Robots are either terrifying creations that will take over our world and subject the fleshy masses to servitude or they’re our friendly helpers adding to humanity’s health and happiness with a mechanical smile. Right?
Or is there some middle road here where robots are mere devices to do things we need done?
Yes, of course there is. Industry has been using robots for decades, but it’s only been a few years that robots have had much of a foothold in consumer homes.
For the most part, home robots come in two flavors: toys or floor cleaners.
Ecovacs makes the latter along with window cleaning (Winbot) and air cleaning (Atmobot) robots. Very soon the company is going to make a big leap from offering robots that pick up after you to robots that look after you, and maybe entertain you as well.
It looks like the next generation of robots are going to be more like personal assistants. Think of them as electronic interns.
Check out the first robot bartender here.
The company’s motivation for robotic development is time saving. “We invested a lot of research to find ways to make life easier for consumers and give them a chance to enjoy the one commodity which cannot be replaced, and that’s time,” says Ecovacs president Nick Savadian. “While the rest of the world is still stuck on cleaning floors, we moved on to other areas.”
Famibot: your robotic assistant
The big other area is the Famibot, a little C3PO that connects to the Internet, plays music, monitors your house, cleans your air and connects with other devices in the home. It’s already available in overseas markets, but Ecovacs is making modifications to it for the North American market. A line of Famibot models will launch in January at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Savadian describes it as a “total house remote control.” The Famibot will have the ability to control appliances, lights and other devices through plug-in modules. It can be scheduled to wake you up, play music or make a video call to someone far away. If you’re out of the house, you can bring up an app to tell Famibot to turn some lights on or off and to roam into the kitchen to see if the spaghetti pot is boiling over.
Because it has the same air-filtering capability as the Atomobot, it can also clean some of the junk out of your air if your spaghetti sauce burns and fills the house with smoke (hopefully it can also call the fire department).
With built-in Wi-Fi and 3G it’s able to monitor things like the weather or send calls or texts if someone breaks into your home (which it knows about via a built-in motion sensor).
Currently the Famibot is designed only to work with Ecovacs’ own accessories for controlling other devices, but that may change over time. “We’re testing with other third party products now to check for compatibility. We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers not to be tied only to one brand or another,” says Savadian. Very soon a robot may be part of your home automation system.
Famibot accessories (AC plug module and motion sensor). These are overseas versions. U.S. versions fit standard U.S. outlets.
Imagine telling your Famibot to turn on your TV, close the drapes and then go get you a snack (well, the snack part might be a few generations down the road since Famibot doesn’t have any limbs).
Voice recognition, object recognition, face recognition—these are all technologies Savadian says Ecovacs is working on, all with the goal of making robots useful around the house.
“We see the future of robots in the home becoming more and more like the computer and smart phones have become—we depend on them every day. They’re going to make our lives much easier and more fun,” Savadian says.
How much will an electronic assistant set you back? Savadian says definitive prices haven’t been set yet, but models will probably range from about $800 to $1,400, depending on features.
By the way, the Famibot does comply with the three laws of robotics.
More things to make your life easier:
Contact Sensors are the Secret Sauce in Home Automation
Inside the World’s Most Hands-free Home
Top 10 New Technologies for Your Home
6 Important Pieces of Info to Share with Your Tech Installer
Integrated Control vs. Multiple Apps for Home Automation
How to Add Lighting Control to Your Home
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.