Yesterday saw the launch of a website called MyRobots.com, which aims to be a sort of social network and cloud communications system for consumer robots and other "smart" household objects. It's a great idea, but like most great ideas, it may come with a catch.
The idea behind MyRobots is to create a social network where robots can communicate with you and with each other. Just like Facebook, your robots get their very own profile (created by you unless your robot is a genius) and the ability to update their statuses whenever they feel like it. Unlike Facebook, these status updates will be useful information, like "I'm almost out of batteries" or "my dust bin is full" or "help the cat has me cornered, requesting authorization to deploy laser cannons."
But it gets even better than anti-cat laser cannons. If both robots and stationary objects can use this service (and that's the plan), the possibilities are virtually endless. For example, if you leave your fridge open and then leave the house for the day, the fridge could ask your robot vacuum to drive over and push it closed. Or maybe you've just posted a bunch of wild party pics to your Facebook account, which could clue your robovac in to the fact that it should probably not start trying to clean up at 7 a.m. the next morning. Of course, it's already possible to enable a variety of robots (and other household devices) to communicate via existing social networks like Facebook and Twitter and whatnot to tell you (and the rest of the world) how they're doing, but MyRobots would allow a much greater degree of interactivity.
The primary difference between MyRobots.com and a site like Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus is that MyRobots is run by a company that wants to sell you robots: RobotShop.com. The potential issue, then, is that there could be some inherent conflict since the owner of this social network is also trying to sell you the hardware that runs on the social network, and they're already evaluating partnership options with manufacturers. In the short term, though, RobotShop is hoping to make money through a couple of web-based services, specifically:
Cloud Services: At the moment, access to the MyRobots cloud data engine is free, but that's only going to last for a limited time. After that, you'll need to buy tokens for an unspecified amount of (real) money. Each one of your robots needs one token per month of access.
Applications: Developers can use the MyRobots service to develop, sell, and support cloud-based applications. RobotShop keeps 25% of all transactions.
So is this really the Facebook of robots? I'm not sure. I definitely like the idea, but it's important to keep in mind that this is someone's business, and not just a robot social network for the sake of having a robot social network. This may make it better, since it gives RobotShop more resources to work with. It also may make it worse, because the long-term bottom line is that RobotShop is probably going to do what's profitable, and that may not necessarily be what you're looking for (or currently expecting). Either way, if you choose to participate (and you want to take advantage of the cloud and apps), you'll be tying yourself in to this whole token thing, RobotShop's vision (as opposed to a pure community-driven vision), and whatever strings end up getting attached.
Again, I like this idea, and I certainly hope the MyRobots becomes a success. It's just important to know all the details of what you're getting into before you (or your robot) invest time (and eventually money) into an idea like this.
[ MyRobots ] via [ New Scientist ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.