Robots walk, talk, pour beer and take over CES tech show
Walker robot grabs a soda can during a demonstration at the Ubtech booth
at CES International, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP
Matt O’Brien & Joseph Pisani
Las Vegas (AP) -
Robots that walk, talk, pour beer and play ping pong have taken over the
CES gadget show in Las Vegas again. Just don’t expect to find one in
your home any time soon.
Most home robot
ventures have failed, in part because they’re so difficult and expensive
to design to a level of intelligence that consumers will find useful,
says Bilal Zuberi, a robotics-oriented venture capitalist at Lux
Capital. But that doesn’t keep companies from trying.
guess, will never give up their dream to build Rosie,” says Zuberi,
referring to the humanoid maid from “The Jetsons.”
But there’s some
hope for others. Frank Gillett, a tech analyst at Forrester, says robots
with more focused missions such as mowing the lawn or delivering
cheeseburgers stand a better shot at finding a useful niche.
Robots that deliver
There are so many
delivery robots at CES that it’s easy to imagine that we’ll all be
stumbling over them on the sidewalk - or in the elevator - before long.
Zuberi says it’s among the new robot trends with the most promise
because the field is drawing on some of the same advances that power
But it’s hard to
tell which - if any - will still be around in a few years.
part of the same company that makes electric rental scooters for Lime,
Jump and Bird, is the latest to get into the delivery game with a new
machine it calls Loomo Delivery. The wheeled office robot can avoid
obstacles, board elevators and deliver documents to another floor.
A similar office
courier called the Holabot was unveiled by Chinese startup Shenzhen Pudu
Technology. CEO Felix Zhang says his company already has a track record
selling robots in China, where its Pudubot robot - which looks like
shelves on wheels - navigates busy restaurants as a kind of robotic
Nearly all of these
robots use a technology called visual SLAM, short for simultaneous
localization and mapping. Most are wheeled, though there are outliers -
such as one from German automotive company Continental, which wants to
deploy walking robotic dogs to carry packages from self-driving delivery
vans to residential front doors.
A delivery robot
will need both sophisticated autonomy and a focused mission to stand out
from the pack, says Saumil Nanavati, head of business development for
Robby Technology. His company’s namesake robot travels down sidewalks as
a “store on wheels.” The company recently partnered with PepsiCo to
deliver snacks around a California university campus.
Robots for dogs
Does man’s best
friend need a robotic pal of its own? Some startups think so.
“There’s a big
problem with separation anxiety, obesity and depression in pets,” says
Bee-oh Kim, a marketing manager for robotics firm Varram.
The company’s $99
robot is essentially a moving treat dispenser that motivates pets to
chase it around. A herd of the small, dumbbell-shaped robots zoomed
around a pen at the show - though there were no canine or feline
conference attendees to show how the machines really work.
takes two hours to charge and can run for 10 hours - just enough time to
allow a pet’s guilt-ridden human companion to get home from work.
Samsung is coming
out with a robot that can keep its eye on grandparents.
The rolling robot
can talk and has two digital eyes on a black screen. It’s designed to
track the medicines seniors take, measure blood pressure and call 911 if
it detects a fall.
Samsung didn’t say
when Samsung Bot Care would be available, but some startups are putting
similar ideas in action. Israeli company Intuition Robotics used CES to
announce the upcoming commercial launch of ElliQ, a robotic voice
assistant that can sit on end tables and help older adults communicate
with family members without having to fiddle with a computer.
Lovot is a simple
robot with just one aim - to make its owner happy.
It can’t carry on
long conversations, but it’s still social - approaching people so they
can interact, moving around a space to create a digital map, responding
to being embraced.
antenna - featuring a 360-degree camera - recognizes its surroundings
and detects the direction of sound and voices.
Lovot is the
brainchild of Groove X CEO Kaname Hayashi, who previously worked on
SoftBank’s Pepper, a humanoid robot that briefly appeared in a few U.S.
shopping malls two years ago. Hayashi wanted to create a real connection
between people and robots.
“This is just
supporting your heart, our motivation,” he says.
Tech’s big gadget show edges
closer to gender equity
Jan. 8, 2018, file photo a model performs at a display for Sony cameras
after a Sony news conference at CES International in Las Vegas. Critics
have been on the case of one of the tech industry’s largest trade shows
for not including enough female speakers. That seems to be changing this
year at CES, the huge consumer-electronics show in Las Vegas. (AP
New York (AP) - The world’s largest tech conference has
apparently learned a big lesson about gender equity.
