Blame it on Rosie.
The Jetsons’ robot housekeeper was witty, adroit, useful and very human-like. As she rolled around the sci-fi family’s home in Orbit City, she effortlessly tidied up, dispensed bons mots, helped the kids with homework and cooked dinners.
Rosie set too high a bar for real-life robots. Many startups have tried to create a robot that Americans would welcome into their homes, but so far the only success has come for Roomba and similar robotic vacuum cleaners.
“The biggest challenge is unrealistic expectations driven by movies and television,” said Ken Goldberg, a robotics expert and professor of engineering at UC Berkeley. “A lot of jobs around the house are actually very, very subtle and require a dexterity level far beyond what robots can achieve. It’s important to let people know that Rosie is not just around the corner.”
The latest failure was San Francisco’s Anki, which abruptly shut down last week, sounding the death knell for its home robots Cozmo and Vector. That’s despite having raised more than $200 million in funding and generating about $100 million in revenue in both 2017 and 2018.
Anki’s gerbil-size, cloud-connected roaming robots offer similar features to countertop devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and smartphone assistants like Apple’s Siri, but with an extra serving of personality. (Alexa and Siri are considered bots, not robots, because they don’t move.) Vector exhibited more than 1,500 animations to express emotions, programmed by former film animators from Pixar and DreamWorks.
Anki’s demise follows those of several other consumer robotics companies: Jibo, which made a “social robot”; France’s Keecker, whose multimedia robot facilitated watching moves and listening to music; Tokyo’s Seven Dreamers, whose cabinet-size Laundroid folded laundry; Bosch’s Mayfield Robotics, whose Kuri was part smart pet (it could sing and dance), part robot butler.
All not only fell short of the lofty expectations set by Rosie, but also failed to prove their usefulness.
“Americans have lots of ways to entertain themselves,” said technology forecaster Paul Saffo. “A robot has to be blazingly essential or to do one thing really, really well.”
While home robots have yet to take off, industrial robots are flourishing, accounting for more than $2 billion in North American sales last year, according to the Association for Advancing Automation.
At auto assembly plants, electronics factories, Amazon warehouses and elsewhere, “robots designed to handle defined tasks over and over offer a quick return on investment,” said Bob Doyle, a spokesman for the trade group. “Industrial robotics sales continue to break new records.” Robots are also making new inroads in retail — restocking Walmart shelves, for instance — and as security guards.
But homes remain the last frontier.
“We’re still a long way away from one robot that can do everything for you from clean your house to cook to help an elderly person,” Doyle said. “Before we get there, we may have many robots in the home each geared to do one specific thing like Roomba.”
While early adopters will always pounce on fun new ideas, that’s a far cry from mass acceptance. “Our goal is working toward a robot in every home,” Anki co-founder Mark Palatucci told The Chronicle last year.
And although various pet-like robots have found acceptance at some times —Hasbro’s Furby, Sony’s Aibo, the handheld Tamagotchi, the Paro therapeutic “seal” — they were more novelty items than indispensable helpmates.
Unlike U.S. consumers, Japanese audiences are more willing to open their homes to robots, which some experts ascribe to cultural differences.
“Japan is fascinated by robots,” Saffo said. “Japanese live in much smaller homes and it’s harder to have pets, so they’re more used to the idea of a virtual pet. Conferring a lifelike personality onto objects is deep in Japanese culture, back to Shinto and the idea that the whole world is enchanted and there is spirit chi in everything.”
So what will it take to get robots into U.S. homes?
One first step might be acclimatizing Americans to robots that come to their doorsteps — via the new generation of cooler-size delivery robots that bring restaurant meals and e-commerce orders.
For instance, Kiwi Campus, a startup based at the UC Berkeley SkyDeck accelerator, has dozens of robots delivering food from local restaurants on the Berkeley campus. “We’ve seen that people have adopted the Kiwibot as part of their community,” said Sasha Iatsenia, head of product. The robots have expressive “faces” that can wink and smile, plus “we’re fulfilling a basic human need: to eat,” he said.
(Still, at least one local resident resented the robots so much that he kidnapped one. Berkeley police rescued it when Kiwi gave them its GPS coordinates and then turned it on remotely so it could be heard banging against the thief’s car trunk, he said.)
Another possible use for home robots is helping elderly people.
Seattle’s Hoaloha Robotics is building a robotic companion for seniors. The “embodied personal assistant,” which is at least a year off, will go far beyond the likes of Alexa in carrying on conversations — not just reporting the weather but commenting on it, for instance, said CEO Tandy Trower. It will be able to carry items and help people manage and plan daily activities. To reduce up-front costs, Hoaloha will offer it on a subscription basis.
Despite its closure, robotics experts said that Anki still helped blaze trails.
“Anki helped demonstrate how appealing imbuing an embodied agent with the right level of social characteristics can be, bringing us one step closer to personal robots,” Trower said. “Where it failed was in delivering a sufficient value proposition, which is also essential for success. However, like the Commodore PET and Apple II, it clearly points the way for what is to come.”
Anki had passion and commitment to bring robotics out of research labs and into living rooms, said Peter Nguyen, an Anki spokesman, in an email after its closure: “We tried our best to move the consumer robotics industry forward and give people a glimpse into a life where we can peacefully coexist with robots.”
- When Robots Ring the Bell
- Can a Laundry-Folding Robot Improve Your Life?
- Robotics Education Organization Embraces Diversity and Inclusion for K-12
- The 11 Biggest African American Business Stories of 2017
- American Airlines Asks Government Not to Use Its Flights to Carry Immigrant Children
- More Americans Defaulting On Credit Cards
- PGA star Ryan Moore’s former home for sale in Lakewood
- American Airlines says computer issue stabilized, working to restore PSA flights
- Sacramento home prices stagnated again in July. What does it mean for the market?
- Mazor Robotics (MZOR) Q1 2018 Earnings Conference Call Transcript
- Can Robotics Spark A Renaissance In American Manufacturing?
- Brits welcome tech innovations that could transform cities over the next 20 years
- Real-life robots are starting to perform the functions of the Star Wars droids
- Howard University Introduces D.C Kids to Robot and NASA Scientists and Engineers
- Fighting Ebola With Robots And An App Called Jedi
- Robots Might Take Your Job, But Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry
- Bow to Your Robot Overlor… Er, We Mean, Check Out This Butler and Housemaid of Tomorrow!
- Americans are starting to love the GOP tax law -- and they haven't even noticed its benefits
- The man who created the world's first self aware robot says the next big test will change the human-robot relationship forever
- Aging societies and robots go hand in hand
Americans haven’t yet welcomed robots into their homes have 1297 words, post on www.sfchronicle.com at May 4, 2019. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.