An whole industry has attempted, but failed, to emulate Roomba’s success for the past 20 years.

ter every tech success story, there are innumerable initiatives that run straight into the concrete barriers of reality. One of the most recent—and, to be honest, best—examples of a project failing despite seemingly having everything going for it is Apple’s plans to develop electric vehicles.

Although the future of the Vision Pro is still up in the air, Apple’s mixed reality headset shows that the corporation isn’t scared to attempt where almost everyone else has given up. Now that the Apple Car is firmly in the past, the business is allegedly looking at household robots, another infamously challenging avenue.

For several reasons, the category is both distinctive and particularly challenging.

One feature that distinguishes it from others categories is that there has only been one successful product, the robot vacuum. Since the original Roomba was released 22 years ago, a whole industry—including iRobot itself—has been striving to replicate its success.
It’s not for lack of trying that iRobot hasn’t struck gold twice. Since introducing Roomba about 25 years ago, the company has given us lawn mowers, gutter cleaners, pool cleaners and even a Roomba that is specifically made to remove screws and other hardware debris from garage floors. Despite such initiatives, the business has had the most success when it has returned its resources to its robot vacuum.

The robot hoover was successful for the same reason that any robot has ever been successful: it was designed to be the best at a specific, in-demand duty that it could execute repeatedly. Vacuums continue to be the arena of choice for the home robot battles. Consider Matic, a well-funded startup in the Bay Area. Robotic vacuums, according to the company’s founders, who were engineers at Google and Nest, will be the cornerstone of the next major home technology advancement. Part of their argument is that, with its puck-like form factor, iRobot essentially painted itself into a corner.

The sensing and mapping capabilities of today were not considered when those early Roombas were designed. Matic thinks you can significantly increase the robot’s view point just by making it taller. This was additionally the force behind the periscope camera, the most intriguing innovation on Amazon’s Astro house robot.

The truth is that form factor greatly limits the capability of home robots. Robot vacuums typically have a hockey puck-shaped design, which isn’t the best for anything other than what it was intended to do. The hardware needs to get more sophisticated in order to efficiently carry out more of the kinds of duties that people might want in a home robot. Manipulators that move are an excellent moving target. In other words, offering a hand is an excellent place to start if you need assistance.

However, mobile manipulators are surprisingly hard, just like a lot of other things in this world. Actually, industrial robotics still hasn’t figured it out. While wheeled autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) like Locus and Kiva are ubiquitous in warehouses and large, bolted-down arms are common in manufacturing, It’s unclear where the two sides can truly agree to disagree. This accounts for a large portion of the reason why people are still vital in that society. Although it is a problem that will eventually be resolved, it appears that it will likely occur in these more costly industrial machines before it finds its way into more reasonably priced home robots (businesses typically have larger budgets than individuals).
This is also a major aspect in why a lot of people support the humanoid form factor in the workplace (because humans can manipulate objects in a mobile way). However, that is a lengthy thought piece for a different day.

For home robots, manipulating mobile objects is not completely impossible. Stretch by Hello Robot is arguably the best example available right now. The robot’s form factor is more like that of a Roomba with a pole affixed in the middle than that of a humanoid. This has an arm that can move up and down to grasp items (laundry, dishes) at various heights in addition to an imaging system. It makes sense that some jobs are obviously easier to complete with two arms, which is why so many robotics companies have successfully backward-engineered humanoids.

At $24,950, Stretch is unaffordable in its current state.

That’s probably a major factor in the company’s marketing of it as a platform for development. It’s interesting to note that Matic views its robot as a type of development platform—starting with vacuuming and moving on to other household tasks.

The fact that Stretch is teleoperated is another problem. In many cases, teleoperation makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t seem plausible that people will flock to a household robot that is operated by a human in the remote distance.

Another significant obstacle to the home is navigation. Homes are generally less structured spaces than factories and warehouses. They vary widely from one another, there is frequently erratic lighting, and people are always shifting things around and spilling things on the ground.

On this front, the autonomous driving industry has encountered its own challenges. The main distinction between an autonomous vehicle on the motorway and one inside a house is that the latter is likely only going to accidentally knock over a piece of furniture. That’s not good, but it doesn’t usually lead to death. Conversely, with self-driving cars, any mishap signifies a big regression for the sector. It makes sense that technology is held to a higher standard than human counterparts.

Although the foregoing safety concerns have contributed to the adoption of self-driving technologies being far behind schedule, many of the technologies developed for this category have quietly sparked their own robotics revolution, as autonomous vehicles occupy sidewalks and farmland.

This is probably a major factor in why it may consider household robots to be “the next big thing” (according to Bloomberg, which cited its sources). Without a question, Apple has invested a significant amount of money in developing cutting-edge technologies. Maybe it won’t be for nothing if those may be used for another project.

According to reports, Apple “hasn’t committed” to the robotic smart screen or mobile robot that are rumoured to exist within the company’s skunkworks, but it has already assigned Apple Home executives Matt Costello and Brian Lynch to handle the hardware, and John Giannandrea, SVP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, is reportedly involved with the AI.

Considering how close to its domestic endeavours it is, it is conceivable that the corporation is developing a rival product to Amazon’s Astro, however for the time being it is merely a warning story. The project’s enormous cost and dearth of beneficial features have made it impossible to justify. Not only did the system function as a mobile Alexa portal, but home assistants have recently become somewhat of a relic.

Apple does possess some robotics knowledge, but not nearly as much as Amazon has in the industrial sector. The business has produced robot arms such as Daisy, which recovers important metals from abandoned iPhones. That’s still a significant step away from a home robot.

Maybe the business should approach the category more like Vision Pro, which places a strong emphasis on developer contributions. To achieve this, though, would necessitate a very flexible hardware platform, which would most likely be out of reach for the majority of customers and render the $3,500 price tag of the Vision Pro insignificant.

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