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IS THE DOMESTIC PERSONAL ROBOT FINALLY HERE?

For years people have been speculating about when robots might be ready to go mainstream. Back at the beginning of 2007, Bill Gates famously declared robots as the “next big thing” and that the robotics industry was at the same place as the PC market in the late 70s – just ready to take off! Well, we’ve been waiting for a while now. But something significant has indeed transpired in the last 7 years that we didn’t then see on the horizon – the smartphone. The release of the iPhone a few months after Bill Gates declaration would signal the beginning of the mobile revolution, and that fact – along with cloud technologies, Big Data, and open-source and collaboration breakthroughs – has transformed how we live, the way we do business, and how we interact with others. Today, in fact, technology is at an inflection point to the extent now that every company is, or should be, or will become in essence a technology company.

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We’re not here to talk about smartphones. Rather, we’re interested in revisiting the forecast that Gates made exactly 8 years ago concerning the status of the robot market. In light of the progress we’ve seen in these past 8 years, thanks in part to the mobile revolution, it appears that the consumer personal robot might be here at last. Robotbase debuted in early January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the annual showcase event of the year of all the latest and greatest technologies and gadgets. Robotbase is not your ordinary robot; indeed the makers claim it as the world’s first personal robot for the home. According to its Crunchbase profile, “Robotbase was founded in 2014 by a group of software engineers, hardware engineers, and mechanical designers who set out to prove that robots could become part of our day-to-day lives.” And if evidenced by the buzz Robotbase has received lately the company is doing something right. Robotbase began its Kickstarter Campaign on January 7th and funded within a month, raising over $160K . . . well beyond its goal of $50K.

Standing at about 4 feet tall, Robotbase is an autonomous robot with a telescoping arm that holds its screen, camera, and other sensors, and with the ability to move around on a wheeled base. In fact, Robotbase looks exactly like many of the popular telepresence devices that we’ve seen on the market for a number of years now. But a closer look at Robotbase reveals some features that make it unique from anything else out there. Loaded with sensors, advanced facial-recognition and vision features, and artificial intelligence capabilities based on Deep Learning algorithms, Robotbase is everything you could imagine in a personal assistant and more.

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Using natural language processing enables the device to interact with its human counterparts. For now the prototype version features an avatar named Maya, but eventually you’ll be able to choose from a variety of different ones to personalize your device. Robotbase can serve as a security guard while you’re away and can even tell the kids a bed-time story and stop talking once it recognizes that they’re asleep. Or it can act as your own personal assistant – and help to schedule a meeting, snap a photograph, or play your favorite song. You can also use Robotbase as a mobile telepresence device to connect with your friends and family in other locations. And if that’s not enough, Robotbase lets you connect to all of your connected devices, fitness trackers, locks, switches, outlets and thermostats – turning the device into a smart home automation system as well.

Robotbase is slated to go on sale by the end of 2015 and is still in the process of raising funds to secure production and manufacturing costs. The company hopes to eventually sell its robot for under $1,500 — and maybe even $1,000. It plans to sell directly to consumers though is also exploring relationships with brick-and-mortar retailers.

“Twenty years ago, personal computers came along and changed everything. Ten years ago, we had the smartphone,” said Duy Huynh, founder and CEO of Robotbase. “We look at our product as the next device after the computer and the smartphone.”

There’s a lot of difficult hurdles to overcome to mass produce a robot for the consumer market. But by all appearances so far Robotbase looks to offer a potentially revolutionary product . . . and just at a very strategic time in the progression of emerging and disruptive technologies.

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If you happen to be in the Silicon Valley area on March 12, 2015 you won’t want to miss the networking and fireside chat with Shahin Farshchi, Partner at Lux Capital Management, on the topic of New Frontiers of Hardware and Robotics Investing. Challenges and Solutions. The event will be held from 5-8pm at the Silicon Valley Innovation Center, where Mr. Farshchi will be providing advice to entrepreneurs interested in building revolutionary new technologies in robotics, AI, manufacturing, logistics, infrastructure, and more.

There’s probably never been a more exciting time to be in the robot business. Lots of startups are vying to get in on the “next big thing” in technology. Will 2015 be the year of the personal robot? It is anyone’s guess but from all signs so far Robotbase is bringing us even closer to that long-anticipated reality.

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