Robots, robots at CES: ElliQ, Sophia the ‘humanoid’, companions, pets, butlers, maids…and at a supermarket near you?

click to enlargeCES as usual was a Robot Showcase, though without the presence of our recent Spotlight Robot Kompaï.  One of our other Spotlighters, Intuition Robotics‘ ElliQ companion robot, won the CES Best of Innovation Award in the Smart Home category (release).

click to enlargeMuch press went to Hanson Robotics’ Sophia, a Frubber-skinned humanoid robot from Hong Kong. It (She?) sees through cameras and sensors, through them recognizes speech and facial expressions, responds through natural language processing, and has a motion control system. It started walking on its own at CES courtesy of DRC-HUBO-developed legs. Its creator David Hanson, backed by Disney (Animatronics!) looks forward to an adult-level of general intelligence via AI development for future uses such as customer service, caring for children or older adults, or therapy. It has the ‘uncanny valley’ problem of verging on lifelike. The BBC interviewed Sophia at CES. (No, they didn’t sign her to be a presenter.) SFGate. The AI crowd in Silicon Valley and Facebook’s AI head with the interesting name of Yann LeCun performed a Two-Minute Hate about her to a rather partisan writer in The Verge. (Not Invented Here Syndrome? Perhaps they’re just envious.)

click to enlargeMost of CES’ robots were a Parade of Cute and When Not Cute, Wistful. Or Not Working. Sony’s brought back the Aibo robot dog out of its 2006 retirement with the ERS 1000, which lacks only a non-shed coat to be puppy-like. According to the WSJ, $1,700 will make Aibo your companion–and it doesn’t need food or walking. Blue Frog Robotics’ Buddy is a family companion, control point for connected homes, and security monitor. You might trip over it and the $1,500 cost. More in the utility line is Ubtech Robotics’ Walker which, unlike the Walker of ‘Point Blank’, isn’t looking for his $93,000 but will walk point around your house for security, connect you to your home controls, and ‘butler’ your appointments, emails, and video calls. The maid’s duties will be done by the Aeolus Robot, which will sweep, pick up and put away your things, and also do some assistant work. Honda’s 3E robots are Transformer-like for more commercial duties like assistants, smart scooters, and carriers. A more here-and-now robot addressing a major need is another robotic glove for those with hand or mobility restrictions, the leather glove-like NeoMano.

click to enlargeNot every robot was on their best behavior. Going on the fritz were LG’s CLOi smart home controller–on stage, no less. YYD’s latest robot, not only a home assistant but also a health status/chronic disease monitor, died into screen code in front of a BBC reporter. One of Softbank’s Pepper robots (left) was so overwhelmed by the excitement of CES that it fainted. Perhaps time to return to the calm of the Ostend, Belgium hospital? [TTA 21 June 16] Wired UK, South China Morning Post, CNet

Back in the Real World. Welcomed into Scottish supermarket chain Margiotta was ‘ShopBot’, dubbed Fabio. In an experiment run by Heriot-Watt University for the BBC’s Six Robots & Us (UK viewers only), Fabio was programmed with directions to hundreds of items in the store. It had an abundance of cute. Customers initially liked Fabio. Unfortunately, its conversational quality and conveyance of information were sorely lacking. For instance, Fabio told customers to go to the ‘alcohol section’ when they wanted beer. (Now if they wanted Scotch….) On top of it, its mobility was limited, and the disability laws don’t apply. So the Margiottas sacked Fabio, with regrets but no severance, after one week on the job. Oh. Telegraph (paywalled), Yahoo News UK

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