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The Amazon Echo smart speaker has been a huge success, leaving competitors like Google and Apple trying to keep up.
Now it seems that Amazon is not content with just developing home smart speakers. The company is reportedly aiming its home automation goals even higher with near-future plans for a home robot.
Bloomberg reports that development is already underway led by the same team that developed the Amazon Echo speakers.
Amazon is planning to start testing prototypes at the end of this year by placing the robots in homes of some of their employees. If successful, the robot will be ready for public launch by the end of next year.
This is quite an ambitious timetable for such a complex product. But for all we know Amazon could have been working on it for years. It was the same with the Echo speaker which started development in 2010 but was released in 2014.
What to Expect
Details are scant about what kind of domestic robot Amazon might be building.
Different companies over the years have tried different iterations of home robots with little success. The closest we have come to proper robots is robot pets and robot vacuum cleaners.
So it’s anyone’s guess what Amazon will pull out of the box. Will it be a complex robot capable of fetching you beer from the fridge or a more basic version with limited functionality?
Most reports and expert analysis point to the latter. Bloomberg cites one person familiar with the plans saying that it could be a sort of mobile Alexa.
With that in mind, here are a few features that will most likely appear in the robot (currently codenamed Vesta).
1. Echo functionality
The robot will most likely have all the functionality of an Echo speaker especially if it’s true that it will be a kind of a mobile Alexa.
That means users will be able to give voice commands, make calls to landlines and other Echo speakers, control smart home devices and get information on the weather, news and calendar.
The ability to move around the home with the robot in tow will be helpful if you only have one Echo speaker in the house.
2. Cameras and sensors
The robot will most likely navigate using an array of sensors plus cameras. This will allow it to avoid hitting obstacles, find the door and perhaps charge itself.
The cameras might also come in handy for making video calls (if the robot will have a screen). I can also see it becoming a useful way to watch over an elderly or sick family member.
Using a camera, the robot might also be able to recognize faces of each family member and interact with each differently.
3. Security monitoring
Imagine a camera that can move around your home, showing you what’s happening in different areas. This will most likely be one of the best features of the new robot.
It can send you an alert when it spots something unusual or you can watch the camera feed from your phone when you are at work.
People will likely feel more comfortable letting in plumbers and other professionals into the house because they can watch what they are doing and maybe even interact with them. Wouldn’t it be nice to show the plumber exactly where the problem is.
Amazon may also ramp up their in-home delivery service where items are delivered right into your home even when you are not around.
Some of the robotic pets available in the market today are pretty impressive. They can play, cuddle and even purr.
Amazon could take a page out of these cute pets and create a robot capable of providing some sort of companionship. It doesn’t have to cuddle or run around with the kids. Something as simple as being able to change voice tone based on the mood of the user will be a big deal.
That means that the robot has to be able to recognize emotions in people, something that Amazon is already working on using the Echo speakers.
Artificial emotional intelligence may also help the robot hold longer and deeper conversations with users. This could be especially beneficial for the elderly who tend to be lonelier.
5. Doing errands?
This is where there is a lot of skepticism as to what Amazon can achieve. Building a robot that can carry objects, fold clothes, open the door and carry out various other activities is mind-bogglingly complicated.
But then again, this is Amazon we are talking about. They’ve done a lot of impressive things over the years. I wouldn’t bet against them.