How This Adorable Robot Won CES 2017

Congratulations to my former colleagues at Mayfield Robotics on the launch of Kuri, an adorable home robot. Go pre-order it! I worked on Kuri for a year as VP of Product.

The robots are coming! By 2020, predictions are 1 in 10 US households will have a consumer robot in their homes. These robots won’t just be vacuum cleaners either. No, these robots will be social. You’ll talk to them and interact with them and they’ll respond, some with human speech, some with robot language. While robots have traditionally been focused on the Three Ds (Dirty, Dull, Dangerous) jobs, these new social robots will be our companions, pets, assistants, and, yes, friends. Kuri is one of these.

Most home robots have a screen for a face. With Kuri, clearly Mayfield went a different way, choosing a more mechanical (although expressive) face. A screen face, especially ones that disappear when you touch them into a tablet of apps, breaks the personality and character of the robot. It changes how you think about it from a creature to just another piece of technology. The robots we love from science fiction are all beings with personalities and inner lives—and mechanical faces.

It’s not really a security cam

Read an interview with Doug Dooley, Kuri’s animator.

“Kuri’s most interesting feature is what the robot lacks: a screen,” noted The Verge. “No uncanny valley problems here,” said Mashable.

Unlike other robots, Kuri speaks “robot”, not human, language.

There’s speech recognition, but Kuri won’t talk back, instead relying on a variety of beepy noises and its expressive head and eyes to communicate. Essentially, it’s R2-D2-ing, which is a verb now, meaning to have effective nonspeech interactions. I like this idea, because so much of what makes us frustrated with AI assistants is their inability to reliably respond like a human would. When something talks to you, you can’t help but expect it to communicate like a human, and when it inevitably fails, it’s annoying. Kuri sidesteps this by not giving you a chance to think that it’s trying to be human at all, theoretically making it much harder to disappoint. Evan Ackerman, IEEE Spectrum

The success of social robots like Kuri is all about their personalities. After all, these are beings who live in your home with you.

“The building block for Kuri wasn’t the technology, but the design. Personality, not specs,” said PC Magazine.

“Instantly likable,” proclaimed CNet.

“Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri could be the first real home robot, combining mobility and true interaction with approachable, friendly design,” said Techcrunch.

Kuri was a finalist for Best in Show at CES 2017, #9 on Wired’s Top 10 Designs of CES 2017, PC Magazine’s Best Robot of CES 2017, and on Cnet’s Hottest Products of CES 2017 list.

If you like this design and want your next product (robot?) to have some of this design polish, get in touch. I’m looking for a new professional home.