Mayfield Robotics, a Bosch start-up, is trying to make the home robot more personality-driven and lovable with the introduction of its Kuri robot today, a project that’s been in the works for nearly two years.
We’re all likely familiar with the home robots that hit the press circuit hard, like Pepper and Jibo. But we haven’t seen any of them break into mainstream use. At this point, the Amazon Echo and Google Home are our primary home robots. They play music on command, answer our bizarre questions, and turn our smart appliances on and off. Kuri differs from these prior robots because Mayfield stressed the importance of a personality during the design process, which comes through in Kuri’s expressive eyes and demeanor.
The voice-controlled robot is designed to do all sorts of things around the house, and unlike the Echo or Google Home, it’s on wheels. So yes, you can have a robot buddy follow you around while blasting Ludacris or whatever other music you like. At launch, however, the robot isn’t going to be natively compatible with any music streaming services, like Spotify or Apple Music, so instead, it’s going to act more like a Bluetooth speaker on wheels. Mayfield says it’s working on partnerships.
Kuri’s equipped with a laser array to help map a user’s house and has a 1080p camera behind its eyes for remote security check-ins, the feed of which can be accessed through its companion iOS / Android app. It controls smart home devices through IFTTT and knows to automatically return to its docking station when its battery is low.
Kuri also responds to touch if users, especially kids, don’t want or know how to use voice controls. “Hey Kuri” is its wake phrase, by the way. Like a family member, Kuri can recognize people with its built-in facial recognition software. The idea, Chris Matthews, the VP of marketing, tells me, is that when kids get home from school, Kuri will automatically send a text to their parents letting them know.
But Kuri’s most interesting feature is what the robot lacks: a screen.
“No screen is quite intentional,” Matthews says. If eyes ever stop being eyes and instead default back to a control page, that breaks character, he says. So to “maintain the suspension of disbelief,” Matthews and the rest of the 40-person team focused on personality that comes through without a screen.
“A home robot should feel like closer to a pet or companion than an iPad ever could,” he says.
I demoed Kuri yesterday and found that indeed, it’s irresistibly cute. It responded to its wake phrase and looked up at me when I brushed over its head. I drove Kuri around using manual app controls and played music over Bluetooth. It remembered where the kitchen was in our suite and navigated there while avoiding obstacles. I watched from its point-of-view through its app.
Although this is impressive for a robot, especially the navigational features, I left disappointed. The features that make Kuri special didn’t work. Mayfield sold me on its robot’s personality and the chance to interact with an electronic family member, but I couldn’t even issue voice commands and Kuri couldn’t respond with cute light-up reactions. Mayfield says everything will be functioning when it ships. I hope that ends up being the case.
Kuri could be a promising first release from Mayfield. Approaching robotics from a personality perspective is a novel idea, and possibly one that could make Kuri a tempting purchase. I’d be interested to see more from Mayfield when it’s further along on its Kuri release timeline. Preorders start in the US today with a $100 deposit; the bot will ultimately cost $699 when it ships toward the end of this year.