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Amazon is said to be building home robots (bloomberg.com)
106 points by uptown 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Never trust anonymous sources with over the top promises.

In 2010, I was an intern at Google working on a team doing the very early prototypes of touch screen stuff for ChromeOS. I was in the room the first time we scrolled the screen with a finger (initially, the wrong way). That same week, a bunch of tech blogs with "insider information" announced we'd have a consumer ChromeOS tablet by the end of the month. Spoiler: they were 8 years ahead of themselves.

Bloomberg isn't a tech blog.

Did you mean 2001?

As much as my inner kid (and probably outer adult) is grinning at the thought of having a real personal house robot, the idea of it being more mobile Alexa than Giskard takes away some of the appeal.

Wake up in the middle of the night with your Amazon robot standing over you, laughing.

I'd be more worried that my Amazon robot figured out how to order batteries, nuts and bolts on my Amazon tablet.

It's probably not top secret if its on bloomberg.

Yeah, you have got to love their sense of irony.

Trying to work through the algorithmic burden. Would a home robot's navigation software be more or less complex than a self driving car? No lane markers, stop signs/lights. Environment changes constantly with doors open/closing, pets, humans moving around, stuff on the floor. It would be more like apples-to-apples if we were talking about a self-driving off-road vehicle.

Not to mention, the auto is doing something useful simply by moving. Perhaps a security robot in the home could be valuable by simply moving, but otherwise, it needs an additional layer of application. Interacting with humans, manipulating objects which it would have to identify, ...

A part of the burden of cars is the table stakes though... cars can potentially kill people. A home robot worst-case is a potential pooptastrophe [0] (I guess.. unless people can trip on it and fall down stairs).

[0] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/08/15/po...

Depends on the robot. A mere vacuum cleaner is as you describe, but a fully general household bot could turn a gas hob on without igniting it, combine unsafe combinations of bleach when cleaning the bathroom, fail to recognise when food has expired before cooking it, mistake bleach for a drink when serving dinner, mistake the owner’s fingers for carrot or a sausage when making dinner, or lock one or more doors in an open position overnight.

Depends on how capable the robot is. If it is a re-purposed military killbot you probably want it to play nice.

Depends on its features. Cars have a baseline where if you program a roomba it can essentially use a if you run into stuff reverse and turn 15 degrees. But if you want a robot to use stairs go over stepups and navigate a house completely, it could potentially surpass a cars complexity. Potentially.

I think it will come as RAAS or Robots As A Service. The features or enhancements will be enabled by service provider. There will be monthly fee plans based on how many functions calls are invoked on it.

>There will be monthly fee plans based on how many functions calls are invoked on it.

It will probably be a flat fee based on forcasted average uses. Light users will subsidize heavy users. Like all sorts of services that come before it. Amazon is already great at this.

It is marketing hell to introduce some type of credit per use system. Adds too much stress on end-users.

And a built in spy / loudspeaker / taser to encourage behavior improvements by advertisers / builder company / big brother

Connect a robot up to Mechanical Turk and you've got a winner!

Basically, globalizing the domestic worker market. That's... both brilliant and disturbing.

And it's already a service for eldercare[1]. If the caregivers could pilot a small 'bot remotely it'd be even more useful, presumably.

1: https://www.wired.com/story/digital-puppy-seniors-nursing-ho...

This has to be a Black Mirror episode

There was a film called 'Sleep Dealer' which dealt with the potential for remote-controlling of robots.


Hello, Sandra

Why does the robot move around the house? Mobile robots are non-trivial. Doing a mobile robot for an incremental publicity or novelty gain is a net-loss. Moving robustly in a cluttered space is an unsolved problem in robotics so to attempt it you need a really really good reason.

I think the project would be a blast to work on and I certainly think research in this area should be supported, but I would love to know what they want to accomplish that couldn't be done by selling 2 or 3x additional static devices for less.

I want a robot that travels around the house to clean up after my tornado kids. Maybe a little bit at night, very quietly, and definitely during the day, while they're at school.

