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CES 2018: Were robots more than a gimmick at the tech show?

Media captionWATCH: Would you let this robot read bedtime stories to your children?

If you’ve ever wanted a robot to do the vacuuming, then the CES tech show has something for you.

The Aeolus robot is designed to perform a range of household tasks – including mopping floors, rearranging furniture and putting away dishes.

However, like many of the bots showcased in Las Vegas this year, the pressure sometimes got to it.

“Aeolus has had enough,” tweeted Signe Brewster, a writer at tech site Wirecutter, after observing the bot stall inexplicably during a demo.

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Getty Images

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Aeolus promises to help with household chores – but, like everyone, has the odd bad day

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The moment is reminiscent of an even more high profile hiccup that hit LG’s smart home helper Cloi during the firm’s press conference earlier in the week.

On three separate occasions, Cloi sat there, painfully unresponsive having been prompted to do something helpful – like fetch a recipe for cooking chicken.

“Do it yourself,” it seemed to say, through the medium of silence.

And then there was Chinese firm YYD’s effort – a bot designed to give you quick assessments of your health.

More from CES:

BBC Click’s Spencer Kelly found it, ironically, in a state of malady – the screen on its face displaying an ugly online error page.

“[Robots] have had a bit of bad press this year because there were a lot of failures,” said tech analyst Ben Stanton at Canalys.

He described the user experience built into many of the devices as “fairly shallow” – many supposedly sophisticated bots in fact have very limited functionality and formulaic means of interacting, he said.

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Any stumbles were unlikely to be missed thanks to the constant glare of social media, he added.

But some of the more novel ideas kept the idea of a robot fairly simply – like the owl-themed companion Luka, aimed at children. It can read from a database that includes tens of thousands of picture book stories.

However, parents may question whether it might be better in most cases to read to their child themselves.

One firm that managed to attract a bit of positive press coverage was Honda.

It showed off a range of concept robots that are designed with special use cases in mind – such as the four-wheeled 3E-D18 that could be used by builders or the emergency services to move heavy loads around.

And its 3E-B18 is an upright alternative to a wheelchair that is meant to offer better mobility to the elderly or disabled.

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Honda

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Honda’s helpful robot concepts are designed to tackle real problems humans face every day

Some of the other earnestly useful robots shown off at the show included:

  • Winbot X from Ecovacs – a window-cleaning device akin to a vertical Roomba, which is now able to get on with its work wirelessly, without a hanging cable
  • Robo Mantis – a four-legged robot with wheels for feet that could be useful in search and rescue situations
  • Aflac – a robot duck that is designed to comfort children who are suffering from cancer
  • Totem Spider – a build-your-own machine from British firm Binary Bots that children can use to practise their programming skills

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BinaryBots

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Could a robot spider be the perfect way to learn how to code?

More frivolous robots might have limited appeal, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

“Having something that brings you a beer or fetches the newspaper, these things are not going to be cheap,” she said.

“But if we’re thinking about assisted living… then it’s a different story.

“Helping disabled people around the house, that’s what we should be talking about.”

Media captionWATCH: Omron’s ping pong-playing robot adapts its gameplay to suit different opponents

Ms Milanesi suggested that designers who target genuine needs with their robots would likely make more of an impact.

And while she did enjoy playing with the new version of Sony’s Aibo robot dog – it responded immediately to cuddles and being scratched on the chin – she said it still felt like an expensive toy.

For Mr Stanton, some of the more capable robots being developed won’t be found at CES at all.

Instead he points to events like the National Retail Federation’s trade show, which takes place in New York next week.

Media captionWATCH: Sony’s chief executive explains the appeal of its reborn robot dog Aibo

“There are robots there that can do incredible things like stock checking in a shop or hauling things around,” he told the BBC.

“Most of the innovation happening now is really in the commercial space.”

And that leaves us with a sobering thought.

“People should maybe be more concerned about [a robot taking] their job rather than becoming their new friend at home,” he said.

Media captionWATCH: Dave Lee battles a robot at CES 2018

Follow the BBC team at CES via this Twitter list

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42657607


 

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