Though CES officially starts tomorrow, companies have already begun to unveil what's next in the world of robotics. It's expected to be a sleeper year in terms of dancing, anthropomorphized robots and previously unseen, highly cogent AI technologies. However, what is exciting are the developments in consumer robotics, which is to say: intelligent playthings. The Next Web predicts this to be the year of the "automated hardware revolution" stemming from repurposing hardware already present in smartphones and tablets very literally for their own devices. This has slashed costs, making robotic toys and gaming robots more accessible. Here are some revealed during pre-CES 2014 that we'd be glad to have flitting around our tiny New York City apartments.
Parrot announced the Jumping Sumo, a two-wheeled leaping bot, and MiniDrone, the budget build of its popular big brother AR.Drone 2. Both are controlled with an app on iOS devices communicating over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, respectively.
The Jumping Sumo can reach heights of up to three feet with a spring-loaded arm in a 160-foot radius. Specific gestures highlight the impressive turning radius of each individually controlled wheel, and "preset performances like a high-speed pirouette," as The Verge notes, make what you're watching an "unintelligible blur." The front-facing camera apparently makes the Sumo a little clunky, but still fun for the 20 minutes its battery lasts.
Pilots can fly the MiniDrone for six to seven minutes up to 160 feet. It's larger predecessor, the AR.Drone 2, may have a camera, but what the MiniDrone lacks makes up for in its stability and ease of use compared to a somewhat confusing interface and mandatory mastery of controls. Instead, the MiniDrone comes with removable plastic wheels, dually acting as protective shields and ground transportation. The range and ruggedness of the 2 may be missing, but consider this petite flyer a reasonably priced alternative.
In tandem, the Jumping Sumo and MiniDrone are the most entertaining toys to dirty the kitchen and frighten pets. The promotional video told me so.
Available TBA; Prices Jumping Sumo TBA, MiniDrone less than $299
Another remote-controlled motor toy, the Sphero 2B is Orbotix's new version of the Sphero, the rolling cue-ballish robot that lets you play augmented reality games. Expanded to the size of an aluminum can, the new Sphero zooms twice as fast on rubberized and customizable tires, and is outfitted with a camera to record video and augment reality as you please. An educational plus—the Sphero 2B will travel around classrooms, teaching students about physics and programming.
Available before Christmas; Price less than $100
Perhaps the most practical of pre-CES robots, the Rydis H68 is the next generation of Monueal's hybrid vacuum cleaners. On top of the previous model's capabilities as a vacuum cleaner and dry mop, the sleek H68 can also serve as a wet mop, able to hold a little more than six ounces of water in its reservoir. With a large self-dampening and removable mop pad and 3.23 inch clearance height, it seems to win the Miss Versatility Award of robots that may or may not get stuck under the couch when the batteries die.
Available spring 2014; Price $499
AIMe is a small, lightweight camera rig that detects motion up to 150 feet, or more with special sensors, effectually tossing the need to ask the friend or partner who doesn't understand how framing works to record something for you ever again. It's compatible with GoPro, camcorders, and most smartphones, and holds the intelligence to set up complex, multi-camera rigs with long-range sensors, rendering the AIMe user to be able to solo-shoot most anything.
Available June 1, 2014; Price $299.99
Keecker is the latest advancement in postmodern every time everywhere home entertainment systems. A microwave-sized "pillowy egg," as GigaOM puts it, the minimalist machine is a projector, camera, and speaker system on wheels. Watch movies, listen to a record, take a picture, check the weather even—the possibilities may certainly be endless considering developers are already working on native Keecker applications. The price is steep, yet predictable for an obedient and autonomous sphere that's able to "remember" a map of your living space.
Available end of 2014; Price $4,000 - $5,000
[Image courtesy of Moneual]