Robots have been in people’s imagination for a long time, and yet, they have not been ubiquitous in the home yet. Of course, we are talking about robots with which humans can interact in a friendly way in their homes or at work. From an industrial standpoint, robots have been around for decades.
BUDDY has been designed to challenge the status quo. Its creators have extensive knowledge of robotics, but also a true passion for building something that is genuinely useful, and that people will love using and showing. I’ve met them in San Francisco to see where their project stands and what BUDDY promises to be.
The BUDDY design is very nice: it is small enough to be perceived as friendly, even for small children. According to the BUDDY team, this is the ideal size for wide public acceptance. Anything bigger, and it becomes a bit invasive and less amicable. It weighs about 8-10 lbs, and can be easily lifted by everyone, except small children.
The gentle curves, and the lack of arms (arm/tools come as an option) make the design pure and easy to look at. Details like the facial proportion and design makes the robot’s overall shape agreeable to look at and doesn’t distract from the interaction with it.
The robot has an array of sensors that makes it possible to avoid staircases and obstacles. It uses its integrated color and infrared (not a FLIR) camera, to see where people are. In the future, it could recognize people, if the software is built for that.
The BUDDY team mentioned that it has had a lot of interest from specific industries such as education, retirement homes, hospitals and more. I’m not surprised at all, because each can either leverage one robot across many users (students), or have a cost-structure that can easily justify a $700 device that could help perform monitoring and basic help that would free up human personnel time, such as reminding patients to take their medications etc.
Those industries often have an existing software eco-system that can adapt and support software running on the BUDDY and Android platforms. And that’s the thing: BUDDY doesn’t try to have its own app store, the apps are “just” Android apps that run on a specific hardware target: the robot. This should make it easier for developers to port existing mobile app code to it.
At home, there is much that it can do. There is a genuine entertainment value to the robot in term of kids’ education, etc… if its creators push its software capabilities further, it could become a security sentry that can see fire, movement, and even serve as a remote presence. Having such a proxy can be useful, not only to see what’s going on in the house, but it’s also nice to use it as a video-call device.
The possibilities are infinite, but first and foremost, the BUDDY team needs to build a base model with core features that works well, and that’s what the current crowdfunding campaign is about. So far it has been very successful, and its creators hope to close this round with a bang.
However, the future holds many challenges. It’s amazing what a small group of people have been able to do with this design, but robotics is a cross-disciplinary field that needs to merge computer-vision, voice processing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), big-data, online knowledge and much more into what will become a massive, extensible, core application.
BUDDY’s software is built on the Unity engine, which has the framework for multi-platform hardware, and plug-ins. But how all the different technologies will be merged into a single, easy to use device will be a daunting task. We hope to see a final version of BUDDY sometime soon in the future.
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