Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri just passed the peanut butter test

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Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri was the surprise hit of CES 2017, but the robot companion isn’t relying solely on cutesy looks to charm users, with a new set of features announced today. Intended to bring domestic robotics into the mainstream, Kuri – which looks like a cross between a Roomba and a Wall-E character – is gaining a new set of behaviors that Mayfield calls “romojis” or robot emojis. Although they might look like they’re just for entertainment, they’re actually going to be pretty important for daily life with the ‘bot.

For instance, if Kuri doesn’t know how to respond to something, there’s a new “huh?” romoji to communicate that. Another is designed as an easily-recognizable “got it” response. Since the robot can’t actually speak itself, only communicating in bleeps and bloops, and there’s no display, just a light effect in the chest, Mayfield has had to get creative about giving user feedback.

It’s a big deal, because Kuri is getting voice interactions to control the robot. For instance, since you train it with the layout of your home during setup, you can subsequently say “Hey Kuri, go to the kitchen” and the robot will trundle off automatically. It works for any saved room or waypoint around the home.

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The same system works for requesting streaming audio, too. Asking for a specific track will play it through the robot’s speakers, much as doing so with an Amazon Echo does, and there are speech controls for pausing music and adjusting volume. Asking “Hey Kuri, play the news” will automatically start NPR’s news stream playing.

In the version of Kuri that Mayfield Robotics was showing off around CES back in January, the ‘bot relied more on the companion app for control. From a timeline-like interface, users were able to dispatch Kuri to different places in the house, as well as see a live view through its camera eyes. An IFTTT-style programming system allowed fairly complex routines or behaviors to be built up, such as going on a daily patrol around the house and snapping photos to send back to the app along the way. Building on that, Mayfield announced recently that it was integrating IFTTT itself, so that Kuri could control other connected devices and services.

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Voice, though, is likely to be more appealing to kids, so it’s an important milestone for Kuri to pass through. On the hardware side, Bosch-backed Mayfield says it has done extra work on shielding the power board and microphones, cutting radio interference and making Kuri a better neighbor to smart home and IoT tech. The motor sensor design has been updated too, for smoother and more lifelike movements.

Arguably most important for domestic bliss, though, is the peanut butter test. No euphemism, just a whole load of peanut butter that was smeared over a Kuri prototype to see how easy it was to subsequently clean off, and whether performance was impaired afterwards. Mayfield says the sticky robot passed with flying colors, though you’ll still have to wait until the 2017 holidays or thereabouts in order to have one in your home.

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