Smart Home

Putting a face, literally, on smart home may be the key to success

How to get people to people to buy smart home gadgets? Make it look like the customer.

Robots with faces, a trend at CES 2017 Credit: LG, Bosch

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One of the biggest challenges that smart home device makers have is convincing consumers that they need the benefits in the first place. Each new device is another thing in their home—usually some fancy white rectangle that needs to be set up.

How to ease the pain, or at least make the process a little more enjoyable? LG and Bosch both seem to have arrived at the same solution: put a face on those cold, cold robot parts. At CES this week, each company announced digital assistants with shiny, happy faces.

LG's Hub Robot is something akin to an Amazon Echo with a little wiggle. In addition to vocal commands and responses, the Hub Robot can respond with small movements like nodding or rocking from side-to-side.

LG Hub Robot
Credit: LG

The LG Hub Robot, a friendly and somewhat mobile take on the Amazon Alexa

Bosch has doubled down on the idea. They announced not one, but two, robotic assistants with human-like faces. Mykie – short for my kitchen elf—is a countertop kitchen assistant that interacts vocally to coach you through your cooking tasks.

Bosch Mykie kitchen assistant
Credit: Bosch

The Bosch Mykie kitchen assistant makes doe eyes at you while you cook.

The Kuri, also from Bosch, is a bit more ambitious. Billed as a "commercial robot," the feature set reads like a bizarre mash-up of a robot vacuum and a nanny. Equipped with a mic, loudspeakers, and sensors, the Kuri can roam the house, recognizing faces and interacting with them accordingly. When your children arrive home from school, it can send alerts to the parents. When it sees mom, it offers some other relevant response.

If the Kuri sounds quite Jetson-y, you're not far off the mark. There's little doubt that Rosie the Robot loomed large in the imagination of the developers.

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Bosch Kuri robot

The Bosch Kuri is sort of a robot butler / nanny mash-up. We have questions about this one.

Bosch also had the best commercial I've ever seen for smart home gadgets. They showed this at the Bosch press conference and it got a huge response.

Will anthropomorphization succeed, or will we look back on this as an embarrassing period where brands were throwing every idea at the wall to see what stuck? If you don't have some healthy skepticism about all these products, you should. Real innovation is rare, and slapping a face on an Amazon Echo shouldn't be enough for you to fork over your hard-earned cash. We don't know how well any of these products work yet. Until we try these products outside the carefully monitored confines of the CES show floor, we'll reserve judgement.

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