Although robots for home use have arrived, the price barrier made most unaffordable to most homes till recently. 2015 will see that change that forever. Three home robots are presented in this article – all below $ 8000. Two are new while one has already been on the market for sometime. Let's find out more about Jibo ($ 499), Pepper ($ 1930) & Nao Next Gen ($ 7990)!
Here are a few introductions and notes before I begin:
1. Artifical Intelligence (AI). AI explains to the ability of a machine to automatically learn about / from its environment eg a pre-programmed device with an in-built computer 'sees' you for the first time and stores your picture in its internal memory. It can not associate your pic with anything it knows, so it might ask 'Who are you?'. If you reply 'I'm Bravo', it will assign the name 'Bravo' to your pic. These details are stored permanently so that, at a later point of time, if it sees you again, it might say 'Hi, Bravo!', Because it 'knows' you by now. In a similar manner, as time goes by, it will 'learn' the names and attributes of all objects in its environment. Central to most robots are AI engines that help them to get acquainted with their operating environment (s). This is also true of Jibo, Pepper & Nao Next Gen, the three robots presented in this article.
2. Humanoid Robot. According to Wikipedia, Humanoid robots are robots that have the form of the human body with head, torso, arms, legs etc. Even partial resemblance with the human body is sufficient for a robot to be included in this category.
3. In most of this article, for brevity, 'Nao Next Gen' is referred to as plain 'Nao'. Nao is the name of a family of robots from Aldebaran Robotics of France. Nao Next Gen is a home version of Nao.
4. The masculine gender is associated with all three. Consequently, each of these robots is referred to as 'he'.
Scope: Jibo is a small robot, intended to be a friendly, low-cost home companion. He comes ready to do jobs such as assistant tasks, hands-free messaging, emotion-based connecting (based on cues like your movements, speech and facial expressions), interactive story-telling (aimed at kids) and companionship to cheer you up, when lonely. Jibo is not intended to replace human beings, nor is he capable of doing household chores like cooking, cleaning or washing.
Jibo is the brainchild of Cynthia Breazeal, MIT Media Lab Director, Personal Robots Group. He is 11 inches tall and weighs about 6 pounds. He has a head and torso, but neither arms nor legs. He can turn his head around by a full 360 degrees. Jibo is stationary and can not move by himself. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), he has the ability to 'learn' what his environment is committed of. When you begin to use him, he will first learn (and correlate) voices and faces of the people he comes across in your house. You can then assign one or more of his 'skills' to each family member based on need / suitability eg assign story-telling to your school-going son and reminding yourself of what's next on your to-do list. Whenever your son is within range, he will offer to tell him a story and if he's interested, he will tell him one. Similarly, when he makes out that you are close, he will remind you of your upcoming events / tasks, if any. He is interoperable with PCs, Android and iOS devices and comes ready to plug into your home Wi-Fi network. To keep Jibo growing and updated over time, its functionality is powered by modular 'apps' (applications). A Jibo SDK (Software Development Kit) makes it possible for third-party developers to develop Jibo apps. You are sure to find Jibo a lovable home companion!
Jibo is slated for release during 2015 Christmas. He is offered in white and black colors and priced at an eminently affordable $ 499 .
Scope: Pepper is designed to be a friendly home companion who can live in our homes, almost like a family member. He's a 'social' robot. What's special about him is his 'emotional' nature ie he can read human emotions and interact appropriately with us.
Pepper is a product of French firm Aldebaran Robotics (aldebaran.com), after Japan's telecom giant, SoftBank, acquired a major stake in Aldebaran in 2012. Pepper is designed to appeal primarily to the tastes of the highly robot-loving Japanese people. He is cute, friendly-looking, with big eyes and a small, inquiring, child-like voice. He is able to move. Pepper has to continuously look up when speaking to humans because he is just about 4 feet tall. He weighs 28Kg and is the most hefty among the three robots in this article. He is capable of hearing and executing voice commands. Pepper scores over Jibo & Nao by virtue of his being an 'emotional' humanoid robot. By 'emotional', I mean that he is sensitive to human emotions and will interact with us accordingly. He learns about his environment by means of his powerful AI engine; so that as time goes on, he will get to know you very well, your gadgets, tastes and so on. While learning, he also keeps updating himself with your chosen preferences so that when he has learned enough about you, you're sure to find him your most caring caring, amusing, knowledgeable, interesting and lovable companion – only next, maybe, to your pet dog! He comes with pre-installed 'knowledge' of the following human emotions: joy, surprise, anger, doubt & sadness. By analyzing your facial expressions, the words you speak and your body language, he makes out your mood and responds accordingly if you are looking sad, he may read you your favorite poem or play you your favorite song; and if you are laughing loudly, he might ask what makes you feel so happy, so that he can share in your happiness! Pepper is a 'social' robot, so you can expect him to say 'hello' even to strangers who pass by. He can connect to the Internet via Ethernet & Wi-Fi. A tablet computer is fitted to his chest, forming an alternate channel of communication with him. The tablet's screen also displays what is going on inside him. A highly noteworthy feature about Pepper is its powerful Li-ion battery, that provides for 12 hours of continuous operation before a recharge is required. He mans his own internal temperature and battery power.
