ALEXA, GOOGLE ASSISTANT MAY BE COMING TO ROBOTS: Leading tech companies including Amazon, Alphabet, and Huawei may be looking to develop robots for the consumer space, reports Bloomberg. The companies’ robotics efforts could lead to products coming to market as early as 2020, but rather than focusing on novelty, these robots will likely serve as extensions of AI and voice strategies. Amazon and Alphabet in particular appear poised to bring together their robotics efforts with their smart speaker voice assistant platforms.
Here’s what these major tech companies are doing in robotics development:
- Amazon is reportedly investing significant manpower and resources to develop a robot to complement its Echo smart speakers. The robot program, dubbed Project Vesta, is focused on building a robot that can trail consumers throughout their homes. The robot would essentially act like a mobile Echo smart speaker and use technology that Amazon already utilizes in its Kiva warehouse robots to follow the consumer around. It could be released by 2020. Amazon is investigating designs for a robot that can follow a person up a flight of stairs, and is looking to introduce tasks like item retrieval in later versions, according to Bloomberg. This is another branch of Amazon’s “Alexa everywhere” strategy, but with the potential to offer more utility in the future.
- Alphabet’s robot plans appear to be less concrete. The company acquired numerous robotics firms in 2013, most notably Boston Dynamics, though it subsequently sold that asset to SoftBank. Most of its current robotics development efforts are housed within X, one of the Google parent’s research companies, and are operating on longer development time frames, so the company hasn’t decided whether to focus on the consumer market, the commercial market, or both. The robotics technologies that it’s developing, in concert with its Google Assistant voice platform, could combine to create robots that would augment is Home line of smart speakers and give users another, easier way to search and use other voice services.
- Huawei’s robot ambitions seem more limited. The Chinese company is apparently working on robot projects to help teach children English as well as to provide Mandarin-to-English translations in real time. It has multiple teams working on robotics programs, but hasn’t committed and could apparently still abandon the project without bringing anything to market.
These programs are looking to develop robots with specific purposes in mind and to pair AI with a physical platform. One major pitfall in the consumer robotics market that has scuttled numerous ventures has been a lack of clear utility for the consumer, which has resulted in robots being novelty devices rather than useful ones. For Amazon and others to succeed in the space, they’ll need to overcome limited consumer interested as well as an unwillingness to spend as much as these products will likely need to cost. The most successful consumer robots have been those with a clear purpose, such as iRobot’s Roomba line of robotic vacuum cleaners.