Jumpstarting the social robotics market
2018 has been a tough year for social robots for the home. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The failures of Jibo and Mayfield Robotics, maker of Kuri, have been well-documented by The Robot Report.
However, there are a couple companies that are not so eager to turn the page on 2018 just yet. Anki and Sony recently launched Vector and Aibo, respectively, as they both hope to jumpstart what has to this point been a market that over-promised and under-delivered.
Anki started shipping Vector, its follow-up to the wildly successful Cozmo robot, in October, while Sony revived its Aibo robot dog that was originally introduced in 1999. Both companies have had success selling consumer robots. As of August 2018, before Vector was released, Anki said it sold more 1.5 million consumer robots to date. And after quickly selling 20,000 sixth-generation Aibos to Japanese consumers, Sony said in August the robot would be available to US consumers before the holidays.
Vector and Aibo are both easy on the eyes, have charming personalities, and are packed with powerful sensors and AI that make them the most sophisticated consumer home robots ever. Sorry, iRobot.
But technology features alone cannot prevent these robots from becoming dust-collectors in closets worldwide. Unfortunately, both Anki and Sony are setting unrealistic expectations, much like other social robotics companies before them. Cozmo aspired to be nothing more than a toy. And Cozmo did that well.
But when you refer to a robot as being “the robot to live with” and “a living character in your home,” as Anki is doing with Vector, that is where companies get into trouble. Jibo and Mayfield Robotics did the same thing. Sure Vector has a charming personality, gives you fist bumps, dances, recognizes faces, and reports the weather, but the novelty will wear off quickly.
Anki did work some magic to keep Vector’s price relatively low at $250, but the same cannot be said for Aibo, which comes in at $2,900 with a three-year cloud subscription plan. Running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 840 and Amazon’s cloud-based AWS server, Aibo can memorize up to 100 faces, learn an endless stream of new tricks and respond to voice commands. Sony knows Aibo’s hefty price tag will prevent it from being a musthave robot, so perhaps Aibo’s goal is to remind folks that Sony was once the king of consumer electronics.
Vector is setting the wrong expectations, Aibo is an overpriced toy, and neither really solve a wide-scale problem. These three mistakes continue to permeate social robotics for the home. We are years away from welcoming social robots into our homes that meet expectations and don’t break the bank.
To inspire the hardworking, talented engineers of the world working on companion robots for the home, I suggest looking at the Aflac robot duck, which is a result of a partnership between Aflac and robotics toy company Sproutel. The robot duck is simple from a technological standpoint with just five touch sensors along its cheeks, under the wings, and back. Aibo and Vector are much more sophisticated.
The robot duck is designed to help children fighting cancer, and there aren’t many things worse in this world than children fighting cancer. The children battling cancer become the duck’s caretaker, feeding it, bathing it, and even pretending to give it chemotherapy through a tube attached to the duck’s chest. Aflac plans to expand its campaign to hospitals across the US later this year, providing newly diagnosed kids aged 3 to 13 years old with a robotic duck free of charge.
Sure the robot duck is free and targets a different market, but this is an example of an amazing use case that many consumer robotics companies miss. Social robotics is forecasted to expand to more than half a billion dollars by 2023, driven largely by the growing demands of the aging-in-place market, which is expected to reach 98 million people in the USA by 2060. Judging by what we have seen so far, it seems that number needs to come back down to Earth.
Steve Crowe | Editor
The Robot Report