Bloomberg writes that Amazon’s Project Vesta, a domestic robot named after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, is nearing completion. It is well advanced and 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. The nearest robots 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. Of course there are glorified vacuum cleaners like Roomba as well.
Amazon is not entering unexplored territory here and for the moment, has failed to come up with a product it could take to the mass market. 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 the Amazon Echo or Google Home. These devices are capable of centralizing the management of other domestic automation systems. These include 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 third-party app developers. 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. This acquisition and advancement 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?
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Image Credit: Rosie the Robot — The Jetsons (©Hanna-Barbera)