A True Helper & Buddy

What I Want from a Home Robot

It’s not lawn mowing, vacuuming, doing laundry, or cooking meals

The best home robot will turn out to be one that’s born in a factory and not in a home robot lab. —The guy from Comau

Condo living
I live in a condo and only like to look at nice lawns, not maintain them. There’s a truckload of Brazilian guys two days a week who do that stuff. One day a week a Cambodian lady comes to clean my condo; her friend does the laundry.

Why would I ever want to interact with a robot over chores? Other things matter so much more to me.

And I certainly don’t need a robot chef. I’m married to an Asian who loves to cook, so I get Thai dinners every evening. What crazy would ever mess with that? But like Bill Gates, I wash the dinner dishes by hand every evening. My hands in warm, soapy water making things clean has an odd soothing effect on my brain. So, I’m not completely useless around the house, just mostly so.

I wouldn’t give house room to a Roomba. I have friends who own two or three, and none of them are still working. I find it mind-boggling that the worldwide market for residential robot vacuum cleaners is expected to grow at a CAGR of roughly 18.6 percent over the next five years, will reach $7.9 billion in 2024, from $2.8 billion in 2019 —MarketWatch

Those are truly staggering numbers for something that cleans dust.

Well, at least that means there are lots of people happy with their robot vacuums, which also must mean that there are tens of thousands of jobs for people employed at building these vacs. All of which is good for both robotics and people, but not quite right for me.

My simple wish is for some sort of meaningful digital assistant—robot, tabletop smart device, or even a drone, to hang out with me, help organize my life, and save me money. A machine with something to say would be nice as well.

Is that so much to ask? There’s room in my home for some sort of AI-imbued, digital automaton that could make my busy life a lot better off; and I’ve got budget space as well to buy a home bot.  I’d rather have the machine wracking its circuitry to discover a nifty new way to pay down my college debt. Now that’s a chore with meaning, not dusty carpeting.

A true helper…and buddy
First off, my trusty digital assistant, what ever form it takes, could help me this evening to get through an unfortunate meeting with a life insurance salesman, who’s sitting in my living room in a suit holding a tablet on which I feel certain is a document that he’ll want me to sign.

In fact, his card says nothing about being a salesman. Rather, he’s a life event consultant. Salesman must be passé, and too much of a dead giveaway of the intended outcome. Too threatening. This guy is here to counsel and consult with me? Geez.

My wife shook her head, rolled her eyes at my stupidity for agreeing to the meetup, and then trotted off to another room to watch Thai TV movies.

This, I’m saying to myself, would be a perfect moment to introduce the insurance guy to my home robot…my smart home robot, at that.

A home robot with a non-mousey voice; an Alexa voice would do just fine. I just might let the sales guy pitch my robot, and maybe get his face scanned and analyzed at the same time. I’d hang out and watch the interaction as my robot taps into the cloud to compare and contrast every life insurance policy in the universe.

Of course, my robot would already have stalked the salesman through social media to give me a pre-meetup background check. LinkedIn might reveal that he’s the leader in his company’s million-dollar club, which would have prepared me for avoiding a spirited close. He, no doubt, has already done the same with my LinkedIn profile and is reasonably assured that he can sell me.

My wife’s eyes were right: I am stupid.

In the future, I’ll have every stranger coming to the condo first check in with and get screened by my robot. Plumber, electrician, police with a warrant, Jehovah Witnesses, no matter who, it’d be mandatory. My own live-in doorman! At the very least it would be good for record keeping.

The robot could help me thwart the insurance guy with something like: “Thanks for coming out, but I’ve got to talk this over with my robot ‘consultant’ before making any decision.” Phew!

Modern life is difficult…and needs help
I need a robot to fit my lifestyle and perform worthwhile tasks like browsing liquor store websites for the best wine deals, suggesting best buys to me, then ordering and having them delivered. Or, maybe do the same shopping for food each week, based upon the household inventory that the robot keeps watch over.

It could be my in-home tutor when I want to learn Mandarin, or anything else; or maybe watching TV together act as my go-to authority in pointing out fake news, “deepfakes”, and famous fakers; or my household guard dog when I’m away, enabling me to see through its eyes using my cell phone. All of which are so much more important to me than awkwardly scrambling eggs or trimming crab grass. I want my home robot to do things that matter.

I’m waiting for a robot that will read aloud to me with my choice of book and my choice of actor’s voice. How about dialing in the Journals of Lewis and Clark and then dialing in the voice of Orson Wells to do the reading, with the passages about Sacagawea read by Lauren Bacall, even though both Wells and Bacall are long dead? With technology anything is possible. Awesome, right? Or, for a bit of humor, Mad Magazine read by Ronald Reagan?

Practical and fun is how I want my home robot.

The guy from Comau
I once met a guy from Comau who predicted that the best home robot will turn out to be one that’s born in a factory and not in a home robot lab. Thousands of hours of working with humans will be the difference maker, he said. Hmmm.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why I like Moxi, the hospital helper robot from Diligent Robotics. I think that a Moxi-type robot has a chance with me and my condo. It doesn’t have all the do-dads that I’m looking for in a home robot, but it’s a fair start.

Moxi from Diligent Robotics

Moxi is a “carebot” or AI-enabled go-fer that’s being trialed at hospitals in Texas. It’s supposed to help relieve the 30 percent of a nurse’s workload that is not involved with direct patient care.

The most outstanding feature for me is Moxi’s design. Industrial designer, Carla Diana, has done an artful job that could fit in well with my décor and lifestyle. Moxi is attractive. However, its natural language ability is very limited as well as its intelligence, but it navigates well and can perform lots of go-fer jobs on its own.

It sports a very cool looking Kinova arm (a Jaco) with a Robotiq gripper, and the robot’s torso sits atop a mobile base from Fetch Robotics that telescopes, so the gear engineered into Moxi is top-notch stuff. It’s complement of sensors is superb as well.

Okay, Moxi is not very talkative or very smart, but it has possibilities. Maybe like the guy from Comau predicted, the best home robot will usher up from a factory (or hospital), and not from a dedicated home robot laboratory.

Got to admit that much of what the home robot labs are putting out look way too juvenile, and even the smartest have irritatingly kid-like voices. SoftBank’s Pepper is one of the most annoying.

Maybe washing industrial robotics through a home robot lab might produce a hybrid that I could call a friend and confidant. I’d definitely pay for such a home robot.

The possibilities seem endless, so too the market potential.

In January of 2019, Frost & Sullivan forecast home robots to be a $18.85 billion opportunity by 2020. The Asian market for these robots, says the report “will explode with China emerging as one of the major countries expected to provide innovative, low-cost autonomous mobile robots in the next few years.”

That sounds like incentive enough to get a Moxi-like clone into my living room.

Here’s hoping.