Don’t say it looks like R2-D2 (or even BB8 if you want to be rather more au courant), but Keecker’s semi-autonomous mobile home entertainment robot is the closest thing we are going to see to either of those two Star Wars droids for a while.
Keecker’s Android-powered 40-cm-high, 12 kg device, designed by former Google engineer Pierre Lebeau, even has a built-in sound system and projector, which could, if needs be, project stolen star maps, but more conventionally is used to turn any surface in the home into a screen to watch Netflix.
It is a mobile projector, sound system, home environment monitor and security system all rolled into one semi-autonomous, voice-controlled robot.
“The whole thing came about because when it comes to technology in the home, it has not really changed since the invention of TV in the ‘50s or ‘60s,” says Lebeau, speaking from the Paris HQ of the 20-strong company founded in 2012, which has raised funds from leading French investors including Vente-Privee founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon and Xavier Niel’s Kima Ventures.
“The TV just got flat, but you still have the remote control like you had in the ‘80s. We have dropped the VCR but we still have an Internet set-top box so not much has actually changed. And when it comes to using the TV, we still have to go into a room to have the TV experience. Why?”
His driver for building Keecker was an aversion to wires. “I literally hate cables,” he says. Lebeau, whose last job at Google was to build the biggest screen in the world (a 40 m² display of Google Earth in the Pavillon de l’Arsenal), set about re-thinking what home entertainment could be like if you stripped away the detested cabling and added real smarts so that above all it was autonomous.
Keecker uses sensors, including infrared, that enable the device to build a 3D map of its environment. “We build some sort of statistical models to better optimize the movement of the device inside the home.”
‘Making A Device Talk Is A Fantasy’
Other sensors could monitor air quality, temperature, CO2 levels, or humidity. “What you can do with this is potentially a lot of different things. It’s more like detecting danger or understanding and optimizing your electricity bill, or detecting leakages.
“Focusing on new use cases is very important for us,” he says. For example, Keecker might be used to remotely detect when someone is knocking at the door, so from your office you could let them in into your home, follow the person that is doing the delivery, or fixing the plumbing, and when they have finished show them out.”
Earlier prototypes did not include voice recognition, but Lebeau says it will ship with the ability to understand simple commands like “Play Spotify in the kitchen.”
What the device won’t do, admits Lebeau, is talk back. “Making a device talk is a little bit of a fantasy,” he says. “People have been trying for 20 to 30 years and I’ve seen how much effort we put in at Google, and it is a big hole of time and money.”
Under the hood, says Lebeau, Keecker is running a version of Android Open Source Project, but with added Google tools. Using such a ubiquitous operating system meant it was a breeze for developers to build their own applications (they are planning an SDK) as well as running things like Spotify, Skype or Netflix.
Plans To Retail At $1,400
Since Keecker has cameras and microphones and operates inside your home, Lebeau says he is only too aware of the privacy implications. “It is one of our biggest concerns. We are taking a gradual approach and also a very transparent approach for our users.”
Developing Keecker has taken longer than planned — early prototypes of the device were displayed over a year ago. “We wanted to do it in France but it was very difficult from a financial perspective,” he says. “It will be built in Asia. We do not even have the knowledge anymore in Europe to build these things.”
One advantage of the delay (he is predicting shipping in the first quarter of 2016) has been a price reduction. A year ago the company was projecting a $4,000 price tag. But “through the work we’ve been able to do we are now targeting a price around $1,400.”
The cost of a Keecker will be close to that of a static traditional flat TV and some speakers, he says. The French company’s bet is that people will be eager to instead pay the same amount for a semi-autonomous, voice-controlled device that will turn their whole home into a multimedia experience.