Pierre Lebeau, a former project manager for Google based in Paris, was riding on his bike when the eureka moment struck. "I thought, what if I had a robot that could move around my house and turn any room into the home entertainment system." He went to bed that night with his brain humming. "I woke up at 3AM and wrote a 10-page proposal and since then I’ve been working to execute on it."
"It's not a robot that mimics some human behavior."
Lebeau’s project is called Keecker, an egg-shaped device that scoots around your house and uses a built-in projector and speaker array to turn any wall into a wide screen for displaying your movies, games, or digital art. The company is launching a Kickstarter today that will offer the first units to backers. Keecker looks and feels like a robot, but Lebeau doesn’t like to use that word. "It’s not a robot that mimics some human behavior, like cooking or cleaning. I think of it as a mobile, communal computer for the home."
According to Lebeau, when you first bring Keecker into your house it begins moving around, using a 360-degree camera atop its ovoid head to map out the floor space. Once that map is complete, you can name each room, then direct Keecker to travel there with the tap of a button. (The prototype unit we saw could only move under our control.) Lebeau was inspired by cleaning bots like the Roomba, in that he specifically did not want Keecker to be that dumb. "Everytime I see a Roomba banging into walls I just want to kick it. They are so stupid! They could have made it smart but it increased the price and didn't make much of a difference in the quality of cleaning. I told my engineers, this exactly what I don't want."
Replacing the babysitter,or at least keeping an eye on him
Along with its function as a portable projector and stereo, Keecker can use its camera and an array of sensors to function as a roving security system. If you're out of the house it can be set to detect motion and monitor temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels. Potentially it could replace your babysitter, or at least allow you to easily keep an eye on her from the comfort of your smartphone. Keecker also has a microphone, allowing it to act as hub for video calls or receive voice commands. Pair it with your phone using Bluetooth and Leabeau says it will follow you around during a call.
Keecker runs on Android and is powered by the same kind of quadcore mobile chip that you would find in a standard smartphone. That means it can work with any app you download from the Play Store, although right now it often has trouble keeping the native interface for these apps working, forcing you to use an awkward mouse-like cursor to navigate inside an app. The company is releasing an SDK and API and Lebeau hopes that developers will design native apps for the home that take advantage of Keecker’s hardware.
All that is putting the cart before the horse, however, as the consumer-grade units haven’t been released yet. The prototype unit we saw was a lot of fun and performed a number of cool tricks, although the hardware and software were definitely not quite ready for prime time yet. It worked well enough on a flat surface, but struggled with carpets and ledges. With its Kickstarter, the company is looking to raise $100,00 and find some brave early adopters with the promise of consumer-grade units starting in April of next year.
A little sci-fi feel for you living space
It’s hard to imagine a mass market for Keecker, especially at the $3,000 to $4000 price point Lebeau is currently planning. They definitely need to come up with a better descriptor than "home pod." But what’s appealing about the device isn’t affordable utility, but how quirky and unique it is. Keecker is a stab at the futuristic robot butler we’ve all dreamed of having, a smart servant that makes your living space feel genuinely sci-fi.