For about two years now, Mayfield Robotics has been working on something. A robot, we’d heard. Something helpful for the home. Not a vacuum. No screen, but a face. Without much in the way of (public) information on this secret robot, what kept us interested was the team: chief technical officer and cofounder Kaijen Hsiao spent almost four years at Willow Garage, and cofounder and chief operating officer Sarah Osentoski led robotics R&D projects at Bosch for four years, including working with Bosch’s beta program PR2. And with funding from Bosch’s Startup Platform, Mayfield has been able to hire an enormous team of people, about 40 of them, in just a couple of years without making any public announcements whatsoever.
Today, Mayfield is introducing Kuri, “an intelligent robot for the home.” Kuri is half a meter tall, weighs just over 6 kilograms, and is “designed with personality, awareness, and mobility, [that] adds a spark of life to any home.”
Kuri has some fairly sophisticated technology inside of it. Besides what you’d expect (a camera, microphone array, speakers, and touch sensors), Kuri also has some sort of “laser-based sensor array” that it uses for obstacle detection, localization, and navigation. If Kuri can map your house by itself and then remember where things are, that would be slick, and we’re looking forward to seeing how much autonomy is there. We’re also unsure how much of what Kuri does relies on the cloud, but we do know that it’ll run for a couple hours straight, and then autonomously recharge itself on a floor dock.
Kuri is equipped with a camera, microphones, speakers, and touch sensors, and it also has a “laser-based sensor array” for obstacle detection, localization, and navigation. Photo: Mayfield Robotics
Besides mobility, what makes Kuri unique is the fact that it has no display (besides a color-changing light on its chest), and that it doesn’t even try to talk to you, as Pepper and Jibo do. There’s speech recognition, but Kuri won’t talk back, instead relying on a variety of beepy noises and its expressive head and eyes to communicate. Essentially, it’s R2-D2-ing, which is a verb now, meaning to have effective nonspeech interactions. I like this idea, because so much of what makes us frustrated with AI assistants is their inability to reliably respond like a human would. When something talks to you, you can’t help but expect it to communicate like a human, and when it inevitably fails, it’s annoying. Kuri sidesteps this by not giving you a chance to think that it’s trying to be human at all, theoretically making it much harder to disappoint.
You, like us, may have a few questions at this point. Questions like, “What does Kuri do?” Here’s everything the press materials say about that:
Kuri is built to connect with you and helps bring technology to life. Kuri can understand context and surroundings, recognize specific people, and respond to questions with facial expressions, head movements, and his unique lovable sounds. Like many adored robots in popular culture, his personality and ability to connect are his greatest attributes.
An app lets users control Kuri and program the robot to perform different tasks. Photo: Mayfield Robotics
Or more specifically, in the context of Kuri’s hardware and software (which you interface with through an app):
- A built-in HD camera so you can check in on the house or pets while you’re away;
- A four-microphone array, powerful dual speakers, and Wi-Fi + Bluetooth connectivity, so it can react to voice commands or noises, play music, read the kids a bedtime story, or follow you around playing podcasts while you’re getting ready for work;
- Easily programmable tasks and IFTTT capabilities to connect within modern smart homes.
Many of these capabilities can be found in Amazon Echo or Google Home, and again, if you’re looking for that social component, Pepper and Jibo offer something comparable. What Kuri has going for it, from what we can tell, is simplicity to some extent and, even more important, mobility. We’re hoping that Mayfield will be able to tell us how its little robot will be uniquely valuable in ways that these other systems aren’t, and fortunately, we’re getting a chance to ask the company later today. We’ve got a meeting booked for this afternoon with CTO Kaijen Hsiao, and we should have time for both a demo and an interview. Let us know in the comments if there are any specific questions you’d like answers to.
If you’re already sold on Kuri, a US $100 deposit toward the $699 total cost will save you one for delivery in time for the holidays in 2017.
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Antarctica (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan's work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR's Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.