Robbie and friends: robot helpers for household applications

 

What’s caught the imagination at the world’s largest consumer technology show? With forecasts predicting domestic robot sales of 35 million by the end of 2018 TEKBuyer checks out the new launches asks if users will be convinced by the undeniable charms of Robbie and friends.

 

International Robotics Federation forecast that 35 million robots will be sold by the end of 2018. CES staged a Robotics Marketplace to showcase intelligent, autonomous machines that are changing the way we live at work, at school, at the doctor’s office and at home.

And it is in the home automation, sector that so-called ‘Butler bots’ are likely to make an initial impression, with artificially intelligent machines available to run your home, raise your children and more. An array of smart home robots have been revealed at CES 2017,

Following the success of the Amazon Echo speaker, with its Alexa smart assistant voice control technology, the way is now open for robots that offer a wider range of features, including mobility. The CES 2017 show earlier this month provided a showcase for the leading home robot technologies.

LG Hub Robot

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The first of our selected robot products from CES, LG’s Hub Robot, actually uses Alexa technology and so can do everything that the Echo does (like checking the weather, playing music, controlling lighting and heating or taking a memo) and more.

The LG Hub Robot is part of an ambitious home control technology developed by LG. Placed in a common area of the home, Hub Robot will recognise family members, respond to commands – with gestures like nodding – and control gadgets.

Additionally, the Hub Robot offers everyday consumer conveniences such as the ability to play music, set alarms and create reminder memos. With its friendly, anthropomorphic design, LG’s Hub Robot can interact with the entire family in a variety of different ways. It can move and swivel in place, as well as express a wide range of emotions by displaying a face on its display.

The Hub Robot is designed to respond to consumers using body language, such as nodding its head when answering simple questions, and is always aware of activities inside the home, such as when family members leave, come home and go to bed. And because the Hub Robot can distinguish different family members’ faces with its camera, it can be programmed with a different greeting for each family member.

The Hub Robot works best when placed in common areas of the house where family members tend to gather, such as the kitchen or the living room. To complement the Hub Robot, LG will also introduce mini robots that can be placed in other rooms in the house. Equipped with a sleek visual display, these mini robots are extensions of the Hub Robot and can perform many of the same functions.

UBTECH Lynx

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Another Amazon Alexa technology adopter, the humanoid Ubtech Lynx uses artificial intelligence developed for Alexa for its speech detection. Equipped with a camera, a multi-core processor and lots of sensors this robot can walk about, follow commands. carry out tasks and even respond to your moods so it can cheer you up.

Ubtech Lynx can also manage calendars, add verbal updates, monitor the home as a security solution with alerts, as well as playback music, make telephone calls, send messages, read stories and teach you yoga! “Integrating with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service is a perfect match for Lynx’s unparalleled facial, image and voice recognition, emotion detection, and lifelike robotic movement, seamlessly woven together for a truly humanlike experience. Lynx combines unprecedented intelligence and robotics into one consumer-friendly platform,” said John Rhee, General Manager, North America, UBTECH.

Lynx is an in-home companion that features effortless interaction to access seemingly endless resources, with instant gratification for a truly enjoyable in-home or in-office experience. “We’re excited to be working with UBTECH to bring the Lynx robot to life with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service,” said Aaron Brown, Director, Amazon Alexa. “Using Lynx, customers will be able to ask Alexa to help with a host of daily tasks to make their day a bit easier – whether it’s setting reminders, playing music, or finding out what the weather will look like tomorrow.” The arrival of Lynx marks a major leap forward for UBTECH’s dream of putting robots into every home. Lynx will be available for purchase in spring 2017.

Mayfield Robotics Kuri

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Mayfield Robotics is the Bosch-supported start-up called Mayfield Robotics responsible for the Kuri home robot. Kuri measures 50cm tall and is equipped with speakers, a microphone, a camera and a bunch of sensors. Kuri can move about the home, working out the most direct route, and can spot when the children get home to message the parents who might be delayed. The robot knows family members and can distinguish between them, addressing each differently.

Kuri is built to connect with consumers and helps bring technology to life. Kuri can understand context and surroundings, recognize specific people, and respond to questions with facial expressions, head movements, and his unique, lovable sounds. “For generations, people have dreamed of having their own personal robot in the home, and we’ve been focused on making that dream more of a reality,” said Sarah Osentoski, COO and co-founder of Mayfield Robotics. “We’re proud to introduce Kuri to the world and can’t wait to see how he touches the lives of everyone, ranging from parents and children to early technology adopters.”

