We may still be some way from having lifelike humanoid robot helpers, but there's no doubt robots are getting more helpful, friendly and domesticated. Blue Frog Robotics' new Buddy robot is designed to be an affordable family companion. It can help with communications, home security, edutainment and even elder care.
Buddy boasts many of the same features as the JIBO family robot that we featured last year, give or take. The one big difference, however, is that Buddy can move around of his own accord, whereas JIBO is static.
Buddy is mounted upon three motorized wheels that allow him to move around and turn autonomously. He can move at up to speeds of 70 cm / second (28 in / second) and can even negotiate increases and decreases in ground-height of up to 1.5 cm (0.6 in), such as low steps, transitions between carpets and trailing cables.
The robot is 22 in (56 cm) tall and weighs 5 kg (11 lb). He is controlled by an 8-in tablet that also acts as his face and an interface, has 16 GB of local data storage and a battery life of 8-10 hours, as well as built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity.
A variety of sensors help to deliver the various functionalities provided. These include a camera, ultrasound, infra-red and thermal sensors, a range-finder sensor, a temperature sensor and ground detectors. Other inputs and outputs include a microphone, an audio output and speakers.
The sensors, coupled with Buddy's mobility, means that he can learn about and interact with the world around him. He's able to map a user's home in real time and avoid collisions and obstacles autonomously.
Buddy can also detect, recognize and track objects and faces, as well as hear, speak, see and make coinciding head movements. He can recognize speech and speak text, with French and English being his two preloaded languages and downloadable support available for Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian.
All this technology naturally means that Buddy is a multi-talented chap. He can make phone or video calls for users, tracking faces with his head and following people around as required. He can also acts as a calendar, alarm clock and reminders system.
When users are away from home, Buddy can patrol the premises and detect any fires, floods, burglars or other unusual activity. Users can log in to Buddy and control him remotely via an accompanying iOS, Android or Windows app, viewing their home through his "eyes." Buddy can also monitor appliance and energy usage.
For kids, Buddy can play games, such as hide-and-seek, and test them on their homework. He also acts as a means of introducing children to robotics and the digital world.
Blue Frog says he can also provide social interaction for elderly people, although that seems a touch far-fetched. More realistically, though, he can provide can provide reminders for them, detect falls and unusual situations, and easily connect them to family members and friends via phone, messages or video.
On top of all that, Buddy's technology platform is open-source, meaning that developers can build applications for him. The hardware too is modular, with accessories such as arms able to be swapped out for projector units.
An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is underway for Buddy. At the time of writing, individuals who pledge from US$549 can receive a Buddy robot, with shipping expected to begin from May 2016 if all goes according to plans. The full public release expected in November 2016.
The video below is the Indiegogo pitch video for Buddy.