As seen at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show and now hitting shelves in time for the holidays, the personal robot market is just getting started. However, the startups in that space are working to differentiate their products and create useful robots.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Yossi Wolf, CEO of Roboteam Home USA Inc., to discuss the recent emergence of his company from “stealth mode” and to learn more about its new t?mi personal robot.
Wolf was previously co-founder and vice president of engineering at Robo-Team Ltd., which has grown over the past nine years to become one of the most successful providers of tactical ground robots.
Roboteam currently sells more than $100 million annually in product to some of the world’s largest armed forces and police departments. At Roboteam, Wolf said he learned several key principles in successful robot design:
- The robot must have a clear benefit to the user.
- The robot must be reliable.
- The robot must be affordable.
In his new venture with Roboteam Home, Wolf said he wanted to address a “larger ocean” and that he wanted to innovate by “starting with a clean sheet of paper.”
Inspiration came during a visit with his grandmother three years ago. Wolf realized the opportunity to design and build a new type of personal robot while observing her. Her hands were too shaky to serve a cup of tea, and she couldn’t use a smartphone to see pictures of her great-grandkids.
Yossi’s grandmother asked him, “Can you give me a robot that can serve tea?” The solution would have to be so simple that his grandmother or his 3-year-old could use it.
To be affordable, the personal robot would also have to cost less than a MacBook Pro. With these initial design constraints, Wolf embarked on a vision to design a new generation of home robotics.
“A home robot is not a toy, it’s not your friend, it’s not entertainment,” Wolf said. “It has to assist you in your everyday tasks to be useful.”
Walking robots are currently too expensive and unreliable and wouldn’t achieve the desired price point. Thus Wolf designed the new t?mi robot using all of his experience from Roboteam.
What is temi?
Temi is shooting for a consumer market beyond just simple telepresence applications. It’s trying to provide more functionality than the current lineup of social robots which includes Jibo, Mayfield Robotics‘ Kuri, Bosch’s Mykie, LG’s Hub, and Blue Frog Robotics’ Buddy.
Of these personal robots, only Kuri, Jibo, and Buddy are currently available for purchase. The social robot market is still new, and it’s not clear whether the first products on sale will become the market leaders.
Among these social robots, Buddy and Kuri are the only two devices that are mobile. The rest of them sit planted on a table or another surface and interact with users through a variety of on-screen animation plus some basic movement of their “heads.” Most of these personal robots lack arms and grippers.
IoT coming home
“Gartner analysis predicts that there will be 8.4 billion Internet-connected devices — collectively making up the Internet of Things — by the end of 2017,” notes Singularity Hub. “5.2 billion of those devices are in the consumer category. By the end of 2020, the number of IoT devices will rise to 12.8 billion — and that is just in the consumer category.”
Temi overlaps the functionality of these robots, but it does this without a humanoid appearance and at a much more affordable price point.
Wolf said that temi is a truly personal robot, able to follow the user and navigate autonomously in its environment. It can intuitively understand obvious directional commands like “Go to the kitchen,” “Come here,” or “Take this to Mike,” he said.
The home smart-device market is currently dominated by devices as such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, Sonos One and the soon-to-be-released Apple HomePod. These devices are little more than glorified stationary speakers compared to temi, Wolf claimed.
While they can all hear a person’s commands from across the room, t?mi actually follows the user from room to room. Therefore, one doesn’t need to buy a smart speaker for each room with t?mi.
“The game-changer is that t?mi is mobile,” said Wolf. “It’s a really new experience of consuming technology.”
Another innovative feature is t?mi’s face-following capability of t?mi, which makes video calls more natural, he said.
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Temi challenges the personal robot market
Temi currently includes several skills for Amazon Alexa, which enable it to do everything the Amazon Echo can do. Roboteam plans to support an app store and an open API for developers to extend its capabilities.
As the home automation and IOT world expands, so will t?mi’s capabilities. The t?mi early adopter program is currently open.