Inside the Silicon Valley office of Mayfield Robotics, Kuri looks up at me and squints as if in a smile. Then the robot rolls across the floor, emitting a few R2-D2-like beeps.
Mayfield Robotics, which spun out of the research branch of Bosch, built Kuri as the next step in home robotics. It joins an increasingly crowded field: joining smart-home devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are wheeled robots like Jibo, Pepper, and Buddy, ready to offer companionship and entertainment (see “Personal Robots: Artificial Friends with Limited Benefits”).
Kaijen Hsiao, CTO of Mayfield Robotics, says Kuri was built to focus on doing a few things very well, and its personality will be what sets it apart. The 20-inch-tall robot is essentially an Amazon Alexa on wheels, letting users play music or control their smart devices from anywhere in the home. It can also live-stream video of your home for surveillance purposes.
Kuri is currently available for pre-order for $699 and is expected to ship to buyers by the end of the year. Mayfield is beginning to manufacture the robot now but will spend the year fleshing out the software side.
While people are at home, Kuri’s mission is to provide entertainment, whether that’s playing music or a podcast or reading a story out loud. It can autonomously follow users from room to room as it performs these tasks. Through a website called IFTTT, users can also set up custom commands for specific actions.
Kuri promises to keep working for you when you’re not home, too. Behind one of Kuri’s eyes is a 1080p camera, and users can access a live stream from the Kuri app. The video function can be used to check on a pet or make sure no intruders are present. Microphones embedded in the robot can detect unusual sounds, prompting the robot to roll in that direction and investigate. Or users can remotely pilot the robot to a specific area. The company says Kuri has “hours of battery life” and drives itself to its dock when it needs to charge.
Mayfield built this robot to perform all these tasks with personality. Kuri comes across as lovable but simple, so there’s no reason to expect it to do more than simple jobs. “He talks robot. He talks in bleeps and bloops,” Hsiao says. “It makes him endearing, but it also sets expectations appropriately.”
But will that be enough to make people want Kuri? In 2017, there will be a range of home robots that use artificial personality, says Andra Keay, the founder of Robot Launchpad and managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics.
“However, I believe that there is going to be a limit to the number of personalities we will want to have in our houses,” Keay says. “So the race is on to create not just engagement but loyalty. That’s a real challenge.”