aldebaran Robotics , a Paris-based designer of humanoid robots.
"This investment from Intel Capital enables Aldebaran to become a key player in this nascent industry," Aldebaran founder and CEO Bruno Maisonnier said in a statement  announcing the round C funding, which was joined by the company's current investors, French firms CDC Innovation , I-Source Gestion , and Crédit Agricole Private Equity .
Aldebaran Robotics' Nao – today, academia and healthcare. Tomorrow ...?
Intel's investment is not intended to support a Rise of the Machines™ scenario for world domination, nor even the creation of a team of robotic footballers  to defeat the world's top human team by 2050. Instead, Intel says , it's funding will help support Aldebaran's efforts to expand into "additional vertical sectors such as health and social care."
Intel sees a rich mix of digital devices supporting future healthcare needs, and has invested money and research talent in creating a world in which its chips power a wide variety of monitoring, diagnostic, and assistive technologies.
For example, Intel partnered with GE Healthcare  in 2009 to investigate and produce a broad range of digital-healthcare devices, developed a text reader for the blind  that same year and an in-home health monitor  in 2008, and invested $30m  in an Irish health-research center in 2007.
Now, with the addition of Aldebaran to its portfolio, Intel Capital is banking on a future in which programmable humanoid robots with voice and face-recognition capabilities plus location awareness can aid in diagnostics and theraputics.
Intel's personal futurist: 'I love robots'
But perhaps Intel has more interests in robots than just healthcare. Speaking at the company's Research@Intel event at Mountain View, California's Computer History Museum  this Tuesday, Intel Futurist Brian David Johnson  – and yes, that's his title – effused: "I love robots."
Johnson wasn't talking about healthcare or even industrial robotics. "The thing that I find really interesting is personal robots," he said. "My question that I've been asking and pushing upon is when robots become like laptops or smartphones."
What Johnson sees is a future in which "a robot becomes a computational device that you can do anything with, but it's a computational device that carries itself around. When your laptop can move around, it becomes really, really interesting for me."
When a robot becomes, as one attendee at Johnson's talk dubbed a "mobile mobile", Johnson said, "your laptop or your smartphone or your robot becomes a social actor in your life."
Intel Capital's investment in Aldebaran's robots, then, may be just a first step in turning the French company's humanoid robot, the academia-focused Nao , into a personal companion – that is, if Johnson's 10-years-in-the-future research mandate has any influence on Nao's development.
By the way, open sourcers will soon be able to join Aldebaran's robotics effort – the company announced  last month that it would "share a significant part of its source code with the research and developer community by the end of 2011." ®