Ro­bots ready to serve at home and work

They walk, talk, de­liver stuff and fea­ture at CES tech show

Winnipeg Free Press - - BUSINESS - MATT O’BRIEN AND JOSEPH PISANI

AS VE­GAS — Ro­bots that walk, talk, pour beer and play ta­ble ten­nis have taken over the CES gad­get show in Las Ve­gas again. Just don’t ex­pect to find one in your home in the near fu­ture.

Most home ro­bot ven­tures have failed, in part be­cause they’re so dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive to design to a level of in­tel­li­gence that con­sumers will find use­ful, says Bi­lal Zu­beri, a robotic­sori­ented ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist at Lux Cap­i­tal. But that doesn’t keep com­pa­nies from try­ing.

“Roboti­cists, I guess, will never give up their dream to build Rosie,” Zu­beri says, re­fer­ring to the hu­manoid maid from The Jet­sons.

But there’s some hope for oth­ers. Frank Gil­lett, a tech an­a­lyst at For­rester, says ro­bots with more fo­cused mis­sions such as mow­ing the lawn or de­liv­er­ing cheese­burg­ers stand a bet­ter shot at find­ing a use­ful niche.

LROBOTS THAT DE­LIVER

There are so many de­liv­ery ro­bots at CES that it’s easy to imag­ine that we’ll all be stum­bling over them on the side­walk — or in the el­e­va­tor — be­fore long. Zu­beri says it’s among the new ro­bot trends with the most prom­ise, be­cause the field is draw­ing on some of the same ad­vances that power self­driv­ing cars.

But it’s hard to tell which — if any — will still be around in a few years.

Seg­way Ro­bot­ics, part of the same com­pany that makes elec­tric rental scoot­ers for Lime, Jump and Bird, is the lat­est to get into the de­liv­ery game with a new ma­chine it calls Loomo De­liv­ery. The wheeled of­fice ro­bot can avoid ob­sta­cles, board el­e­va­tors and de­liver doc­u­ments to an­other floor.

A sim­i­lar of­fice courier called the Ho­labot was un­veiled by Chi­nese startup Shen­zhen Pudu Tech­nol­ogy. CEO Felix Zhang says his com­pany al­ready has a track record sell­ing ro­bots in China, where its Pudubot ro­bot — which looks like shelves on wheels — nav­i­gates busy restau­rants as a kind of robotic waiter.

Nearly all of these ro­bots use a tech­nol­ogy called vis­ual SLAM, short for si­mul­ta­ne­ous lo­cal­iza­tion and map­ping. Most are wheeled, though there are out­liers — such as one from Ger­man au­to­mo­tive com­pany Con­ti­nen­tal, which wants to de­ploy walk­ing robotic dogs to carry pack­ages from self-driv­ing de­liv­ery vans to res­i­den­tial front doors.

A de­liv­ery ro­bot will need both so­phis­ti­cated au­ton­omy and a fo­cused mis­sion to stand out from the pack, says Sau­mil Nana­vati, head of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for Robby Tech­nol­ogy. His com­pany’s name­sake ro­bot trav­els down side­walks as a “store on wheels.” The com­pany re­cently part­nered with Pep­siCo to de­liver snacks around a Cal­i­for­nia univer­sity cam­pus.

RO­BOTS FOR DOGS

Does man’s best friend need a robotic pal of its own? Some star­tups think so.

“There’s a big prob­lem with sepa­ra­tion anx­i­ety, obe­sity and de­pres­sion in pets,” says Bee-oh Kim, a mar­ket­ing man­ager for ro­bot­ics firm Var­ram.

The com­pany’s US$99 ro­bot is es­sen­tially a mov­ing treat dis­penser that mo­ti­vates pets to chase it around. A herd of the small, dumb­bell-shaped ro­bots zoomed around a pen at the show — though there were no ca­nine or fe­line con­fer­ence at­ten­dees to show how the ma­chines re­ally work.

Var­ram’s ro­bot takes two hours to charge and can run for 10 hours — just enough time to al­low a pet’s guil­trid­den hu­man com­pan­ion to get home from work.

RO­BOTS ON SE­NIOR WATCH

Sam­sung is com­ing out with a ro­bot that can keep its eye on se­niors.

The rolling ro­bot can talk, and has two dig­i­tal eyes on a black screen. It’s de­signed to track the medicines se­niors take, mea­sure blood pres­sure and call 911 if it de­tects a fall.

Sam­sung didn’t say when Sam­sung Bot Care would be avail­able, but some star­tups are putting sim­i­lar ideas in ac­tion. Is­raeli com­pany In­tu­ition Ro­bot­ics used CES to an­nounce the up­com­ing com­mer­cial launch of El­liQ, a robotic voice as­sis­tant that can sit on end ta­bles and help older adults com­mu­ni­cate with fam­ily mem­bers with­out hav­ing to fid­dle with a com­puter.

RO­BOT FRIENDS

Lovot is a sim­ple ro­bot with just one aim — to make its owner happy.

It can’t carry on long con­ver­sa­tions, but it’s still so­cial — ap­proach­ing peo­ple so they can in­ter­act, mov­ing around a space to cre­ate a dig­i­tal map, re­spond­ing to be­ing em­braced.

Lovot’s horn-shaped an­tenna — fea­tur­ing a 360-de­gree cam­era — rec­og­nizes its sur­round­ings and de­tects the di­rec­tion of sound and voices.

Lovot is the brain­child of Groove X CEO Kaname Hayashi, who pre­vi­ously worked on SoftBank’s Pep­per, a hu­manoid ro­bot that briefly ap­peared in a few U.S. shop­ping malls two years ago. Hayashi wanted to cre­ate a real con­nec­tion be­tween peo­ple and ro­bots.

“This is just sup­port­ing your heart, our mo­ti­va­tion,” he says.

JOHN LOCHER / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Lovot com­pan­ion ro­bots are on dis­play at the Groove X booth dur­ing the CES gad­get show in Las Ve­gas. The sim­ple ro­bot’s pri­mary func­tion is to make its owner happy.

JOHN LOCHER / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Creators of the Robby ro­bot have part­nered with Pep­siCo to de­liver snacks around a Cal­i­for­nia univer­sity cam­pus.

DAN HONDA / BAY AREA NEWS GROUP FILES

El­liQ is a robotic voice as­sis­tant that can help older adults com­mu­ni­cate with fam­ily mem­bers with­out hav­ing to use a com­puter.

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