According to ABI Research, a disconnect between smart home and home robotics offerings has been a factor limiting home robotics adoption. Pricing, availability, and consumer awareness have been factors too, but an ABI study indicates that robot vendors increasingly see value in supporting the integration of their devices into smart home functionality. While challenges remain, ABI is forecasting that nearly 79 million homes around the world will have a robot in the house by 2024 and that smart home integration will drive consumer robot shipments to 39 million a year by 2024.
ABI identifies two key home robotics markets: home care robots, which typically take on a specific chore within the home, and personal/social robots that can be companion devices capable of responding and interacting with an individual in the home. Both have a role within an integrated smart home setting.
"So far, home care robots dominate with regard to consumer adoption and integration into smart home management," said Jonathan Collins, smart home research director at ABI.
The separation between home robotics and smart home functionality has begun to blur. Traditional smart home capabilities - such as a wireless security camera - are beginning to be embedded in robot vacuum cleaners. However, the key integration point is in voice control support, ABI believes. Voice control has driven smart home adoption since the first Amazon Echo devices launched in 2014. Extending control to home care robots is expected to bring that appeal, functionality, and awareness to home care robots.
Robots geared to delivering personal/social interaction and care continue to struggle to win consumer adoption and lag as a market segment and in smart home integration capabilities. However, the voice control platforms driving smart home adoption may well be set to push personal/social care robot adoption.
"Artificial Intelligence (AI) and voice recognition are the two additional smart home integrations needed to bring personal/social robots to life," said Collins. Both Amazon and Google are well poised to lead in social robot advances because AI and voice recognition are at the heart of their already popular Alexa and Assistant platforms. Echo and Google Home devices increasingly support screens and cameras alongside microphone arrays, providing the resources to support facial recognition with existing voice recognition. Those features are expected to underpin more personalized interactions between users and their devices.
"Perhaps most importantly, both companies are already fierce rivals, with each seeking a market-dominating installed base for their competing smart home voice platforms," said Collins.
Articulation and mobility will be the key features within the device that will start the transition from smart speakers to personal/social robots that can move and face the home user, ABI says. Adding robotic functions to existing voice control front-end devices will deliver confirmation of activation and engagement through physical movement or simulated facial expressions. While not all consumers may be ready for a mobile robot in their home, there are applications where such robotic capabilities can be particularly useful. Aging-in-place or Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) end-users may be one consumer segment that would welcome greater robotic capabilities in a voice control device. Robotic device startups such as Intuition Robotics and Blue Frog Robotics already target the AAL market with devices that can integrate with smart home systems.
"While home care robots release residents from time-consuming and repetitive tasks, social robots offer the potential to further extend into physically interacting in homes and the individuals within them in ways that can go beyond monitoring into the realm of kinship and socialization," Collins said.