Today, if you own a home robot, chances are it's a soulless vacuum cleaner. But your next automaton could feel more like a relative than a robot. Available for pre-order today and shipping by Christmas 2017, Kuri is designed to socialize with and keep an eye on your family as it rolls around the house.
I had a chance to spend a few minutes with this $699 robot and was impressed with both its technical capabilities and its inviting design. The 20-inch tall, 14-pound device is about the size of a small child. It has a round white head with a bell-shaped white, gray and black torso that reminded me of friendly fictional robots such as Wall-E.
Why You Should Care
Social robots are the next big thing in computing. Later this year, Asus is expected to launch Zenbo, a social robot in a similar price range that provides a lot of the same features. The Kuri is at the leading edge of this wave. It could be as much a part of your family as a dog or a cat.
Design and Communication
The head tilts and the eyelids close, allowing Kuri to make a wide variety of expressions, from happiness to exasperation. There's no mouth, nose or eyebrows, so the robot's eyes and head position have to convey the message. Kuri has a speaker that can output any sound, but its own voice is a series of cute, disarming chirps.
Key Features and Use Cases
Kuri has a 1080p camera, a speaker and a 4-microphone array that allows it to tell where a sound comes from. It also has a complex array of sensors in its belly that let it map your home and avoid obstacles.
In a brief demo, a Mayfield Robotics rep used a smartphone app to tell Kuri to go to the kitchen. Kuri immediately rolled over to the kitchen area, and on its way back, managed to avoid a suitcase we placed in its path.
Using the smartphone app, voice commands or IFTTT (If This, Then That), you can program Kuri to patrol your house, looking for anything out of the ordinary. It also has facial recognition and pet recognition, so it can tell if your dog is sitting on the couch and chirp at him to get down. Or it can see that your latchkey child arrived home and send you an alert. With IFTTT, you can use data from Kuri to control your smart home.
You can use Kuri as a telepresence robot, allowing you to view and talk to your family members when you're not home. So, for example, if you want to see what your child is up to, you can roll Kuri over to her room and use the robot's speaker to talk to him or her. Unfortunately, there's no screen on Kuri, so the person you're talking to won't be able to see your face as they can on most telepresence robots.
Kuri can also play games with your kids such as "follow the leader." It has a built-in Bluetooth speaker so you can stream audio to it, allowing it to play an audio book or music. It can also act as an alarm and wake you up.
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Kuri wakes up when you pet its head, speak its name or use the included smartphone app. The robot supports voice recognition, but during our demo experience, the app provided the most functionality. Using the software, a Mayfield exec was able to directly control the robot, send it to a specific room, set it for patrol mode, set an alarm or issue emojis (facial expressions).
Pricing and Availability
You can pre-order the $699 Kuri today with a deposit of $100 at heykuri.com. It will ship in time for Christmas 2017.
Kuri is a very cute robot with a lot of promise, but its success will depend on the different ways families make use of it. The telepresence and security camera features alone are impressive. However, most people will judge the robot based on its ability to have compelling and meaningful interactions with both adults and children.
The interactions I saw during the demo were mainly driven by the app, so it was hard for me to tell whether Kuri can really socialize with people on its own, or if it needs a lot of intervention by someone with a smartphone. Mayfield is still working on the software and has nearly a year to perfect it, so we'll see how the product evolves over time.