I want Rosie the Robot to become a reality. As ambitious as a cartoon character from a 1960s TV Show might seem, I saw a lot of the pieces to make a pretty good Rosie at CES 2017. The pieces were just spread out between a bunch of different devices.
The idea at the heart of Rosie is what appeals to me -- a do-it-all smart-home machine that can not only interact with you, but will take care of the chores. The perfect Rosie is a useful member of the family that acts as a nanny, a maid and a personal assistant. Rosie would need to be mobile, perceptive, possessing of fine motor skills and intelligent enough to hold a conversation.
So how close are we really? Let's put the pieces together and find out.
Mobility and perception: Kuri
A robot the size of R2-D2 with the look of a Pixar character, Kuri's meant to patrol your home and do it with charm. You'll need to give Kuri a tour of your living space by guiding it around with the app. Then, you can tell Kuri which room is which and the cute little guy will find his own way from there. He uses lasers to sense what's in front of him and avoid objects.
Kuri is also my pick for perception. He has cameras behind his eyes, so you can see what Kuri sees via an app. During the day, you can tell Kuri to patrol your place and look for anything out of the ordinary. Kuri has motion and sound detection, so he'll normally follow a specific route, but if he hears something strange, he can go check it out. I'd imagine a diligent Rosie would do the same.
Kuri promises to have facial recognition, too. You'd definitely want your robot butler to know who you are, but here's where I'm skeptical that the tech we have is ready. I haven't seen a reliable, consumer-facing facial recognition camera yet -- though, the Netatmo Welcome comes close.
Since Kuri travels on wheels, he won't move to multiple floors, but the robots I saw at CES with legs move much too slowly to be useful, even on a single floor.
Head here for everything Aristotle can do to help watch over your child. It's quite a long list. Mattel's Aristotle is an always-listening device similar to the Amazon Echo. It has Amazon's assistant Alexa built in, complete with Alexa's robust library of skills. Plus, Aristotle works as an assistant on its own, one tailor-made for a nursery.
From singing lullabies to ordering diapers to helping with homework, Aristotle's best features present intuitive ways to help your kids then they need it. Aristotle also comes with a camera, and Mattel claims it can recognize when your baby wakes up, and start playing a lullaby automatically.
You can also set Aristotle not to answer your kids questions until they say "please." Those sort of touches are why Aristotle is my pick for nanny, though it obviously can't pick up, rock or feed your kids itself.
Personal assistant: Rokid Alien
This is an upset pick to be sure, but I'll bring Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant into the equation later. I want Rokid's assistant Melody on board for one specific reason: Melody can keep your whole family's calendar organized.
An Echo copycat in a lot of ways, the Rokid Alien on display at CES promises much more control over appointments than either Alexa or the Google Assistant can provide right now. Google Home -- the always-listening gadget from Google in the mold of the Echo -- can tell you about one of your calendars. Rokid's variation on the theme integrates all of them and all of your family's calendars too. Ask Melody, "What time are we all free on Thursday?" and she'll tell you. You can then add something to the calendar and Melody is smart enough to add it to everybody else's as well.
The Alien also has a screen, allowing you to make video calls and see more info after you ask it a question.
Miscellaneous extras: Lynx and Mykie
I thought Lynx -- a humanoid robot from Ubtech Robitics with Alexa built in -- would account for more of my pieces. The bot has the body I would like for Rosie, but Lynx's feet don't move forward fast enough for it to be truly called mobile. Lynx balances really well from side to side, though, and its arms and legs move and bend as well.
Lynx's coolest feature uses that flexibility to teach you yoga and walk you through exercise routines. I'd like that feature in this Frankenstein bot.
I'll bring Mykie's recipe prowess on board to help you cook. Give Mykie a voice command and you can search recipes. Find the one you want and Mykie will project a video guide on the wall to help you through the process.
Conversationalist: Alexa and Google
Now, I need to make sure this Rosie can understand me when I talk to it. Fortunately, Amazon, Google and Apple have all taken the voice-recognition abilities of digital assistants quite far from the days of yelling "Call Mom!" at a flip phone.
Both Amazon and Google have turned those abilities into always-listening devices that respond to your commands, answer your questions, and control your smart home. Since I'm cherry-picking, I'll take Alexa's breadth of skills, since it's extraordinary, and I'll take Google's conversational prowess.
Google can use the context of your previous question to answer your next question, just like an attentive robot helper should. The Google Assistant isn't great at this. Go beyond simple, fill-in-the-blank context and you'll confuse it, but it's still slightly better at it than Alexa.
Finally, we need this new magical robot to do the chores. Now, lots of robots can do one chore quite well. Beyond obvious appliances like dishwashers, robot vacuums can keep a place tidy and you can find similar window cleaners and mops.
However, for Rosie to truly become a reality, this couldn't be a robot specifically designed for one task. Sure, we could throw suction power on the bottom of Kuri's wheels, but we need a robot to be able to take out the trash, pick up dishes, and fold the laundry. We saw Foldimate on display at the show, but it was barely working and still a single-function machine.
We need a robot with arms and fine motor skills. The $30,000 MoRo comes the closest, even though it's fairly slow, as you might expect. Ideally, MoRo would make Mykie irrelevant for this Frankenstein, as it could do the cooking for you. At CES, MoRo could slowly pick up and move blocks, but I'd want to see it refined quite a bit before I'd trust it to put away my dishes or dust my TV.
What do we have?
Putting it all together, the Rosie of CES 2017 moves around on a single floor pretty well. She uses wheels for locomotion, but has legs and a body attached to the wheels so she can flex and guide you in a workout routine. I'll use Kuri's face and eyes for the head and make the Alien's screen the body for info and videos.
Altogether, this Rosie would look a little weird. She'd be quite expensive, even if we don't add in the $30,000 MoRo, the cost of everything else combined (based largely on unfinalized prices and estimates) would be between $2,500 and $3,000. Since some components could be shared, and the cost of creating one robot would be less than individually producing seven different ones, maybe the final total could be cut to just under $2,000?
Plus, she's not great at picking things up physically -- especially if we leave out MoRo -- or holding a conversation, but she can check on the home when you're away and let you know if something's wrong.
Better yet, she responds to all sorts of commands and questions, and can tell your child a bedtime story or sing a lullaby. She's not perfect, but I'm excited by how many pieces of the future we found at CES 2017.
reading•Building robot Frankenstein from the pieces of CES 2017
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