More Kickstarter Projects: Robotbase’s Personal AI-bot

Robotbase’s Personal Robot is the most ambitious project that I’ve seen so far on Kickstarter. If the pitch video of this mobile Siri-like bot is anywhere near the actual reality, we’ve moved a step closer to recreating Data from Star Trek: Next Generation.

It recognizes faces and emotions, understands speech, moves autonomously, and provides fashion suggestions. It’s likely smarter than a Border Collie—high-praise indeed—and with a little more polish and appropriate programming, the Personal Robot could have a career as a Fox News correspondent.

Siri-ously, I truly am impressed. Of course, the bot was putting its best foot (or rotor) forward in the video. For those new to the robot space, Robotbase’s offering looks like the one you see on, say, The Good Wife, which is really a telepresence device—think of it as sort of a Roomba with an LCD panel and camera.

The Personal Robot, though, appears to be autonomous and can rove around your house or office on its own. It’s still a little unclear whether it can be given a basic search-and-find task, such as “did I leave my copy of Isaac Asimov’s ‘I,Robot’ in the den?” and then report back to you after returning from its mission. According to their Kickstarter page, the robot can work out floor plans and has some situational awareness. So in in theory, it’s possible and that makes this more than just a wandering iPhone.

I communicated (via email) with Robobase’s founder, Duy Huynh, to find out more about the impressive machine intelligence being displayed on the video. Yeah, for now the image recognition and other AI functions are not done locally. Fair enough. It just seems that for many of the more practical functions—what’s on my schedule or what’s the temperature today—Siri or Cortana would fit the bill just as nicely.

It has not escaped my attention that the bot is a she, and the owner in the Kickstarter video is a busy single guy who treats this sentient silicon like a wife-girlfriend-secretary. So it’s obviously being marketed to a certain demographic. Huynh assures me that the use cases in the video are realistic—for example the single guy asks the bot whether he has chosen the right tie—but I think there are other more practical and societally useful options. How about helper for the physically disabled or elderly?

These days I’m focused more on data privacy and security issues, so I had to ask Huynh about the data collected by their robot. Yes, the company does store very personal information about you in the cloud, but according to Huynh, it’s only to make the AI better.

There are enormous privacy issues here, of course. In the US, the rules on data privacy for this type of device are loose, but I suspect the company may have some issues with the EU regulators.

It will cost over $900 if you want a Personal Robot of your own. First shipments are expected in December 2015. The project, by the way, has already exceeded its Kickstarter goal of $50,000. Amazing!