The Evolution of Robotics

Kevin Lessy
Nov 28, 2017 · 6 min read

Working at a company that works with many partners, I’m lucky enough to be able to see many different ways we can connect things together to improve our homes with the Internet Of Things. August makes smart locks that are the first to be able to communicate to all the virtual assistants, from Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. This reminds me of the emerging robotic companies that are coming to homes today.

Growing up, I’ve been an enthusiast of technology and robotics. It all started when I had the fascination with the Sony Aibo (Artificial Intelligent Robotics) robotic dogs. I was allergic to my own dogs and had to give them away. One way led to another, my dad showed me these robotic dogs from a magazine page.

It could sit, respond to touch sensors, connected to the internet, take pictures with its camera, play skateboard, soccer, self-charge and more. It’s a piece of art that imitated real pets, but more. I found it so fascinating that all of this facade of a pet, was built with intricate detail with gears, motors, chips, sensors and mechanical design. Each wire was tightly and neatly put together to form a synchronized movement to create the illusion of life; even though it is ultimately gear and motors.

Looking back, there is one thing that I noticed made a huge difference. The internet. Back in the early 2000s, no cloud computing existed and no artificial assistants existed. The cloud made a huge difference.

A piece of hardware acted like the physical shelter to a coded software that controls it. But the difference between now and say, 15 years ago, was the software containment system.

It is interesting to me, that I had to write this down and share with you, that back then, our mindset of putting the brain and software of a robot or some machine had to be contained in memory sticks, floppy disks, or CD-roms. Just like how iTunes used to come in CDs and now it’s a free download each time you update through the internet.

Back then, a software upgrade was offered as a service that you had to pay, and in the case of the Sony Aibo, it was offered for $120 or more for each software mode and upgrade.

Sony recently released the new and improved Aibo, with a smoother, better, and faster motor and gears, but what’s interesting (with the popularity and acceptance of Virtual Assistants) is that they use the cloud computing now, which means, the hardware acts like a shell, and that the brain can always be upgraded OTA.

I would like to think Siri played a huge role, in bringing virtual assistants to the market. It changed everything in terms of how we see Artificial Intelligence and its existence today. It’s in our phones, separate devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home (and even more now). These assistants gradually gather data from its users, and what’s smart about it is that it keeps updating behind the scenes and learn about you and your habits.

Then the robot companies emerge from here and there, such as Jibo, Pepper, Nao, Kuri, Temi, Cozmo, Buddy and more. The problem with consumer robotics back then, was that they were expensive due to the manufacturing, software development and research. Now with the cloud based intelligence, those costs are brought down and it gives more of appeal to the mass consumers.

Back in the early 2000s, robotics were a novelty, a collectible, and something futuristic. Today, it is mearly a hardware that acts as a complement to the software. Our thinking is now software first, hardware later kind of mindset; which is the opposite around of what was then.

In the foreseeable future, I will expect more robotics to arrive to homes, and that they act like these virtual assistants we know and love, but with a hardware twist that tries to make them stand out from the crowd, usually from its cuteness, animation, interaction, and its capabilities that benefit you to do things. New upgrades are merely a tap away.

Now, advanced robotics are advancing as fast as ever as well. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, Honda’s Asimo wowed the crowd with its capability to walk on its own and climb the stairs. But now, if you see Boston Dynamics, they are super realistic in its movements and have a impeccable balance. Its Youtube videos continue to reach the top trending videos each time they release a new one.

There is also another thing that I wanted to point out, that the way people perceive robotics here in the United States, is that they will “take over jobs” and will make a huge impact on the amount of jobs available for the amount of population in the country. However on the contrary, Japan, where robots are embraced and known for uniquely believe that there are spirits in each man-made item, believe that these robots have spirits in them and that they respect for these robots.

This affects how robots are progressing. There are way more advanced developments in Japan in my opinion, in terms of hardware, since they are good at that. However the progress that these robots make in the United States are growing, with in mind that their brain is in the cloud. Cost to maintain this is like the mindset Steve Jobs had with the iPhone; where you can do so much with software in a hardware shell that gives you an all touch screen device instead of physical keyboard where each function of different apps are constrained with the physical device sent to the customer.

Having a basic physical hardware that will improve over time with software is easy to improve, and affordable for both the consumer and the seller. This creates an opportunity for the robotic companies to emerge.

That’s the case with Jibo, which after 3 years from its Indiegogo campaign finally went to the public’s hands. 3 years of development took long for a start up like this, but it made its robot affordable compared to how robot companies do it back in the early 2000s.

With the power of internet, its computational feedback, voice inputs, and connection to third party accessories like lights are smart, and easy to maintain. In today’s robots, cameras are quite basic and that they are usually utilized to monitor the home or take ocassional picture and video of you, your family and friends.

Just like the Internet Of Things, robots can now act like an indoor camera. They can sometimes act like a walking video call telepresence robot too. Things that we know today in the IOT world are easily made possible in today’s robotics.

But what’s next? What can robots do in the next future that the virtual assistants can’t? Can cuteness and personality sell? I don’t know, but I personally am not sure if I want to spend an amount of money on something that rolls around like a Roomba and act cute.

The way I see it, is that if these robots have a personality, attentive, cute, capable and act more natural than that of an assistant, it would be the selling point. All customers want is the benefits of these products and how it affect their daily lives. That could be as little as learning your behavior patterns and knowing what you like and don’t like. Privacy concern aside, something that feels like a “friend” or an “assistant” that truly understands you, will most likely sell. Otherwise, there’s no point for its existence.

Well, with that in mind. I hope you enjoyed my quick analysis and thoughts on the progress of robotics, that I felt that it should be recognized, and that we should be able to see more robots coming to your home.

Kevin Lessy

Written by

Visual Designer at August Home | IG: @ mrlessy |

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