Following a successful Kickstarter funding and five years of R&D, French robotics company Keecker is finally bringing its R2-D2-like flagship robot to market in the U.S.
The timing is perhaps a little unfortunate. Keecker is going to have some intense competition from Jibo, another long-awaited consumer robot that debuted earlier this year. Jibo made the cover of Time recently. Thanks to early hype, many in the industry believe it will be the first non-vacuum consumer robot to really break out.
Keecker is definitely a different sort of beast, but early adopters aren't likely to buy two home robots this year.
Still, Keecker makes a good case for itself. It responds to voice commands via Google Home and Alexa, as well as a smartphone app. But it's really built to be a multimedia machine, a sort of roving smart TV and gaming console. It has an Android TV operating system and can access content across Google Play, Chromecast, and Google Assistant.
What the universal remote was to the 1990s, robots will be to the 2020s.
Perhaps most intriguingly, all that content comes to life thanks to a built-in 90-degree adjustable video projector and a 360-degree audio and video capturing system. The hardware allows you to have video conference calls with your life-sized colleague, watch movies on the living room wall, or bring back slide show evenings ala the Kodak Carousel.
The promo materials seem to emphasize how it cool it will be to project movies or swirling galaxies above a bed ... which I buy.
Along with the projector, the other feature that differentiates Keecker from Jibo and other personal assistants is mobility. Responding to voice commands, the 15" by 15", 18-pound robot can zip around the house and come to you.
Jibo, by contrast, can swivel its head to indicate emotion, but lacks mobility.
Whether that's enough enticement for customers to shell out $1,790 for the base model remains to be seen. For that price you do get some impressive processing juice thanks to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Quad Core. But it may be a big leap for consumers given how new this category is.
Google and Amazon, after all, priced their hardware personal assistants low to spur adoption. Both companies can extract revenue from customers down the road, which means they're willing to take a hit on the hardware.
Right now, the success or failure of robots like Keecker and Jibo will hinge on the viability of building a business selling hardware in 2018, which won't be an easy path.
Still, the robots are coming home one way or another. I like the Keecker concept, and if you have money to spare (and hate sitting up in bed), this is an attractive early model you might want to look at.
Keecker will be available at a few retail shops in select cities, but it's easier to order through the website.