Robot hits and misses at tech show

If you‘ve ever wanted a robot to do the vacuuming, then the CES tech show has something for you.

The is designed to perform a range of household tasks – including mopping floors, rearranging furniture and putting away dishes.

However, like many of the bots showcased in Las Vegas this year, the pressure sometimes got to it.

“Aeolus has had enough,” , a writer at tech site Wirecutter, after observing the bot stall inexplicably during a demo.

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The moment is reminiscent of an even more high profile hiccup that hit LG‘s smart home helper Cloi during the firm‘s press conference earlier in the week.

On three separate occasions, Cloi sat there, to do something helpful – like fetch a recipe for cooking chicken.

“Do it yourself,” it seemed to say, through the medium of silence.

And then there was Chinese firm YYD‘s effort – a bot designed to give you quick assessments of your health.

Click‘s Spencer Kelly found it, ironically, in a state of malady – the screen on its face displaying an ugly online error page.

“[Robots] have had a bit of bad press this year because there were a lot of failures,” said tech analyst Ben Stanton at Canalys.

He described the user experience built into many of the devices as “fairly shallow” – many supposedly sophisticated bots in fact have very limited functionality and formulaic means of interacting, he said.

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Any stumbles were unlikely to be missed thanks to the constant glare of social media, he added.

But some of the more novel ideas kept the idea of a robot fairly simply – like the owl-themed companion Luka, aimed at children. It can read from a database that includes tens of thousands of picture book stories.

However, parents may question whether it might be better in most cases to read to their child themselves.

One firm that managed to attract a bit of positive press coverage was Honda.

It showed off a range of concept robots that are designed with special use cases in mind – such as the four-wheeled 3E-D18 that could be used by builders or the emergency services to move heavy loads around.

And its 3E-B18 is an upright alternative to a wheelchair that is meant to offer better mobility to the elderly or disabled.

Some of the other earnestly useful robots shown off at the show included:

More frivolous robots might have limited appeal, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

“Having something that brings you a beer or fetches the newspaper, these things are not going to be cheap,” she said.

“But if we‘re thinking about assisted living… then it‘s a different story.

“Helping disabled people around the house, that‘s what we should be talking about.”

Ms Milanesi suggested that designers who target genuine needs with their robots would likely make more of an impact.

And while she did enjoy playing with the new version of Sony‘s Aibo robot dog – it responded immediately to cuddles and being scratched on the chin – she said it still felt like an expensive toy.

For Mr Stanton, some of the more capable robots being developed won‘t be found at CES at all.

Instead he points to events like , which takes place in New York next week.

“There are robots there that can do incredible things like stock checking in a shop or hauling things around,” he told the .

“Most of the innovation happening now is really in the commercial space.”

And that leaves us with a sobering thought.

“People should maybe be more concerned about [a robot taking] their job rather than becoming their new friend at home,” he said.

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