Rosie the Robot Lives!

Some of us remember Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons TV show, a mechanical housekeeper that made life easier for the family. But in reality, robotics has traditionally been developed mainly for industrial applications like manufacturing. Now, robot technology has evolved to the point where designers are tackling broader applications such as self-propelled cyber guides, household assistants and surgical robotics. In many of these applications, packaging, precision control, and weight are all key factors. At CES 2019, a number of companies showed new directions in robotics.

Tēmi showed The Personal Robot, a tablet that wheels itself around (although not over obstacles or up and down stairs). This product won “Best Robot of CES 2019” as well as “Best of Show” at Mobile World Congress in 2018. The idea is that you can talk to the tablet and the tablet will respond with voice and video. For example, you could use it to videoconference with others using smartphones, or you could have it in the kitchen so you could look up recipes by simply asking for them. Unlike some of the other robot demonstrations at CES, this one is a fully-formed product that works out of the box. It costs $1,999.

UBTECH showed its Cruzr, what it calls a “Customized, Cloud-Based, Intelligent Humanoid Service Robot.” This robot looks a lot more like a domestic servant, with a head (containing a video screen), a body and arms that swivel 360 degrees. It can move its arms to convey non-verbal clues, but other than shaking hands, it doesn’t seem to be able to pick things up. The whole package weighs about 90 pounds. The video screen has face recognition and enables videoconferencing. Cruzr uses real-time positioning and mapping to avoid obstacles, so it can serve as a robot guide in shopping malls, airports and the like. Cruzr’s web page names a lot of potential applications, including advertising, mobile patrol, security monitoring and videoconferencing. UBTECH doesn’t list a price, but its other robots sell for less than $1,000.

The ElliQ from Intuition Robotics is a tabletop unit designed as a digital companion for seniors. ElliQ does things like helping users read and respond to messages, share pictures, or make appointments, and it can remind users about taking medications. It has a “head” that moves up and down and side to side and uses its voice to keep seniors engaged or explain how to do things like use an iPhone. It will cost $1,499 plus a monthly service fee of around $35.

NAVER’s Ambidex isn’t a complete robot, but it solves one of the difficult challenges in robotics. Ambidex is a robot arm that is actually lighter than an adult human arm, making it much lighter and less threatening than the industrial robot arms we’re used to seeing. The arms can swivel 360 degrees, and the hands can grasp objects. NAVER showed only a demo of Ambidex at CES 2019 and the product will likely be expensive. In addition, Ambidex would have to be integrated into a base with wheels and a display to rival or surpass the other robots shown at CES.

All in all, though, there are some encouraging trends in robotics. Prices are coming down, competition in the personal robot market is heating up, and manufacturers are beginning to deliver fully-formed applications that make sense. With a little AI and some web connectivity, these robots get much closer to the domestic servant we’ve seen on TV shows and in movies.

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