Kuri can also be used as a mobile speaker and even has video capabilities to be used for recording the activities of pets. US retail prices for Kuri start at $699 for which consumers get:

  • a built-in 1080p camera (so users can check in on the house or pets)
  • a 4-microphone array, powerful dual speakers with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity (for playing music or reading the kids a bedtime story)
  • various sensors for mapping and detecting edges and objects
  • easily programmable tasks and IFTTT capabilities to connect within modern smart homes

“While insanely cute on the outside, Kuri contains serious technologies on the inside that represent the latest developments in smartphones, gaming, and robotics,” said Kaijen Hsiao, CTO and co-founder of Mayfield Robotics. “We hope Kuri introduces people — especially kids — to the power of technology and can inspire a new world of possibilities for their future.”

Kuri is 20” tall, weighs about 14 lbs, and includes an app for iOS and Android for setup and control capabilities. Mayfield Robotics plans to ship the first Kuri robots for Christmas 2017.

Panasonic companion robot Egg

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Moving to another CE major, Panasonic previewed its Egg concept for the future of ‘companion’ robots in the home. The companion robot proof of concept is designed to live on a desktop and offer human-like movements and communication skills.

“This test project builds on Panasonic’s innovations in robotics including battery and power solutions, vision and sensing, navigation solutions and motion control in a new appealing design. This is Panasonic’s latest effort in demonstrating network services in a friendly package, and we are showing this robot at CES as a way of obtaining feedback on its features and functions,” said Takahiro Iijima, Director, Panasonic Design Strategy Office in North America Director.

The robot is equipped with a Wi-Fi network function that accesses artificial intelligence-based natural language processing technology. This enables it to communicate in a clear, friendly way. The robot can access and use cloud data, and communicate with those in other locations. Thanks to its embedded projector, the robot can be used for distance learning and other purposes. The robot is about the size of a standard kitchen countertop blender.

It has a cover that looks like an egg shell, which the robot can open to reveal the built-in projector. The robot also moves back and forward, and up and down. Its features and dexterity – designed to mimic human movements – inspires people to interact with it and are made possible with Panasonic-developed servo control technology. The robot’s child-like voice adds to the realism. Its voice and embedded projector work together to deliver natural communication that builds a sense of attachment with its human owner.

Emotech Olly

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The Olly robot from Emotech is described as having machine learning capabilities which supplement its artificial intelligence technology. This was apparently created by a group of neuroscience and machine learning scientists, who claim that its daily communications are ‘unique and enjoyable’.

The most appealing aspect of Olly is its voice control capability, which will ultimately ley homeowners control their homes and appliances by talking to the robot. Using a 360-degree microphone and sensing algorithms, the robot can automatically work out where it is and who it’s talking to.

“Olly is the first smart lifestyle assistant that develops a personality based on its user’s moods and preferences, meaning daily communications with Olly are always unique and enjoyable. Thanks to its unique form factor and LED configuration Olly is able to convey a range of emotions that users can detect visually.”

With an elegant, compact design, featuring cutting-edge interactive sensor technologies, Olly boasts the optimal form factor for both its complex microphone array design and 360-degree audio performance. The innovative design combined with sensing algorithms provides advanced perception capability; not only will Olly know which room it is in and which user it is interacting with, it also will be able to detect what the user is doing and even their mood.

Just as TEKBuyer went to press, Emotech announced that Olly had been named a CES 2017 Innovation Awards Honouree in four categories for its smart lifestyle assistant – a first for any start-up product. “Olly goes one step further by learning about the idiosyncrasies of its users to develop its own personality. Communicating with Olly is simple and natural, just speak using natural language and he’ll respond like you’re talking to an old friend.”

Buy now, or wait?

Of course, there will be a small percentage of consumers for who novelty and rarity will be enough to justify buying one of these very early household robots, but with some not even officially launched and others little more than proofs of concept and prototypes, does it really make sense to splash the cash?

But are the new offerings really robots? Wikipedia says that: “A robot is a machine – especially one programmable by a computer – capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically”. This. the majority of, the new entrants can achieve, but within a fairly limited range. But progress in this category will be rapid, Wait another year and you will find that the capabilities of household  robots will be greatly expanded and their base technologies much more stable.

 

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