Rumors about Amazon’s new home robot, Vespa, have been making the headlines this week. To satisfy our curiosity (and yours!) on where the industry is going with domestic robots, we called our friend Ryan Hickman
, who, as co-founder of TickTock, spent over a year building and experimenting with home robots.
Ryan, earlier this week, we heard that Amazon may be building robots for the home. Do you think they can pull it off?
Absolutely. Amazon has a good chance at owning the home. Autonomous mapping and navigation are still open research problems but viable enough to be put into production. Someone just needs to make a product out of it that delivers real user value. That’s hard to do, but all of the research is there. Amazon is pragmatic. They’ll build it to do one thing at a time with frequent, incremental launches that are easily understood by users. They can offer it at or below cost to win the platform wars.
How do you see other big players responding?
Google mentioned at their I/O conference last year that they had two internal versions of the Google Home project well before Amazon launched the Echo. Some of their leaders are known for saying, “First is a curse,” and don’t seem to mind being second to market with new product ideas, while packing them with Google’s technical prowess. If users start embracing mobile home robots, of course Google will play there too, and already has plenty of the pieces to make it happen.
It’s not clear how many consumer robot platforms we’ll see, but the core aspects of mapping and voice recognition are becoming commoditized. Integration with the rest of the home and a consumer’s digital life is where we’ll see Amazon, Google, and possibly Apple excel. Microsoft’s Hololens tech would also be great for robotics, but it’s not clear users benefit from a mobile robot with access to Windows and Office as much as they want robots to tap into Alexa, Google, and Siri.
A HoloLens powered robot that interacts with XBox might be a blast for kids though.
What d0 you think home robots will look like given your own foray into building them?
It’s likely we end up with three styles of consumer robotic products. The first already exists in the Roomba, and we’ll see an expansion of these “chore bots” that are ideally meant to run when we’re not home. Second, we’ll see mobile machines that are more designed to work with people in the home and have a strong user interaction layer. Finally, we’ll see the infrastructure and appliances come to life to increasingly handle work autonomously.
We’ll also have mobile robots to manage the spaces between the appliances. In our homes, we move ourselves around a lot to constantly fetch things. In the future, I think you’ll put out your hand, and like Thor’s hammer, whatever you want will just show up. This will require a gradual shift in how we store things in our homes as closets and cabinets become designed around accessibility for robots. Read more about TickTock’s home robot adventures.