CES 2018: Year of the Super Cute Bots

If the 51st Consumer Electronics Show proved anything, it’s that cuteness goes along way when you’re a bot competing for attention on a crowded show floor.

Of course, functionality and price matter too. In the area of cuddle bots, Somnox, the sensor-filled pillow that claims to give affection to help you wake rested and happy, got a lot of attention at the show, perhaps because there was a rumor that they were giving away tee shirts that read: “I slept with a robot.” I had a chance to go hands on with this very heavy $550 4.5 pound pillow and found it completely non-responsive to my hugs.

Me with USA Today’s Rob Pegoraro debating the merits of Somnox

That said, sleeper hit, Qoobo, the super light $99 sensor-filled pillow, completely stole my heart as it continuously wagged its tail during my interview with its creator, Yukai Engineering’s Shunsuke Aoki:

“I feel like I’m cheating on my cat” purred Geekazine editor, Jeff Powers. Designed as an emotional support bot for singles and seniors who are not allowed pets in their dwellings, this eyeless soft-to-the-touch plushie taps into your imagination and is very relaxing to engage with. Both Kickstarter-backed, Qoobo gave the better snuggle of two.

Me interviewing Shunsuke Aoki, Founder & CEO of Yukai Engineering, creator of Qoobo, pillow with a tail

Another super cute bot packed with personality and impressive functionality was San Francisco’s Hardware Club-backed, Keecker, a sleekly designed family bot with all the features of a tv roomba and more. At $1790, a bit pricey but when you consider that with a simple voice command you can project Netflix’s Black Mirror on the ceiling above your bed from your phone, facetime with houseguests, dogs, kids and burglars while you’re away, livestream parties from your house, and help you search for lost items, Keecker seems priceless. Currently showcased at Target Open House in San Francisco, Keecker will be rolling out to several markets across the US in the next months.

Voice stood out as a key differentiator at CES this year as the Hey Google guy was everywhere. During my visit to ECOVACS, my attention quickly turned from the quiet window washing WINBOT to its adorable chatty sibling, DEEBOT, the voice-command floor cleaner.

Omron also had a significant presence at CES with its massive ping pong robot, FORPHEUS. Not meant for home use, FORPHEUS entertained South Hall visitors as a demo for Omron’s advanced facial recognition, AI, machine learning, and robotics technologies, then afterhours, served up some great cocktails.

Other fun stops in South Hall included Ozobot where I met EVO, a tiny codebot that can be programmed to go on adventures and battle other bots. Ozobot is in over 10,000 schools and available from shop.ozobot.com for $89. In this video, you can watch EVO go go go as I interview Ozobot’s Morgan Andersen on how this little robot is teaching kids to code. She had me play a table game where EVO was programmed to navigate a maze for prizes. I lost the game but won an EVO anyway. YAAAY!!!

Unexpected were the heartstrings pulled by the sensor-rich Aflac Duck, a cuddle bot meant to comfort kids with cancer. In my interview with Aflac’s Jon Sullivan here, he talks about the $122 million Aflac has donated to the cause and how sympathetic technology is making things better:

In the end, Bluefrog Robotics’s award-winning Buddy and Sony’s dogbot Aibo stole the show touting irresistible cuteness, rich expressiveness, dynamic range of movements and ability to bond with its owners.

Buddy and friends from the show floor

Sony’s Aibo

Perhaps the takeaway is that we as humans need and want more endearing companions, and the cuter they are, the quicker we’ll adopt the technology.

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