Pepper will be available in SoftBank stores from February, 2015. At $ 1930, Pepper costs only as much as a high-end PC, though it is quite affordable to most homes. And he's definitely a much, much more delightful companion to have around than any PC or tablet!
Before you decide to buy, however, here's a list of things that he can / can not do, that you need to consider carefully:
CAN: Teach you a subject, give driving directions to a specific location, read a recipe aloud while you do the cooking, tell you jokes, play games with you, help you stay in touch with family & friends.
CAN NOT: Cook you a meal, fetch a drink, wash / fold clothes, wash dishes.
Note: Several important details about Pepper have either been obtained from or verified against Reference No. 1 (ie IEEE Spectrum Magazine, January 2015 issue), mentioned at the end of this article.
NAO NEXT GEN
Scope: A fully autonomous, friendly, programmable and advanced humanoid robot for use in the house and for companionship. Programmability makes Nao much superior to Jibo & Pepper because a home owner who is conversant with programming can extend / enhance / alter Nao's capabilities by customizing part of his functionality, adding new functions, creating new behaviors etc. – all these, right from home. Nao can do a few simple home tasks at present. In future, he is likely to grow more powerful and become capable of doing such long-awaited home tasks like cleaning, washing and cooking.
Nao, like Pepper, is a humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics (aldebaran.com). Launched in 2008, Nao first became a big hit in education all over the globe. At the time of writing this article, he is a favorite computer science teacher to students between primary school and university in over 70 countries. He has an array of mind-blowing accomplishments to his credit and continues to enjoy great success in academic institutions and industry. In early 2014, Aldebaran decided to delight the world by making this little high-tech marvel available to our homes. Like Jibo & Pepper, Nao also learns about his surroundings by means of AI. He's small and friendly-looking; 23 inches tall and weighs 4.3 Kg. He can move all limbs in his body, sit, stand and walk at different speeds avoiding collision. Nao can recognize us individually and converse with us. It can connect to the Internet using Ethernet & Wi-Fi. He can teach your child to write, fetch you a cup of coffee, entertain you by dancing in perfect synchronism with a group of other Naos, play a number of games etc. Nao is a 'beloved robot' to many in the academic community. He is responsible for significant research, teaching & training in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). He has performed in top tech shows and conferences all over the world alert high honors and accolades for himself. And there's lots & lots more to discover about Nao, if you're interested … Further, since he uses 'open source' software, he continues to evolve quickly as enthusiasts around the world are constantly writing / updating programs to make him more versatile, smart and useful! Nao's stellar success has earned him a place in the Robot Hall of Fame (robothalloffame.org), so, he's already part of history, now !!
Till recently, Aldebaran was not offering a home version of Nao due to restrictively high costs; but now, having decided to enter the home segment and at an offer price that's just half that of his illustrious (non-home) predecessors, Nao Next Gen (Nao's home version), is a dream come true to many.
At $ 7990, Nao certainly is not cheap, but if you're willing to stretch your budget a bit, he's within reach!
Let me quickly summarize these three robots before winding up:
JIBO: Friendly home companion. Less than a foot tall. Weighs about 6 pounds. Stationary. Can do the following: Assistant tasks, Hands-free messaging, Connecting based on emotional cues, Story-telling & Companionship. Connects to the Internet through Wi-Fi. Automatically updates itself. Offered in black and white colors. Ships in end-2015. Price – just $ 499.
PEPPER: Near family companion. Has the ability to make out human emotions and respond accordingly. Aims to be your closest, personal friend by learning everything he can about you and adapting himself continuously. Has no legs but can move (on wheels). Can provide directions to specific locations, give you various kinds of tips, tell jokes, play games & keep you connected with family & friends. Most useful feature is caring, emotional support. Automatically updates itself. Runs on a 12-hour Li-ion battery. Manages battery power and inner temperature by himself. Will be available shortly, starting February, 2015. Costs $ 1930.
NAO NEXT GEN: Intelligent family member and small home workhorse. Has the complete form of human beings. Can move all his limbs. Is autonomous and capable of hearing, talking & walking at different speeds (adaptive walking). Automatically avoids collision when walking. Can be programmed at home. Can teach you fairly complex topics, teach kids writing, fetch you a drink from your refrigerator, entertain & play challenging games with you. Keeps him up to date by himself. Comes from the family of world-renown and respected Nao robots, some of his predecessors already having entered the Robot Hall of fame (robothalloffame.org). Already on the market. Price – $ 7990.
1. Erico Guizzo, “A Robot in the Family,” IEEE Spectrum , January, 2015.