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R.I.P., Anki: Another Home Robotics Company Powers down


Today brings sad News in the world of consumer robotics. Anka, founder of Vector, toy-like autonomous robot countertops, finalizing, and hundreds of people are losing their jobs. It's a tough response to the question we asked last summer: Of course, domestic robots as vector cute, but it's something consumers really want? Apparently not enough customers for Anki, but it is much less clear: For the success of the Roomba, what on earth we want complex machines to do for us around the house?

Anka was far from the first company to try to fill the house with social robots. People were there from the 80's. Almost all, however, it failed or two major ones in just the last year. Was Jibo, stationary desktop robot that danced and died an early death, and smoke, R2-D2-esque machine that rolled snapshots of your dinner before rolling into the Great Robotic Gig in the Sky.

The problem with both of them, and now Anka in Vector, was that none of them really did not do much. In contrast to the Roomba and mythically capable with Rosie ZhetsonyThey have some work to do. They were all lovely, yes, and, no doubt, more charismatic, but three makes a curse: Vektor, Jibo and Paul show that you can not sell a home robot adorableness alone. The machine can not be just a companion, he should be a laborer.

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There's no probably no more difficult place to do it than in pure chaos at home, he calls robotics in "unstructured" environment. Robots for decades ruled by the plant, because it is "structured" environment that is easy to learn. They can move along prescripted ways and perform repetitive exercises in a collision little, if any, unexpected obstacles. In the house, the robots have to fight with a ladder and children and disorder on the field. And they must do so without being able to manipulate the on & # 39 objects, perhaps the greatest unsolved problem in the field of robotics. Nobody gave the home robot pair of hands, because they would have been useless in grasping things.

With vector, Jibo and Paul made enormous progress on this navigation difficulty of the human-robot. "With built-in character allows us to do things that are otherwise not very socially acceptable on the device," Hanns Wolfram Tappeiner, co-founder and president Anya told himself wire last summer, when the vector has been announced. "The vector is not just sit and wait until you ask him something." It would giggle and scooted on the countertop. In contrast to the device, the car was very fun robot, as we've come to expect.

But in the end, the vector could not muster the usefulness of a typical device. Popularity assistants as Alexa Amazon does not make us work easier. How Roomba and its sweeping, these assistants do one thing very well. And they do this while sitting still on the table, which means that they do not have to navigate the chaos of home. If household robots still can not grab you a beer from the refrigerator, fold laundry, or pick up just about any & # 39; the object, there is a big difference in their mobility? And if they are not as smart as Alexa, there are a lot of sense to be friends with them?


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The creators of home robots also struggle to keep up with the Google and Amazon the ability to iterate over their voice assistant quickly. Hardware as with Vector & # 39 is a totally different story. If the company is developing a robot and push it to the market, and it does not work as it should, it can take years to reverse engineer it.

The ultimate goal for the home robots can not be even build you a new best friend, but to make a robot in a certain sense, disappear into the house. "In the case of the Roomba, it's just a vacuum cleaner, we do not think about it a lot, like a robot anymore," says Cory Kidd, MABU developer, a medical robot that interacts with patients. "And I think it really hit when people think of these things in terms of their functionality and the problems they are trying to solve," Think of the microprocessor: If you wear the old digital clock, like me, you do not think of it as computer, as it has become more a part of you with something unique. But this is actually a computer.

Nevertheless, the fact that home robots really have going for them with the & # 39 is that the new charm. This is where a bit of the human-robot becomes really interesting. Watching Fields and Vector lie beep and booping and after your team has been a beautiful thing to behold. In fact, their physical presence allows for communication with the machine loaded with much more charisma than that fixed voice assistant can gather. This promise of home robots: Illusion agency can not make them particularly useful in the moment, but they blacksmith amazing new relationship between humans and machines. No more robots just tools, they are friends. And maybe one day (perhaps once they have sprouted arms and hands), they are so ingrained in the house, like the Roomba, that we forget that they are all robots.

The vector may not be able to win enough heart to survive, but Anka made a great progress in specifying that this new relationship man-machine might look like. "They were at the forefront of the social robot design, and poured so much in getting the interaction right," says MIT robotics Kate Darling, who studies the interaction between human and robot. "It was a great product. But they had a problem with growing it with a nifty toy for something else. "

Farewell, sweet Vector. Can you find the application in robotic Great Gig in the Sky.

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