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A Robot in every home

by Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

There's going to be an interesting battle of robots in the next year or so, and we're not talking about the Transformers. A number of manufacturers are going to be pushing more robots further into the home and will be fighting for consumer dollars, which means their products are going to get better and cheaper.

La Jolla, Calif.-based WowWee, maker of the successful Robosapien toy, is releasing a robot called Rovio for the Christmas season. The Rovio, unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and shown off again at the RoboBusiness conference here in Pittsburgh, is a "tele-presence" robot, or a device that lets the user see what's going on at home when they're not there.

The Rovio is a cute little robot that looks a bit like a very small dog. It moves about on three multi-directional wheels and has a swiveling head that houses a camera, microphone and speaker. Its coolest feature is that it connects to the home wi-fi router, which lets the user control it from any computer with an internet connection. That means the user can roll the Rovio around their home and see what's going on while sitting at their desk at work.

The user can also communicate with people at home via the microphone and speaker, so parents can remotely curse out children for watching too much television, or politely tell the robber that just broke in that the police are on their way. In all, it's a pretty nifty home monitoring and security gadget.

Wary of letting WowWee onto its "home" turf, robot vacuum cleaner iRobot is also working on its own tele-presence machine, the ConnectR. The company hasn't announced a release date yet, but the ConnectR – which looks very similar to iRobot's circular Roomba vacuums and works very much like the Rovio – is unlikely to hit stores much later than its rival.

The best part about these tele-presence robots is their prices. The Rovio is going to sell for $299 U.S. While iRobot hasn't set a price on the ConnectR, it's likely to sell in the same $300 range that its vacuums go for. Once the competition between the two gets rolling, those relatively low price points are likely to drop even further. With such low prices, it may not be long until there's a robot in every home after all.

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