Where is my home robot?

The possibility of owning a useful home robot was my ultimate aim when I began this blog back in March 2014. I am no expert by any means, just an interested watcher, and in my opinion, I am no closer, five years on, to my dream of owning a robot like “Andrew” from the film Bicentennial Man, where he was played by the late Robin Williams. Bicentennial Man was based on a short story by Isaac Asimov.

 

If I only had a brain

What would Asimov make of the state of intelligent robots today? Who is going to invent the much needed “Positronic Brain”¹ that Mr Asimov first described in his robot stories from 1939. Eighty years on we still do not have anything like a home robot that can think for itself and also has a strong moral compass.

You may gather that I am rather disillusioned by this situation. Perhaps that explains why I have not felt the need to write regular posts for this blog? I think Asimov would be disillusioned too. Admittedly there are some amazing industrial robots, but they can’t go out and cut the grass, or paint the outside of their factories. They are still limited to the one operation that they were taught to do.

My Mum with her radiogram in 1967

Much the same applies to today’s so called home robots. I can go out and buy a robot vacuum cleaner, but it won’t fold the laundry for me … that is another robot under development. I can buy a robot to cut the grass, but that is all it will do … it won’t dig the garden or trim the rose bushes. I wrote about this situation here in October 2014², and it is still the same now. Thank goodness most of us have moved away from hi-fi separates. My laptop has the potential to do everything that my hi-fi stack system did, apart from playing cassette tapes or vinyl, and as far as I’m concerned, the resurgence in interest in those antiquated sound recording devices is mere nostalgia. I can still remember my Mum shouting at us when we were playing a little too energetically in the lounge near her record player, “mind my stylus” would ring out from the kitchen. One jump of the playing arm could completely ruin a record.

 

Dead robots

There have been three “deaths” of home robots in recent times. One big casualty was Jibo. However, now that I look back at the website, it seems rather obvious. With a price tag of $899, and a list of functions that seem to be so similar to Amazon’s Alexa that one is like a clone of the other, it is hardly surprising. I paid half price in a sale (£25) for my Echo Dot with Alexa.

The other two casualties have been Kuri from Mayfield Robotics, and Cozmo from Anki³. It is sad, and not a good sign for getting potential investors in a similar project, but those things are just not “proper” robots by my way of thinking. OK, I know it has to start somewhere, but really, a home robot must have legs, and must be able to move around the house on surfaces that include carpets … so that probably rules out a lot of robots, like Pepper, which have wheels or balls in their base.

Price is obviously going to be something that will put a lot of potential buyers off. But why not rent a robot, with the added bonus of free updates and maintenance? I believe Pepper is available in some countries with this rental payment system.

 

Will Vesta have legs?

My only hope at the moment would seem to be Amazon. My £25 Echo Dot is quite a bargain, and I already pay extra for Amazon Music so that is an added bonus for me. I can’t remember the last time I bought a music CD. Last year I wrote about Amazon’s new project which is supposedly for a moving home robot named Vesta4. A quick Google search only came up with results from April last year. Are Amazon still working on their robot? An Amazon search just found Vesta Beef Curry, Vesta Paella and albums by Vesta Williams, so, sadly, I am no wiser.

 

Update (12 May 2019)

Today I visited the Anki website. There is a sad pop-up notice on the home page (image right) which states that the company is no longer manufacturing robots. They are still available to purchase on Amazon, and apparently there is still support available.

 

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positronic_brain

(2) https://newrobotclub.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/robots-in-the-home/

Vector

(3) I see that Anki is still available for sale on Amazon UK for £154.99 although it is not on the manufacturer’s website. The company is now promoting Vector, and that robot is also available from Amazon UK, price £249.99. These seem to be merely expensive toys.

(4) https://newrobotclub.wordpress.com/2018/09/30/what-do-i-know-about-vesta/

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So, what do I know about Vesta?

Is this a new convenience food?

I have to confess that the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the word “Vesta” is a kind of dried instant Paella. But having researched the word on Wikipedia, I’ve found that Vesta, in Roman religion, was the goddess of the hearth, home and family.

If you haven’t heard the rumours, I’d better explain that Vesta is apparently the code name of a special project that Amazon is working on to produce a home robot.

Before you say, “what about Alexa?”, well Alexa, though certainly robotic and also very helpful, does not move. Vesta, apparently, will move around your home.

Oh no, stairs!

All the so-called home robots I have seen so far either move a little on wheels (and do not like thick pile carpets), or they just swivel their camera eyes to look about, without moving their bodies. And none of the robots, rather like the Daleks, are able to climb stairs (as shown in this famous Punch cartoon).

Vesta, take me to bed!

Will Vesta be able to take me up to bed? I hasten to add that I am not suggesting Vesta will be a sex robot! I’m thinking of the day when I am older and even more feeble, and in need of a little help to get upstairs. Rather than buying a stairlift, I would like a robot friend to assist me (I don’t want my wife to put her back out!).

There was a flurry of reports, or rather rumours, about Amazon’s project in April this year, but since that time I have seen very little. One site back in April suggested that perhaps Amazon were trying to create something like Rosie from the Jetsons. Perhaps that will come eventually, but I have to say that I am rather concerned that Vesta will just be a slightly mobile version of Alexa, and not much taller than Alexa either.

And then there are the obvious worries about privacy. Will Vesta have eyes, and will her vision be interpreted at Amazon HQ?

Email message from Amazon: Dear Vesta owner, we have noticed that the paint in the small bedroom at the front of your home is in need of refreshing. Did you know that we have an offer on two litre cans of Dulux this month? Just ask Vesta to order you some today and it will be with you before 8pm tomorrow.

Hopefully Vesta will have on-board interpretation software and will only report back to Amazon for software upgrades . . . and to place your inevitable orders for products!

OK Amazon, I volunteer!

Another story in April was that Amazon would be looking for volunteers to “test drive” Vesta . . . well, if they happen to read this little blog, I would be more than happy to give Vesta a spin in my home and will report my findings on here. I’m not holding my breath, and I don’t need to be carried upstairs, well not just yet anyway.

Garco the robot

A recent auction lot on eBay prompted me to carry out a little research. The photograph (right) shows Walt Disney with Garco the robot in a publicity still for the Disney TV programme  “Mars and Beyond” which aired on 4th December, 1957.

Garco appears to have been remotely controlled and not totally independent, but, for the time, was very advanced. The suggested uses he could be put to, in the vintage YouTube video (linked below), from the American television programme “Science Fiction Theatre” were:
• Handle dangerous chemicals, or
• Radioactive isotopes, too hot for the ordinary man, or
• Touch live wires without ever getting hurt

The programme’s presenter, Truman Bradley, goes on to say that, “some day soon, we’ll have an automatic man around the house, to mow the lawn, dry the dishes, drive the car, and babysit when we go out. That’s for tomorrow, or the day after, but tomorrow may come soon.”

Sadly, at the present time (sixty years on) I am still waiting for this automatic man to work in my home. I think it will have to be the day after tomorrow!

Read more here.