6 reasons Amazon should not build a robot

We don’t need an AlexaBot, do we?

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People don’t get it

I’ve been covering robotics since around the turn of the century when two diametrically-opposed but equally awesome consumer robots arrived on the scene. The first consumer Sony AIBO robot (at the time, Sony refused to admit it was a dog) and iRobot’s Roomba Robot Vacuum. While both robots, AIBO and Roomba could not have been more different. AIBO cost approximately $2,000, while Roomba listed for $199. AIBO had multiple servo motors, sensors, a little bit of AI, and learning capabilities. It responded to voice commands and played with you. Roomba’s motors, sensors, and algorithms were all devoted to cleaning your floors and rugs. It couldn’t hear a word you said, but at least it had a remote control.

A good robot will bore

The grin on Jeff Bezo’s face as he walked beside Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini is all you need to know about the kind of robot Bezo’s wants to build. And when he wore that robot suit, Bezos was positively giddy. Amazon will try to build a robot that inspires with lifelike movement and responses. As I said, AIBO had all of that, but the workman-like Roomba won the day.

An animated Echo isn’t such a good idea

Anyone who owns an Amazon Echo can share a story about the time Alexa responded to the TV, unprompted added poultry to your shopping list, or started laughing maniacally. What makes Amazon think people want a mobile Echo following them around the house, anxiously waiting for you to acknowledge it or say its name? The instances of Alexa interjecting when you don’t expect or want it to could increase tenfold.

A great robot will be too expensive

When it comes to what kind of robot to build, Amazon has a lot of options. Wheeled or treaded robots would navigate a one-story home with ease. Quadrupeds, like Bezo’s favorite robot dog, could handle stairs and bi-pedals could walk alongside of us. Each of these choices will have a direct impact on how much the Amazon robots costs. The more sophisticated the ambulation, the more you’ll pay. If Amazon wants to sell a sub-$200 AlexaBot, it must build a smart home companion with mobility equal to what you’d find in a mid-priced iRobot Roomba. It’ll have wheels, be able to roll around and under most tables and furniture and avoid objects with visual and bump sensors. It’ll be an affordable, utility robot. Not exciting, but not too expensive. Tell me again why we need this?

Most people don’t want or need robots

Few of us knew we wanted or needed an Echo until we got one. The main benefit of it is, obviously, Alexa, the first, successful, in-home voice assistant. Sure, Siri on our iPhone’s primed the pump, but it was Alexa that opened the voice assistant floodgates. Could Amazon’s AlexaBot (or EchoBot)do the same thing for home robots?

Buy not build

Amazon should not build its own robot. It should buy an existing robot company and integrate Alexa technology. Two that come instantly to mind are the aforementioned Jibo and Kuri.

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.

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