To bring Embodied’s Moxie social companion robot to as many families as possible, the company knew the price point needed to be much more affordable than robots of the past AND present. Here’s how they did it.
Listen to this article
When Embodied was founded, the company set a mission to revolutionize child development by creating a lifelike animate companion – the social robot Moxie – that promotes social, emotional, and cognitive skills through natural conversation and play-based learning. From the beginning, the company knew this vision was a moonshot that would be extremely hard to accomplish. However, Embodied did not let their challenge prevent them from pursuing our mission because they knew it was for a worthy cause.
To bring Moxie’s state-of-the-art technology to as many families as possible, Embodied knew the price point needed to be much more affordable than robots of the past AND present. Existing social robots are priced as high as $17,000 (the price of a car!) which is just not realistic for most families. Sony’s Aibo, an amazing and highly advanced companion robot, is nearly $3,000. Even at this lower end, the Embodied team knew that most families could not afford a robot at these prices. Embodied had to get the price of Moxie close to the price of a smartphone to be able to really make an impact.
Value of Moxie
For the fall 2020 launch, Moxie will be offered for a limited time at a special launch price of $1,499 with 12 months of subscription service included (normally $59.99 per month, if paid annually). The subscription service covers the service of unlimited cloud computing resources (used to process Moxie’s speech recognition) and provides access to the company’s full ecosystem including:
- Regular content updates (different themes each week)
- Insights in the companion Embodied Moxie Parent App
- Moxie Mission Packs (monthly mailing of printed activities and fun items)
- Full access to our online kids portal (globalroboticslab.com) with additional activities and games
To break this total cost down:
- For the first year:
- $125 per month ($1,499 / 12 months)
- $4 per day ($125 / 30 days)
- For subsequent years:
- $2 per day ($59.99 / 30 days)
For $4 per day ($2 per day after year one), a child can have a tool that helps promote their social and emotional development. These are important foundational skills for all children to learn.
Recent studies1 have shown that the so-called soft skills or EQ skills (emotional intelligence skills) are as important if not more important than IQ and STEM skills for living a happy, well-balanced life both personally and professionally. However, there is less emphasis on soft skills or EQ skills in today’s education system. Moxie helps fill in the gaps by serving as a co-pilot to parents who want to provide social-emotional learning in a revolutionary and interactive way.
This breakdown of cost shows that Moxie is equivalent, if not less than, extracurricular activities or lessons many parents might provide for their child. A private tutor averages $30-$40 an hour and at a weekly one hour visit, that can run more than the monthly cost of Moxie. Additionally, Moxie is meant to be a daily engagement, without any specific time limits unless designated by parents (via the Embodied Moxie Parent App).
Challenges in Creating Moxie
Creating the technology behind Moxie was indeed challenging, but adding the constraint of developing it to get close to the price point of a smartphone made it 100 times more complex. That said, Embodied had a mission that they were not going to stray from.
The Embodied team had to rethink and reinvent how interaction with a robot was done beyond simple verbal commands to a more fluid social interaction including natural conversation, body language, emotive voice, and facial expressions. They also needed to develop a lifelike character to support this social engagement and an interface that would allow a child to interact with Moxie without adult supervision.
A Character Brought to Life
Research studies have shown that physically embodied agents (like robots) trigger the mirror neurons in a user’s brain to create a deeper level of engagement that screens alone cannot accomplish.2,3 So from the beginning, Embodied knew that they needed to build a lifelike, embodied and expressive, believable character without adding thousands of dollars in cost.
After an endless number of iterations, the team settled on a seven-motor design for the body language and a beautifully curved display for Moxie’s face and facial expressions. While it may not be apparent, the curved face was complex to build. Embodied did not take the easier route of using a flat screen face like most other robots because they felt strongly that having a naturally curved face was an important part of bringing Moxie to life.
Fluid Social Interactions
To support the fluid interactions of Moxie, Embodied had to reinvent the way a robot could carry conversations, make eye contact, express emotions, take turns, and understand when a child reads to it. The development team knew they would have to push the frontier of the state-of-the-art into the bleeding edge of technology. And for privacy reasons, the robot would need to be able to run its machine learning frameworks, real-time computer vision system, conversational AI, and full 3D video engine all on its own without ever sending any sensitive data to the cloud for processing. So how could the intense processing required be supported while still keeping the cost of the product down?
In short, it came down to ingenuity and a lot of hard work. Embodied started by finding the most capable processor that would fit their budget for computing and built the system around that. Then, the software team worked tirelessly to push the new hardware design to its limits, enabling Moxie to run the latest in machine learning algorithms without ever needing the cloud.
Peter Teel, Embodied’s Lead Engineer, discusses more about this process:
Curriculum on Social and Emotional Learning
The Embodied team knew content would also be an important aspect of Moxie, so they developed a curriculum for Moxie based on play-based learning to make interacting with Moxie fun and engaging for the child. Each week, content focuses on a different theme such as kindness, respect, empathy, and other social and emotional concepts.
Activities include open conversations about how the child’s day is going, reading books to Moxie, listening to stories, riddles and fun facts, providing definition of words from an age-appropriate dictionary, and practicing exercises in mindfulness, meditation, co-creation, and much more. Each day is filled with unique activities, and you can read more about the curriculum in the Embodied blog post about social-emotional learning for life.
The First Affordable Robot for Social-Emotional Development
The Embodied team has been working hard to create a platform that brings the latest in AI at a much more affordable price. They have worked through the complexities of bringing design, technology and content all together and have diligently tackled the challenges of keeping the costs low while still delivering a high-quality product and experience.
By breaking down the daily cost, you can see the compelling value that Moxie provides for all of the technology, services, and content that is included. Embodied’s goal has always been to try and make the biggest impact possible in the positive social and emotional development of children. So after many years of working hard to bring Moxie to life, the company is excited to finally bring a new revolution in child development to market this year.
- Firestone, Lisa (2016). Why We Need to Teach Kids Emotional Intelligence, Psychology Today, March 16, Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201603/why-we-need-teach-kids-emotional-intelligence, (Accessed: 3-June-2020).
- Wicker, B., Keysers, C., Plailly, J., Royet, J. P., Gallese, V., & Rizzolatti, G. (2003). Both of us disgusted in My insula: the common neural basis of seeing and feeling disgust.Neuron, 40(3), 655-664
- Henschel, A., Hortensius, R., & Cross, E. S. (2020). Social Cognition in the Age of Human–Robot Interaction. Trends in Neurosciences.
Editors Note: Robotics Business Review would like to thank Embodied for permission to reprint the original article (found HERE).
|Peter Teel is a Lead Engineer at Embodied and was a founding member of the engineering team responsible for the architecture and design of Moxie’s hardware and software systems. He has more than a decade of experience in consumer product engineering, including dozens of robotic and other toy products while working at Mattel Inc.
|Paolo Pirjanian is the former CTO of iRobot and early leader in the field of consumer robotics with 16+ years of experience developing and commercializing cutting-edge home robots. He led world-class teams at iRobot, Evolution Robotics, and others. In 2016, Pirjanian founded Embodied, Inc. with the vision to build socially and emotionally intelligent companions that improve care and wellness and enhance our daily lives. He holds a PhD in Robotics from Aalborg University.