I also would appreciate robots that empty the dishwasher; move the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, and then put the dry items into closets and chests of drawers; wash windows; clean ovens and fridges; and so on. Basically furthering domestic robots that free us from routine labor, just as the current, limited robots have done for us (I tell my daughters the washing machines are simple robots, and we should expect better in the near future).

Absolutely. A clothes folding and sorting robot would be #1 in terms of time saving, as that feels like 80% of the housework I do.

I agree. I have trouble visualizing what an "Alexa-bot" could do that a multi-room speaker + mic system couldn't do unless this thing has a Roomba attached to it's butt and gopher grabbers for arms, which I highly doubt.

I think Amazon is uniquely positioned to come out with the first broadly applicable consumer house robot. To me, I would buy one if it could move around the house and handle some daily chores like taking the dishes/trash out, laundry, and the always classic getting me a beer. That would require 1: the ability to move around my house, 2 the ability to accept and interpret commands, and 3 the ability to recognize objects visually and how to interact with them.

Amazon has 1 partially solved with kiva, 2 with Alexa, leaving the big problem as 3. Amazon is well aware of 3 though because that is their main problem blocking them from automating hundreds of thousands of jobs in their warehouses. They even hold competitions for it: https://www.wired.com/story/grasping-robots-compete-to-rule-...

With all of that potential labor savings in solving that problem, and the possibility of a home robot using the same technology, I doubt anyone spends more R&D on this problem.

Kiva is not quite what you seem to think it is. Those robots navigate in specially constructed, human-free, spaces with QR codes on the floor to keep them positioned right. It is a highly developed system, but not one designed for anything remotely like a human home.

And I would separate your #3 into two items: recognizing household objects (a very significant bit of work), and then interacting with individual objects. Single instances of each of those are tasks that whole companies are devoted to. General-case systems are just not in the cards at this point.

I am having hard time believing that a generic consumer home robot is only couple of years away.

Robots currently avaiable in that space are highly customised to a specific task (eg: Roomba). My roomba has trouble with wires, long hair, rubber bands ect. I have to do a "prep" before I turn that thing on so it doesn't trip. Defeats the whole point of it, prep is worst part about vacuuming, I might just finish the whole thing myself by using the manual vaccum.

I'd be surprised if they didn't have some project on home robots. While I would like to see Amazon have a program for making robots that do useful tasks like dishes they are probably going to make something more like an echo on wheels. The technology needed to do this is fairly mature. Robot vacuums have been on the market for years, robot vacuums with SLAM have also been on the market for years. They aren't perfect and can't operate in a very cluttered room, but this is probably acceptable for an 'echo on wheels' application.

In my opinion this is a bit creepy. Now one would be putting an Amazon device capable of sensing and actuation in their home. And not just sensing, enough sensing to map a house and perhaps keep track of where people are. If the robot does image recognition, so one can say hold up an empty box to buy more on amazon, that's even creepier. As the only practical means of doing this would be to send images to amazon's servers.

This is not at all surprising and been surprised we do NOT see Amazon trying to play in the SDC space like Google is doing.

SDC - Self Driving Cars

Really SDC is much more of a software thing and surprising we have not seen other big tech playing in the SDC space. Some rumors on Apple but not shown anything.

This is just an aside but why do websites (and browsers) still auto-play video content in this day and age? I thought we ended that disturbing trend..

Wonder what they're using for the motor motion control software? eg g2core, TinyG, GRBL, or something custom

Is it just an Alexa that cleans floors? I can’t imagine what other tasks this could perform.

Ordering stuff for you on Amazon.

What would be the alternative? An Alexa that casually browses through your socks drawer pondering what products the mothership should advertise to you next?

An Alexa-enabled roomba clearly sounds like the lesser evil. And it could actually sit quite nicely in a the previously unoccupied intersection between the Alexa and the Amazon Basics subbrands.

Irbt is down 6% on the news, i presume.

if it doesn't do dishes, it's not worth giving up all privacy...

Of course they do..

Unlike the ones they've already built that mechanically turn their paychecks into dozens of little brown boxes?

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