Apple’s Work on Robots: What We Know So Far

With the Apple Car canceled, Apple is exploring new markets where it might be able to find new revenue streams, and personal robotics is apparently one area the company is investigating.

This guide highlights everything we know about Apple’s interest in robotics, and we’ll update it with new rumors going forward.

The Robot Rumors

According to Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman, Apple is looking for its “next big thing,” and robotics are one area of focus. Apple has engineering teams working on various in-home robotic devices and the AI software and functionality that might be able to make a home robot useful.

Apple’s work on robotics takes place in the hardware engineering division and in its AI and machine learning group under AI chief John Giannandrea.

Apple is considering a mobile robot that would follow users around the home, presumably serving as something like an iPad on wheels. A robot would likely be able to place FaceTime calls, monitor the home and the people in it, carry out simple tasks, and answer queries.

Apple is said to be exploring AI algorithms that would be used to help robots navigate cluttered spaces in homes, and while Apple wants to design a robot that would clean and do chores much like Rosey in the Jetsons, it’s too complicated for now. Gurman says that such a robot is unlikely this decade due to “extraordinarily difficult engineering challenges.”

Table-Top Robot

Another Apple project is described as an “advanced table-top home device” where robotics are used to move a display around. The device, which is described as a robotic motor on a small stand, would mimic the head movements of a person on a ‌FaceTime‌ video call. It would be able to nod, or precisely lock on to a single person during a group ‌FaceTime‌ call. Gurman says that Apple has had some difficulty with weight and balance, and Apple is also not sure that consumers will pay “top dollar” for such a product.

The robotic display is said to be further along than Apple’s mobile robot, but it has been “added and removed from the company’s product roadmap” several times over the years.

Secret House Facility

Apple reportedly has a secret facility that is designed to look like the inside of a home, and that’s where it is testing future home products.

Other Home Devices

There are some more realistic products that are in the works, with rumors suggesting that Apple is developing an iPad-like home hub device that would serve as a central way to control smart devices. Apple has also been rumored to be working on a version of the Apple TV that integrates HomePod speakers and a camera, and there have been rumors of a ‌HomePod‌ with a display.

Apple’s Competition

Amazon has a $1,600 “Astro” robot that it sells by invitation. Astro is able to navigate the home and remotely check specific rooms, people, and things when the user is away from home.

Amazon Astro

The robot is able to send an alert if an unrecognized person is detected, or if there are sounds like an alarm. Astro has a built-in display and can be used for watching TV, placing calls, setting reminders, sending messages, and more. Astro uses Alexa, and Amazon suggests that it can be used to “remotely care for aging loved ones.”

Astro is also able to carry “a variety of accessories” such as a Ziploc container, a blood pressure monitor, and a Furbo Dog Camera that provides treats for a pet.

Sony has experimented with robots, and is best known for the Aibo robotic dog. Priced at $2900, Aibo is designed to act like a real dog with dynamic movements, lifelike expressions, curiosity, and an interest in human interaction. Aibo is able to learn tricks, play with toys, and listen to commands.

There are a number of other home robots on the market, but the best known may be the wide range of robot vacuums like the Roomba that are able to navigate the home to automatically clean up dust, dirt, pet fur, and other debris.

Robot Launch Date

Apple’s work on personal robotics is in the early stages, and the company has small teams that are exploring different concepts. It is not clear if some kind of robot will ever launch, and there is no word on when if so.

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