Enrique Dans
Published in

Enrique Dans

Rosie the Robot — The Jetsons (©Hanna-Barbera)

Is Amazon about to nail the domestic robot?

Bloomberg writes that Amazon’s Project Vesta, a domestic robot named after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family it has been working on for some time, is well advanced and that the company has hired large numbers of people with very specific skills for its Lab126 to complete it.

Securing success in the domestic robot niche is a tricky proposition. Creating a multifunctional electromechanical device with a value proposition sufficiently interesting for consumers is no easy task, and so far, the nearest to anything worthwhile are Japanese robots used for care of the elderly, the US Kuri, which aside from looking at its owner winsomely doesn’t seem to have to many practical applications, and of course glorified vacuum cleaners like Roomba.

Amazon is not exactly entering unexplored territory here, and for the moment has failed to come up with a product it could take to the mass market. Needless to say, this is not for lack of ambition: the idea of ​​a robot able to perform a wide range of domestic tasks is attractive and many people would say that if anybody can turn make it happen, Amazon can: in a recent survey, a majority of Americans agreed it was the company that had had the most positive impact on society. But housework has resisted automation so far for an obvious reason: it’s an extremely complicated proposition.

What might Amazon have in mind? So far domestic assistants have been limited to devices such as Echo or Google Home, capable to some degree of centralizing the management of other domestic automation systems such as home automation — lights, locks, blinds, heating, watering plants, etc. — while carrying out other tasks such as playing music, reading the news, forecasting the weather, and a range of skills of all kinds provided by app developers, including telling jokes. The profiles the company has been hiring recently suggests something more sophisticated than a static assistant like those already on the market. Its experience with Kiva, acquired by Amazon in 2012 and turned into Amazon Robotics, has been key to developing and using the tens of thousands of robots now used in the company’s warehouses and point to some kind of multi-sensorized mobile assistant, but just about anything is possible. Bloomberg says Amazon intends to start offering the robot to company employees by the end of this year, and to then put it on the market sometime in 2019.

What would you expect an Amazon domestic robot to do and what would the company have to do to make you think about buying one?

(En español, aquí)

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