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Apple’s EV loss could be home robots’ gain

for every technology Among the success stories are countless projects that ran headlong into the brick wall of reality. Apple’s electric car ambitions are the latest – and, frankly, one of the best – examples of a project failing, even though everything seemed to be going well.

The final fate of the Vision Pro is up in the air, but at the very least, Apple’s mixed reality headset shows that the company isn’t afraid to keep trying where almost everyone else has failed. With the Apple car on the horizon, the company is reportedly exploring another notoriously difficult path: home robots.

This category is both unique and difficult for a number of reasons. One of the things that sets it apart from other categories is that it has only one success story: sweeping robots. It’s been 22 years since the first Roomba launched, and the industry (including iRobot itself) has been chasing that success for the past two decades.

iRobot’s failure to win another gold medal wasn’t for lack of trying. In the nearly quarter-century since the Roomba was introduced, it’s given us gutter cleaners, pool cleaners, lawn mowers, and even one specifically designed to remove screws and other hardware debris from your garage floor Roomba. Despite these efforts, however, the company has performed best when it has refocused its resources on robot vacuum cleaners.

Roomba, running on wooden floors

Image Source: I am a robot

A robot vacuum succeeds for the same reason that any robot succeeds: it is a product designed to perform a single required task repeatedly to the best of its ability. To this day, vacuum cleaners are still a battleground in the home robot wars. Take Matic, a well-funded Bay Area startup. The former Google/Nest engineer who founded the company believes the next breakthrough in the home will be based on robot vacuum cleaners. Part of their reasoning is that the iRobot effectively paints itself into a corner with its hockey puck-like shape.

Those early Roomba didn’t take into account today’s sensing and mapping capabilities. Matic believes that simply by making the robot taller, it can significantly improve its vantage point. It’s also the driving force behind the most interesting innovation in Amazon’s Astro home robot: the periscope camera.

Image Source: Amazon

In fact, the functionality of home robots is severely hampered by form factors. The hockey puck design commonly adopted by robot vacuum cleaners is not ideal outside of its core functionality. To effectively perform more of the tasks people want home robots to perform, the hardware needs to become more sophisticated. A mobile manipulator is a great moving target. That said, if you want to lend a helping hand, Reaching Out is a great place to start.

However, like many other things in this world, moving a manipulator is deceptively difficult. In fact, industrial robots have not cracked this problem yet. Large bolt-on arms are common in manufacturing, as are wheeled autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) such as Locus and Kiva in warehouses, but the middle ground between the two is not yet firmly established. This is a big reason why the human element is still important in this world. This problem will be solved soon, but it seems likely that it will happen before these more expensive industrial machines make their way into cheaper home robots (businesses generally have deeper pockets than people).

This is a big reason why many people embrace the humanoid form factor in the workplace (after all, humans provide a mobile operation). But that’s a long thought for another day.

Man interacts with Hello Robotics

Image Source: hello robot

Mobile control is not completely out of reach for home robots. Hello Robot’s Stretch is probably the most striking example yet. The robot is not shaped like a human, but rather resembles a Roomba with a pole mounted in the center. It consists of an imaging system and an arm that moves up and down to grip objects (plates, laundry) at different heights. Of course, some tasks are easier to accomplish with two arms—and suddenly you start to understand why so many robotics companies are effectively reverse-engineering humanoid robots.

Currently, the Stretch is priced at a prohibitive $24,950. This may be a big reason why the company is selling it as a development platform. Interestingly, Matic sees its robot as a kind of development platform – using the vacuum cleaner as a gateway to complete additional chores.

Another problem with Stretch is that it’s remotely operated. There’s nothing wrong with remote operation in many cases, but it seems unlikely that people will flock to home robots controlled by humans from afar.

Navigation is another major hurdle for families. Homes are relatively unstructured environments compared to warehouses and factories. There are big differences between them, lighting is often everywhere, and humans are constantly moving items and dropping items on the floor.

matik vacuum

Matic’s vacuum uses a series of cameras to map a space and understand where it is in it. Image Source: Matic

The self-driving world faces its own obstacles here. But the key difference between autonomous robots on the highway and autonomous robots in the home is that the worst that can happen with the latter is knocking stuff off the shelf. It’s bad, but rarely leads to death. For self-driving cars, on the other hand, any accident would mean a major setback for the industry. Perhaps understandably, this technology is held to a higher standard than human technology.

While adoption of self-driving technology has lagged far behind many expected, largely for the aforementioned safety reasons, many of the technologies being developed for the category have helped quietly kick-start a robotics revolution of its own as self-driving cars take over farms and sidewalks .

That could be a big reason why it might consider home robots the “next big thing” (to quote Bloomberg, citing its sources). There’s no doubt that Apple has invested a lot of resources in driver technology. If these can be repurposed for different projects, maybe it won’t all be pointless.

While the report states that Apple is “not yet working on” robotic smart screens or mobile robots (which are said to exist within the company’s Skunk Works), it has already tapped Apple Home executive Matt Costello and Brian Lynch handles the hardware. , and John Giannandrea, senior vice president of machine learning and artificial intelligence strategy, is also said to be involved in artificial intelligence work.

Image Source: Brian Hitt

Given its domestic efforts, one could imagine the company is developing its own version of Amazon Astro — though the project’s current existence serves more as a cautionary tale. The project was hampered by its high cost and lack of useful features. The system also effectively serves as a mobile Alexa portal, while the home assistant has largely become obsolete as of late.

Apple does Some Robotics expertise — though not yet on par with Amazon in industrial terms. The company has been involved in producing robotic arms like Daisy, which can recycle critical metals from discarded iPhones. This is still quite a leap for home robots.

Perhaps the company could take a more Vision Pro approach to the category, which places a heavy emphasis on developer contributions. However, doing so would require an extremely versatile hardware platform that would almost certainly be cost-prohibitive for most consumers, making the Vision Pro’s $3,500 price tag look like small potatoes.

#Apples #loss #home #robots #gain

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