Buddy: Family-Friendly Robot Launches on Indiegogo

As we all read one headline after another warning of the robot takeover of our jobs, I’ve discovered a more serious source of concern for human-kind. After reviewing this well-produced Speilbergian video for the personal robot Buddy on Indiegogo, it seems robots will starting picking off the family dog or cat, and then go after children who aren’t cute or servile enough.

Buddy is the work of Paris-based Blue Frog Robotics. Their crowd-funding effort has already raised over $220,000 — almost double the initial goal. Promoted as the “world’s first affordable companion robot”, Buddy follows a long line of other robotic efforts. There were these guys, of course. I then ran into Intel’s Jimmy a few years ago at a consumer electronic’s show. Softbank has Pepper. And more recently there was NYC’s short-lived Robotbase. I’m sure your city has a start-up tinkering with bots.

Buddy’s focus is on sociability and overall helpfulness, all at low cost (around $600). Children especially relate to this plastic automaton. The secret seems to be the flat screen displaying two important features borrowed from the animal world —  eyes and mouth. Rather than cuddle up with a warm, fuzzy pet while mom reads a story, the kids in this video instead want Buddy by the bedside.

And Buddy is the perfect non-whiny younger brother that any family member can order around and be the boss of. In one scene, a moppet orders Buddy to turn on the lights. This kind of manual effort is beneath the little princess.

I can see parents becoming very fond of this perfect pseudo-child. Who wouldn’t? Buddy can multiply, remember dates, wake you up in the morning, help with the cooking, play with the children, and requires no emotional support. Mom and dad may decide they really don’t need another human child to complete the family.

Sure, I’ve seen this approach to bot marketing before: you’re getting a humanoid without all the mess. But usually the messaging emphasizes the office and other adult play pens. When you talk to some of these bot fanatics, at a practical-level they understand the money-making use cases involve apartment or hotel concierge, hospital aide, or roving information resource for, say, a retail environment.

I suspect the general public doesn’t understand that the face recognition, speech analysis, and navigation that are shown as working flawlessly in pitch videos are not close to this level in reality. Perhaps in a few years. I’d like to see Buddy get around my house and deliver messages to the right human inhabitants.

This is an open-source project so maybe someone will eventually come up with apps clever enough to achieve the Buddy vision. If you’re an early-adopter type or a business person who has specific scenarios in mind for what is effectively a mobile smart device, then by all means become a supporter.