Buddy the Social Robot Is Somehow Not Dead Yet

More than two years after Buddy was supposed to ship to Indiegogo backers, its creators have a plan

3 min read
Photograph of Buddy the social robot looking sad, with the words We are sorry and Please forgive us on the image.
Photo: Blue Frog Robotics

Nearly four years ago (September of 2015), over a thousand Indiegogo backers pledged a total of $657,000 for Buddy, “the first social robot that connects, protects, and interacts with each member of your family.” This was only about a year after Jibo raised more than $3 million—a time when social robots (especially crowdfunded social robots) seemed like the they would absolutely, positively, definitely be the next big thing.

Buddy was supposed to ship one year later, in September of 2016. It didn't. And despite making appearances at shows and events over the next several years, the last actual public status update on Indiegogo is from 25 July, 2016. That statement didn't say much. 

But this past weekend, out of the blue, Rodolphe Hasselvander, the creator of Buddy and CEO of Blue Frog Roboticssent a message to backers that opened with the picture at the top of this article (which is theirs, not something that we put together). They are very sorry, and if you forgive them and contribute just a little more money, they have a plan.

This video recalls what Buddy was promising in 2015:

Now, in retrospect, it’s obvious that the video is full of red flags. It presents a robot with all kinds of impressive features, performing flawlessly. Of course, robots do not actually work nearly this well in real life, and it's unlikely that the video is representative of what the actual user experience would be like—as other social robot companies have discovered. Setting such high expectations in order to garner tons of robot preorders and then not being able to deliver on them is something we've seen before. And it's been looking like Buddy is following this pattern.

We were fully expecting to Buddy to just disappear completely, but there may still be hope. Here's the important part of the statement that Hasselvander posted on Saturday (you can read it in full here). 

Since five years, our team’s passion has been to create the most advanced home companion and assistant robot possible to help and entertain anyone that needs him. I am infinitely grateful to the Buddy team for working tirelessly on his development. However, all of these efforts to build the most flawless Buddy have taken more time and money than expected.  Our focus on making sophisticated mechanical designs, using cutting-edge electronics, and scalable software architecture and artificial intelligence, has made us unprepared for the delay in Buddy’s conception.

You have been waiting for a long time to welcome Buddy into your home. I know how frustrating it is to not receive what you ordered. I understand that you are tired of waiting and I give you my heartfelt apologies. As the CEO of Blue Frog Robotics, I apologize to our backers and pre-sales buyers, as well as our entire community of supporters for the disappointment. I take responsibility for the frustration this delay is causing you, and I want to make things right.

And here's how they want to do this:

The launch of an equity crowdfunding campaign by the end of June will help provide:

  • the finalization of industrialization and launch of manufacturing
  • the delivery of your companion from April 2020
  • the launching of Buddy to the European and American markets
  • the opportunity for Buddy Fans to become investors in Buddy’s future

From the sound of things, Blue Frog Robotics does not have enough funding to deliver Buddy. They also don't seem to have the ability to raise more money to do so, which is not super surprising considering the state of the social home robots market right now. So, the only option left (or at least, the one that they've chosen) is to ask for more money from the people who have already invested in Buddy. This may be a tough sell— Buddy fans will need to renew their faith in a company that hasn't communicated with them for years, and contribute more money towards a robot that they've already paid for. 

It's not like Blue Frog doesn't realize that they don't have the greatest reputation right now, and they also promise to launch “mybuddyworld.com: a website dedicated to the Buddy community to inform you and allow direct interaction between community members and our team” sometime in June. I suppose this is better than Blue Frog admitting defeat, although it's hard to say whether this will be enough to make Buddy happen— and even if it is, whether Buddy will be the robot that people want. 

We wish Blue Frog Robotics the best and we hope Buddy makes it, but it's going to be very, very tough.

[ Blue Frog Robotics ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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