The public’s fascination with robots offers an curious dichotomy, one split between a dystopian fear of a SKYNET-like takeover ushered by the awakening of artificial intelligence versus the utopian hopes of a world populated with robots safely dictated by Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics“. Neither fear nor worries are warranted at this nascent mark in robotic technologies, but if Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri is any indication, robots for the home in the near future will be brimming with emotive and charming personality.
Does anyone remember the Sony AIBO, the robotic canine companion that sold out in just 20 minutes at launch back in 1999? A few coworkers during my heydays in the video game industry nabbed one of the four-legged autonomous and articulating canines for a hefty sum, wooed by the promise of a robotic pet programmed with the interactive personality of a live (if not somewhat yappy) dog – all without the care required to keep a real canine happy or alive. One wonders how many of those first adopters still keep and use their domestic robots.
In hindsight Sony was ahead of the curve and onto something with the AIBO. As one 90s coffeeshop philosopher once remarked, “Personality goes a long way“, and the AIBO revealed a portion of the population desired robots not just as a physical extension of utility, but one simply charged for companionship.
Mayfield Robotics, a start-up offshoot of German engineering giant Bosch, recognizes domestic robot companionship is all but a foregone conclusion. The challenge they’ve taken on is crossing the chasm between existing individual smart technologies and integrating it into a recognizable anthropomorphized robot users will feel comfortable permitting into their homes. Whereas companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon have decided to go the route of incorporeal agents with everywhere/nowhere HAL-like manner, Mayfield Robotics imagines a robot more akin to Star Wars’ BB-8 – a diminutive mobile robot pal that listen, looks – even feigning curiosity – and acts according to its owner’s needs and emotions.
The heart of the Kuri experience isn’t technological, but drawn from cartoons. Engineered with an expressive set of eyes worthy of a Pixar cartoon, the thigh-high Kuri taps into the human propensity to affix meaning and emotion through the eyes: blinking, staring, “smiling”, and turning its head to communicate awareness. Similarly, its rounded spherical body shape is completely cartoonish, a friendly representation of the organic, softening and hiding the abundance of electronics hidden within.
Mayfield Robotics also gave their robot a LED color-changing chest and the ability to beep-n-boop droid-like responses in lieu of a screen or actual voice to further enhance this perception of life and comprehension. In combination, Kuri becomes a mute mirror of its owner’s own personality, an agent for his or her needs.
A slew of technology makes Kuri’s companionship possible: a built-in1080p HD camera guides the robot as a navigation-mapping tool and as well as offering a security feature when paired to the Kuri iOS and Android app; the camera additionally gives Kuri the ability to greet individuals by facial recognition. Like its body-less Siri/Alexa counterparts, Kuri’s help can be activated by voice command via microphone array or be prompted by touch at the tap of its head. Through this combination of software, hardware, and mobile app, Mayfield Robotics has given a physical manifestation to the primarily body-less smart home experience today.
- A built-in HD camera so you can check in on the house or pets while you’re away.
- A drive system powered by small electric motors designed to wheel Kuri across a wide range of flooring and carpets, and even thresholds.
- A four-microphone array, powerful dual speakers, and Wi-Fi + Bluetooth connectivity, so it can react to voice commands or noises, play music, read the kids a bedtime story, or follow you around playing podcasts while you’re getting ready for work;
- Easily programmable tasks and IFTTT capabilities to connect within modern smart homes.
At $699 the Kuri still exists within the category of first adopter technology, a novel stab at bringing robots into our lives not as mere vassal, but welcome and cute household companions that put a real face to the smart home future we’ve long been promised.