Robots that interact with people are finding numerous applications, including companionship for the aging; therapeutic use by people with autism and other conditions; and customer service in retail stores, hotels, and hospitals. However, many social robots have struggled with failure to deliver on promised capabilities, funding challenges, and a consumer market that is interested in such devices but not at current price points. The latest potential casualty is Buddy from Blue Frog Robotics.
Rodolph Hasselvander, co-founder and CEO of Blue Frog Robotics, reached out to The Robot Report and other sources in the past few weeks in search of investors. If he provides additional comments, they will be added to this article. Hasselvander was previously executive director of Centre de Robotique Intégrée d’Ile de France (CRIIF), an engineering consultancy that develops customized robotic systems for military, industrial, and services clients.
According to Blue Frog Robotics, Buddy is “the world’s first true companion robot,” with a wheeled base and a screen “face.” Since 2014, the Paris-based company had raised more than $600,000, mostly through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
For the past few years, attendees at CES in Las Vegas could see Buddy in the French pavilion among the startups at Eureka Park. Blue Frog Robotics also has offices in Boston and San Francisco.
Appealing for patience, more crowdfunding
Hasselvander last week posted an apology to Buddy’s supporters for delays in production. He noted that Buddy is in the final phases of commercialization. After five years of development, he projected that Buddy will now be available in April 2020.
In the meantime, Blue Frog is launching “an equity crowdfunding campaign by the end of June” to scale up for manufacturing and pay for the robot’s launch in the European and American markets.
Hasselvander also announced the launch of a website, mybuddyworld.com, to maintain transparency and allow Blue Frog’s team and customers to interact more directly.
Social robot struggles continue
Blue Frog claimed that Buddy could work with smart-home systems, educate and entertain children, and assist the elderly. It could also help connect families, serve as a security guard, and take photos and share them. In addition, the “emotional robot” could interact naturally with users through speech and serve as a butler, said Blue Frog.
The company also opened the software developer’s kit (SDK) to encourage others to build applications for the robot. Slots were provided for arms, but the robot did not come with manipulators.
This is similar to the design and challenges faced by Jibo’s eponymous robot, Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri, and Anki’s Vector and Cozmo. They required machine learning, an ecosystem of supporters and programmers, and differentiators from Amazon Alexa/Echo and Google Home.
It’s possible that Blue Frog will get more funding in time or that its intellectual property will find a new home, as did Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer collaborative robot with the Hahn Group.