Jefferson Graham reports from CES 2018, where this year, with hot new robots from LG and Sony, it looks like robots are poised to finally go mainstream. USA TODAY
LAS VEGAS — When LG, one of the world’s largest corporations, brings a home robot to CES and places it smack dab in the middle of its mammoth booth here, you know something is up.
So what if the debut of the South Korean giant’s CLOi fell flat at a press conference? Early technology can be spotty, especially here where on-stage demos often can go south. Perhaps LG is early—very early, in wanting to bring robots to your homes alongside TVs, appliances and mobile phones.
But LG isn’t alone. At CES, we saw a growing cast of robot characters ready to invade your living room, with names like Buddy, Jibo, Kuri, Aibo, Qoobo and more.
For now, think Alexa or Google Home with an iPad of sorts pasted on top of technology that brings in virtual eyes, a mouth and a winning personality, and sometimes wheels underneath to roll around the room.
The robots don’t all look the same, of course, but the similar characteristics are found on many tech devices: white frame and a black trim. (In CLOi’s case, it’s more like an oval white ice chest, topped off with a round iPad of sorts.)
Let’s take a look at the five coolest robots we’ve seen at CES 2018.
LG, the South Korean giant that is traditionally the first booth anyone at CES enters, had arguably the biggest crowds here so far with a show that began with a eye-popping wall display of 243 4K Oled TV sets tied together. Once you walk through wall-size images of arctic ice, Zion National Park and redwoods, you got dazzled by robotics. LG showcased two commercial robots already on sale in South Korea, to help mow your lawn or route people around airports, and then introduced us to CLOi, which it described as a “concept.” (And was working just fine in the booth, by the way.)
LG touts how its smart appliances work with both Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant to voice- command things like pre-heating the oven or changing the volume on the TV. You can ask CLOi to do those things for you as well, LG says. It can recognize each individual family member in the home, “and is a little more friendly to interact with,” said LG’s Randy Overton, who was doing the robot tours at the LG booth.
LG said CLOi could start being sold in 2018, but no dates or pricing was announced.
Clearly, robots are already popular in Asia, where the Pepper “humanoid” robot interacts with customers in 140 stores of the Soft Mobile wireless company and a hotel near Tokyo is run by humans and robots. I wouldn’t run out and buy CLOi—all I see is a smile and a face added to Alexa, for now. But I give LG props for giving it a try. And it is cuter and more functional than many of the others seen at CES.
Sony knocked this one out of the park, with a family dog robot-reboot that seemingly does everything a human pooch might do except poop. The new robot is an update to an earlier edition that first came out in 1999, and way cuter and more lifelike.
Aibo had huge crowds at the Sony booth oohing and aahing at how it responds to human interaction. But check the fine print. Aibo will only be on sale in Japan, for the time being, and the price tag could top $1,700 along with a monthly service fee for usage. That’s a lot to spend for what Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin calls a “virtual toy.” (Plus, if you really want a family dog, there are plenty shelters worth visiting, right folks?)
Unlike the top two, Jibo is here and now, and for sale at $899. The “social robot for the home” uses facial recognition to remember everyone in the family, can answer questions, help with needs, do a little dance, and has a round touch screen face as well. Aside from that, Jibo does the basic Alexa thing—setting alarms, reminding you about airline schedules and telling you the weather. On sale since October, Jibo is cute and fun, but at $800 more than a basic Google Home or Amazon Echo, that’s a lot of money to spend on family entertainment.
Billed as a “companion” robot, this big-eyed tech device from France looks more like an iPad attached atop a computer frame than any of the other ones we’ve seen. Tasks include “security, recipes, music and video playback, calendar and wakeup reminders.” Pretty much the same as Jibo, but we love those big eyes and smiling faces of the buddy.
Buddy is expected to sell for $1,500 and will be available in September.
This robot is aimed at kids, to help them learn to read and to read aloud children’s stories to them. Arguably the cutest one we saw at CES, it comes from Chinese company Ling Technology that says it will have the product available by mid-year, at an affordable price of $150. Some could argue that mom and dad should be in the room reading to their kids, but if this toy robot helps along the process of learning, we’re all for it.
Now a quick reality check. Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights says commercial acceptance in the United States of consumer robots is far in the future: 2020 for stationary robots like CLIo, and 2023 for robots with wheels.
He sees two potential markets — lonely seniors who buy the robot to keep them company, and young kids who find them to be cool. “The Asian markets are more open to having a relationship with a robot now,” he says. “For us, we’re taking a wait and see attitude right now. The robot is going to have to do more than just be like Alexa. When that happens, consumers will be ready for robots.”
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham