However, there are a couple companies that are not so eager to turn the page on 2018 just yet. Anki and Sony recently launched Vector and Aibo, respectively, as they both hope to jumpstart what has to this point been a market that over-promised and under-delivered.
Anki started shipping Vector, its follow-up to the wildly successful Cozmo robot, in October, while Sony revived its Aibo robot dog that was originally introduced in 1999. Both companies have had success selling consumer robots. As of August 2018, before Vector was released, Anki said it sold more 1.5 million consumer robots to date. And after quickly selling 20,000 sixth-generation Aibos to Japanese consumers, Sony said in August the robot would be available to US consumers before the holidays.
Vector and Aibo are both easy on the eyes, have charming personalities, and are packed with technology that make them the most sophisticated consumer home robots ever. Sorry, iRobot.
But technology features alone cannot prevent these robots from becoming dust-collectors in closets worldwide. Unfortunately, both Anki and Sony are setting unrealistic expectations, much like other social robotics companies before them. Cozmo, Anki’s first robot, aspired to be nothing more than a toy. And Cozmo did that well.
But when you refer to a robot as being “the robot to live with” and “a living character in your home,” as Anki is doing with Vector, that is where companies get into trouble. Jibo and Mayfield Robotics did the same thing. Sure Vector has a charming personality, gives you fist bumps, dances, recognizes faces, and reports the weather, but the novelty will wear off quickly.
Anki did work some magic to keep Vector’s price relatively low at $250, but the same cannot be said for Aibo, which comes in at $2,900 with a three-year cloud subscription plan. Running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 840 and Amazon’s cloud-based AWS server, Aibo can memorize up to 100 faces, learn an endless stream of new tricks and respond to voice commands. Sony knows Aibo’s hefty price tag will prevent it from being a must-have robot, so perhaps Aibo’s goal is to remind folks that Sony was once the king of consumer electronics.
Vector is setting the wrong expectations, Aibo is an overpriced toy, and neither solve a wide-scale problem. These three mistakes continue to permeate social robotics for the home. We are years away from welcoming social robots into our homes that meet expectations and don’t break the bank.
Social robotics is forecasted to expand to more than half a billion dollars by 2023, driven largely by the growing demands of the aging-in-place market, which is expected to reach 98 million people in the USA by 2060. Judging by what we have seen so far, it seems that number needs to come back down to Earth.