One of the cutest gadgets showcased at CES 2018 was BUDDY, the personal assistant robot from Blue Frog Robotics. A lot of BUDDY’s features will sound familiar and can be found in a range of other smart home products. He offers hands-free assistance by playing music or reciting the steps of a recipe. He uses video technology to monitor your home while you’re away. He provides a video chat interface to let people connect with one another. He offers educational games to keep kids entertained.
Most people probably already have gadgets in their home that do one or more of these tasks, so it might be hard to justify BUDDY’s $1500 price tag. However, BUDDY’s big difference isn’t so much in what he does; it’s in the way he looks and moves as he does it. BUDDY isn’t a disembodied voice floating up from a box. He has a face! He also isn’t mounted on a wall like a typical security camera. He is able to move around with seeming autonomy to patrol and interact. In other words, BUDDY is part of the family.
BUDDY’s cartoon-like appearance is one of the reasons that his primary appeal is to families with children. Billed as a household assistant, he can even use facial recognition software to give reminders unique to each family member, according to Venture Beat.
A lot of the focus on BUDDY’s appearance centers around taking the creepy factor out of the concept of an autonomous robot. Consumers often balk at a robot that looks too real, an idea known as the “uncanny valley.” BUDDY’s cartoonish face is welcoming, not human, and he stands only 22 inches tall. In addition, he doesn’t have arms or legs, a feature that Mashable reports “not only makes the robot easier to develop but a lot less scary for humans worried about an errant home robot reaching out or chasing them.”
BUDDY might segue into a greater acceptance of robots with autonomous movement and human-like qualities. As USA Today reports in their coverage of CES 2018, BUDDY could be “the entry point to the robot revolution.”