CES, the huge annual consumer-electronics show in Las Vegas, caught
major flak from activists in late 2017 when it unveiled an all-male
lineup of keynote speakers for the second year in a row. Although it
later added two female keynoters, the gathering’s “boys’ club”
reputation remained intact. It didn’t help that one of the unsanctioned
events latching on to CES last year was a nightclub featuring female
This year, four of the nine current keynoters are women. GenderAvenger,
the activist group that raised a ruckus last year, recently sent CES
organizers a congratulatory letter and awarded the show a “Gold Stamp of
Approval” for a roster of keynote and “featured” speakers that it says
is 45 percent women - 60 percent of them women of color.
It’s a significant change for CES, which like most tech conferences
remains disproportionately male, just like the industry it serves. Even
absent the robot dogs, sci-fi worthy gadgets and “booth babes” CES has
been known for, you could readily peg it as a technology show from the
bathroom lines alone - where men shift uncomfortably as they wait their
turn while women waltz right in.
The four-day CES show opened Tuesday, though media previews began
Sunday. Keynoters this year include IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Lisa Su, CEO
of chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices; and U.S. Transportation Security
Elaine Chao. The entire featured speaker list is currently half female,
although the exact percentage won’t be known until after the event.
“There is no question we keep trying to do better,” said Gary Shapiro,
CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES.
“Diversity is about having people who see things differently - frankly,
disagree with you and tell you that you are stupid,” said Tania Yuki,
CEO of social media analytics company Shareablee and an attendee of CES
for the past several years. The big question, she says, is whether CES
has really listened to its critics.
CES is the place to be for tech companies and startups to show off their
latest gadgets and features. More than 180,000 people are expected to
attend this year, and some 4,500 companies will be on the convention
floor. Among them are newcomers like Tide maker Procter & Gamble,
defense contractor Raytheon and tractor seller John Deere - all eager to
burnish their technology bona fides.
But really leveling the playing field often means more than inviting
female CEOs to speak. For starters, women and people of color are
underrepresented in the tech industry, especially in leadership and
technical roles. So, conference organizers might need to look harder, or
be more flexible in who they invite to speak.
There are also optics. While recent attendees say “booth babes” -
scantily clad women hawking gadgets - no longer seem to be a presence,
some companies still hire “fitness models,” largely young women wearing
tight-fitting outfits, to demo products. This can make it difficult for
the few women at the show who are there as executives, engineers and
other technologists, as men mistake them for models, too.
“When you are talking about scantily clad models you are setting a
tone,” said Bobbie Carlton, the founder of Innovation Women, a speaker
bureau for women. “It is a slippery slope and you end up with this type
of mentality that runs through industry, where women are objectified and
are only useful if they look good.”
More optics: Until recently, a porn convention taking place immediately
after CES appeared more diverse than CES itself. Not a good look for the
There are also logistical challenges, Carlton said. For example, women
often work for smaller companies, which can find it more challenging to
“send someone cross-country to stay at a fancy hotel for three days,”
Rajia Abdelaziz is CEO of invisaWear, a startup that makes smart “safety
jewelry.” While she’s attending CES this year, she said it wasn’t worth
the $10,000 it would cost her company to have its own convention-floor
booth. In addition to the cost concerns, Abdelaziz notes that her
products are primarily aimed at women - and there just aren’t that many
of them at CES.
Women are also still more likely to be responsible for the home and for
child care, so they might turn down speaking opportunities if the timing
doesn’t work for them, Carlton said.
CES has tried to make some concessions. For example, it offers private
pods for women to pump breast milk at the event. But it doesn’t offer
child care support, unlike the smaller Grace Hopper Celebration for
Women in Computing conference, a fall event aimed at women in computer
Organizers note that children are not permitted at CES. Although kids
are also banned from Grace Hopper, that conference still manages to
offer free child care for attendees.
Still, Yuki is hopeful that CES is on the right track. “It’s a big
conference,” she said. “You can only turn a very big ship very slowly.”
Privacy and other matters with Facebook’s video-call gadget
image provided by Facebook shows the company’s product called Portal.
(Facebook via AP)
New York (AP) -
It’s rare that a new gadget these days serves a
true need. Rather, it creates a want.
You certainly don’t
need the Facebook Portal, whose primary purpose is to let you make the types
of video calls you can already make on Facebook’s Messenger app. And given
the company’s poor record on user privacy, do you even want it? Or a similar
device from Amazon or Google?
