LAS VEGAS—Robots was the stuff of science fiction. Not a lot anymore. At CES, you possibly can even discover a whole part of the ground devoted to them. Even so, robots aren’t often the starring attraction of CES—although Kuri by Mayfield Robotics is doing it is best to problem that.
I acquired my first glimpse of Kuri at CES Unveiled and, it is true, my preliminary curiosity was primarily based on the robotic’s cuteness. The design is reminiscent of popular culture’s favourite robotic personalities: R2-D2, BB-Eight, Wall-E, and EVE. All easy traces and curves, with the added bonus of cheerful beeps and bloops, Kuri is the precise reverse of the vaguely apocalyptic implications that discuss of the Singularity often brings. A easy pat to Kuri’s head was greeted with a robotic chirp, blissful eyes, and a heat glow in his LED chest. If you happen to booped Kuri’s base, he would stutter again confused, head glancing backward and forward, eyes blinking quickly, as if to suss out what had occurred.
These are all expressions and descriptions that you just’d discover antithetical to a “robotic.” Even cute robots like Softbank’s
Pepper or Honda’s Asimo are nonetheless oddly indifferent and considerably unnatural. They’re technologically spectacular however on the identical time, you possibly can’t actually think about them being your buddy, not to mention residing in your own home with pets and youngsters. So what instantly stood out about Kuri was how simple it was to personify and empathize with him—beginning with easy pronouns like “him” or “her” as a substitute of “it.”
At a demo,
Mayfield Robotics defined that that is all a part of the plan. As a result of Kuri was envisioned as a private assistant robotic, it needed to be one thing that you possibly can relate to and would really feel comfy having in your house every single day. So whereas plenty of the performance is just like different sensible residence units—streaming feeds of your own home, audio, facial and speech recognition, and so on.—the constructing block for Kuri wasn’t the know-how, however the design. Character, not specs.
That is evident within the little thrives
Mayfield Robotics has added. When demonstrating Kuri’s capability to navigate round a backpack and right into a kitchenette, you possibly can see that the robotic seems to be left, as you or I’d, earlier than turning. And, as a substitute of easily gliding throughout the ground, Kuri has somewhat waddle that appears prefer it jumped straight out of a Pixar movie.
If you happen to challenge a voice command that Kuri does not perceive, his chest will gentle up yellow and he’ll shake his head in confusion. If you happen to or a member of the family walks within the door, Kuri may be programmed to waddle as much as you and “smile” at you in greeting. You get the identical response once you challenge a command, which makes saying “Hey Kuri” infinitely extra satisfying than saying “
Hey Siri.” After spending simply 45 minutes with Kuri, it was inconceivable to stroll away with out feeling the identical type of affection one may really feel for a pet strolling down the road.
It would be simple for a cynic to take a look at the $699 price ticket and say, “Okay, so what if it is cute? What is the level?” Properly, for years Japan has been main the cost in private assistant robots. That is partly as a result of as a tradition, the Japanese view the way forward for robots as pleasant helpers quite than potential Terminator-esque overlords. Within the West, other than maybe the
Star Wars movies, robots have ceaselessly been portrayed as soulless, logic-driven machines that ultimately be taught to overthrow their imperfect and illogical creators.
And as such, Western robots are usually spectacular from an engineering standpoint like Boston Dynamics’s Atlas, however quite impersonal. So for an American-based firm to be the creators of Kuri is considerably of a nice shock. Even perhaps a doable signal that the rise of the robots does not need to be fairly so ominous.
It is also telling what Kuri does not do. When requested how he’d describe Kuri’s persona, Mayfield Robotics CEO Mike Beebe mentioned “earnest, curious, and humble.” It is merely not in Kuri’s programming to get indignant, snarky, or spiteful. And when it got here to determining Kuri’s performance, there have been some options that Mayfield determined in opposition to together with because it would not jibe with Kuri’s persona.
It is somewhat too early to inform whether or not Kuri will assist spark a extra Jetsonian future. When you can pre-order Kuri with a deposit of $100, Mayfield Robotics does not count on they’re going to be prepared till the vacation season for 2017. It is also exhausting to evaluate simply how a lot customers shall be keen to pay for what, at this cut-off date, is first-adopter novelty know-how. But when robotic maids, nannies, and companions are in our future, then Kuri’s personality-first strategy is value emulating.