It’s been a tough few years for social home robots: Where do we go from here?
This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.
News of Anki’s shutdown has spread like wildfire through the social robotics research community. Following the demise of Jibo and Kuri less than a year ago, it now seems that three of the most viable contenders to lead the budding market of social home robots have failed to find a sustainable business model.
Anki’s Cozmo robot was arguably an even bigger blow to the hopes of social robotics enthusiasts than Jibo or Kuri. Anki was a well-funded company, having reportedly secured over US $180 million in total investments, and was selling Cozmo (and a newer model, called Vector) at a competitive price point. When Jibo and Kuri tanked, some attributed it to their high price tag, but now that Anki with its $250 product is also on its way out, perhaps it is a sign that there is something more fundamentally wrong with the concept of social home robots.
I have worked in the research field of social robotics and human-robot interaction for over 15 years, designed several companion robot prototypes, and have co-founded a social robotics startup in 2012, which shut down two years later. In my circles, there is much discussion about what happened, and why. Some say that the technology is just not ready for the user experience that these companies promised. Others have argued that robotics research tends to over-promise and under-deliver when it comes to technological capabilities. Some mention the lack of a “real need” for a social robot, a missing “killer app,” or the impossibility of competing with disembodied voice agents. But I am not convinced. I actually view the closing of these companies not so much as proof that they were doing something wrong, but rather as an opportunity to learn important lessons for the next generation of social robots.