The Portal is part of a
new category of gadgets best described as screens for making video calls,
listening to music and responding to voice commands for tasks you can also
do on your phone. Unlike tablets, these microphone- and camera-equipped
screens are meant to rest at a fixed location in your living room, kitchen
or, gasp, your bedroom.
If you are a tech
trailblazer willing to try new things - and have no qualms on privacy - here
are some things to consider.
Facebook’s $349 Portal
Plus is a great device for making video calls using Messenger. It’s also
gigantic - 15.6 inches, measured diagonally, or roughly the size of the
window of many microwave ovens. There’s also a smaller sibling, simply
called the Portal, at $199.
Both models are
designed to do one thing and one thing well - let you chat with other people
on their own Portal or through the regular Messenger app. Yes, the Portal
can do a few things more, such as tap Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, but
these features feel tacked on, much like trying to cook breakfast sausages
with a toaster created just to cook hot dogs.
Unless you are in a
long-distance relationship and want to spend hours each evening gazing into
your sweetheart’s eye (while also getting dinner and laundry done), you can
certainly live without one, just as you can live without a hot dog cooker.
That’s especially true if you are concerned about the number of screens in
your home, especially screens that could be watching you.
Google’s Home Hub
($129) and Amazon’s Echo Show ($230) can do a lot more, but their
video-calling capabilities aren’t as good as the Portal’s. With Home Hub,
for instance, you can see the person calling you, but the device itself has
no camera for two-way videos.
If video calling is
your thing, you’re better off with a Portal. The device’s camera can
recognize people in a room and follow them as they move around. So you can
literally pace up and down while you argue with your mother. (Facebook says
it doesn’t use facial-recognition technology to identify individuals.)
Portal also has a cute
“story time” feature that adds face masks and other animation while you to
kids on the other side of the call.
The Google and Amazon
devices don’t do either.
All three devices allow
you to add multiple users, so different people in your household can call
their circle of friends. But you’re locked into that company’s messaging
Try explaining to your
87-year-old grandfather why he can’t FaceTime you on the Portal or Skype on
the Home Hub. Hell will freeze over before you can get him to sign up for
Facebook just to chat with his great-grandchildren. And you haven’t even
mentioned the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal yet.
The good news is you
can make calls from these devices to smartphones, though in the Portal’s
case, you need the device to tell the animated stories. Traveling parents
likely won’t be lugging one to read to their kids at home.
As for compatibility,
Facebook’s Messenger has more than 1 billion users, and many of your friends
are likely already on it, at least in the United States. But Portal doesn’t
work with Facebook’s WhatsApp, which is popular overseas. Setting up the
device is relatively simple.
The Home Hub works with
Google’s Duo messaging service, so friends and relatives will have to at
least install the Duo app on their phones. It’s also difficult to set up.
After much cursing and online searches for the right settings, I still get
error messages. Google press representatives didn’t immediately respond to
On the Echo Show, the
recipient of your call needs to have the Alexa app, if not an Echo device
with a screen. You need to set it up on a phone first by giving Alexa access
to your contacts list and making sure this person is on it. You can also
call others on Skype after connecting your Skype account.
Clearly a lot of
thought went into making the Portal optimal for connecting with friends and
family. It’s just a shame that it comes in a year full of privacy scandals
for the company.
True, Google has had
its share of privacy issues this year, including an Associated Press report
that it tracks people’s location even when they tell it not to. But with
Facebook, it’s something new every few weeks, culminating with revelations
this week from The New York Times that Facebook shared user data with
more than 150 other companies without people’s explicit permission.
While it’s possible to
use Messenger on the phone without having a Facebook account, Portal still
requires one. Facebook says it’s to enable other features, such as
displaying Facebook photos on your Portal. But these features aren’t
essential to video calling - just essential to fold the Portal experience
into Facebook’s massive advertising system.
Facebook says it
doesn’t listen to, view, record or store the content of your calls, so if
you believe Facebook - and that’s a big if - it’s not going to try to target
ads based on whom you talk to or what’s hanging on your walls in the
But other information,
such as the length and frequency of your calls, is fair game and may be used
for advertising purposes - such as ads for video-calling services.
No doubt to address
privacy concerns, Facebook has included a plastic cover for the Portal’s
camera. You can also turn it off using a button.
But promises and
plastic covers aren’t enough when Facebook has shown carelessness with its
users’ data over and over.