Kuri's Blog
Robotics
11/14/2017

What Is a Home Robot?

Our homes are getting smarter by the minute. Thermostats, light bulbs, and even garbage cans are connecting to the internet and vastly improving the capabilities of our living spaces. So, it might come as no surprise that robots are joining the picture as the next big step towards a connected living space. But, what exactly is a home robot?

“Robot” is a broad category of machines that automatically perform complex tasks. Most of today’s robots are industrial machines used in factories. For example, you’re probably familiar with the robotic arms that assemble cars. However, these robots aren’t particularly “homey”. To successfully integrate into our living spaces, home robots need to connect with us on a personal, joyful level.

Robots in Pop Culture

To understand what makes a robot likable, we can examine the beloved robots of fiction. The term ‘robot’ comes from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning forced labor. The term was coined in the K. Čapek’s 1920 play Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R.). But the imaginative concept of robots originated much earlier with stories of golden statues coming to life, iron men that dispense justice, and mechanical men powered by steam.

Richard Sargent's post of robots in pop culture
Richard Sargent (Hopewell Studios)

Today’s enthusiasts grew up with fictional robots like The Jetsons’ Rosie, Star Wars’ R2-D2, and Disney’s WALL-E. These robots are both functional and personable — the exact makings of a great home robot.

The Emergence of Home Robotics

It’s important to remember that home robotics is an emerging industry. Almost every American household owns at least one smartphone, whereas robots are still a relatively exotic idea. As with any cool new piece of technology, consumers must trust the technology will improve their lives, and find the product is affordable based on its promised functionalities.

Just like The Jetsons’ Rosie, home robots are meant to be joyful and helpful. As this industry emerges, this could mean a variety of things: playing music, controlling appliances, entertaining kids — the sky’s the limit! As households increasingly trust this emerging technology, and as its developers create robots that can increasingly solve real-world problems that make people’s lives easier, home robotics will continue to grow and improve.

Our Vision for Home Robots

At Mayfield Robotics (the company that created Kuri), we make home robots that are joyful, useful, and inspiring. Kuri’s crew was founded in 2015 by Kaijen Hsiao (CTO), Sarah Osentoski (COO), and Mike Beebe (CEO).

Kuri home robot prototypes
Kuri prototypes

From the start, nobody knew what robotics in the home would be. Would home robots be for utility, entertainment, or a bit of both? Our team set out to answer this question under the guiding principle that home robotics should elicit a sense of magic and wonder. As our CEO put it, “When you see something that you thought was just science fiction actually work in your home, and become a part of your daily life, you start to think that anything’s possible. That’s why we do what we do.”

Home Robots of the Future

When Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, he probably never fathomed his technology being so widespread that astronauts would be able to see lights on Earth from space. Similarly, home robotics is still in its early infancy, so nobody can predict how big of a part of our lives robots will become. Home robots that cook your meals and fold your laundry might be on the horizon, with Kuri being only the beginning.

That being said, our team doesn’t see home robots taking over the world. Every roboticist is familiar with the science fiction author, Isaac Asimov’s, Three Laws of Robotics:

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

We believe home robots are here to add unique personalities to our home -— whether it be for entertainment, utility, or a little bit of both. As the science, technology, and connectivity continue to improve, every generation of robots will be smarter than the last. We believe home robots are one step toward that more intelligent, helpful (and maybe even joyful) future.

Sketch of Kuri with a friend
Sketch by Michael Voigt

2 comments

  1. Is it possible that Kuri is “too cute?”

    People have pets. Some people are cat people and some are dog people. Some dog families adopt toy poodles and some adopt Labrador Retrievers.

    We have both in our home, for example. Little girls love the toy poodle. Everyone else loves the Lab.

    IMHO, the R2D2-like chirps amplify the cute affect. Google Home, Echo, even Siri actually speak. I’m wondering why you chose not to have Kuri speak.

    Anyway,… I love the concept. This incarnation of the product is too cute for my taste, but best of luck to you!

    Bob

    • Hi Bob – Great observation. We actually have another blog post discussing Kuri’s “cuteness” here on Kuri’s home awareness capabilities that I definitely recommend checking out: https://blog.heykuri.com/cute-guard-dog/

      To answer your second question, we chose not to have Kuri speak for a number of reasons. First, we wanted to create a home robot that brought joy to your day-to-day. Part of that meant reducing “friction” moments like Kuri not responding to a conversation in the way a human would. We’ve all been there when a voice AI didn’t hear us correctly, and that can be really frustrating for households. Given that Kuri was designed for households of all ages, we wanted a 4-year-old and a 90-year-old to have the same, seamless experience communicating with Kuri that’d bring smiles to their faces. That’s why Kuri “speaks” through audible ‘beeps’ and ‘boops’ and light displays – similar to R2-D2 from Star Wars. That way, you can give Kuri commands and have an adorable way to ensure it was acknowledged. Plus, you can play music, podcasts, and audiobooks using Kuri’s speakers in any language you prefer – so she does speak English (or any other language) in that sense. 😉

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