Invite home a digital assistant or robot? Boyce Thompson weighs in
March 10, 2017 12:00 AM
Moorebot, a voice interactive personal robot developed by Pilot Labs, sings, reminds you of calendar appointments, takes family pictures and reads bedtime stories to your children.
Alexa listens and responds on the Amazon Echo.
By Kevin Kirkland / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Who would you rather have in your house — Alexa, Siri, Google or Rosie the robot from “The Jetsons”?
Though it depends on what you expect, Boyce Thompson thinks you’d probably go with a digital assistant over a robot — even one holding a sweeper.
Mr. Thompson will demonstrate all four gadgets at the Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show, which opens Friday and continues through March 19 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
For the third year, the Bethesda, Md., author, consultant and former editor of Builder magazine will bring at least 10 Life-Changing New Products to the home show. Ranging from wearable baby monitors to light bulbs that double as stereo speakers, the products are mostly unknown because they’re either prototypes or brand-new introductions.
That’s not the case for the digital personal assistants. Alexa by Amazon and Google Now/Google Assistant were introduced last year and Apple’s Siri has been chirping from iPhones for almost five years. Two years ago, Microsoft introduced Cortana, its personal assistant.
If you go
WHAT: Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show
WHEN: March 10-19. 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.
WHERE: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown
TICKETS: $10 for adults, $4 for children ages 6-12 and free for those under 6.
PARKING: $7 at Heinz Field lots with free shuttle.
Mr. Thompson says each has advantages and disadvantages -- Google’s great at web searches and Siri really knows her music -- but they’re just voices and in some cases, speakers. There’s no physical human presence.
“No one would confuse Google Now for a family member,” he said. “A robot becomes a part of the family.”
At the show, Mr. Thompson will demonstrate the Moorebot interactive personal robot by Pilot Labs. The tabletop bot with dot eyes and a nice smile can sing, remind you of appointments, take a family picture and read a bedtime story to your kids. It can also mimic human head and eye movements.
Unlike digital assistants, “it responds to you emotionally,” he said.
But at around $300, the robot also costs twice as much as Alexa or Google Now, which retail for under $150. The Moorebot is a bargain compared with other larger personal robots expected to cost $700 to $1,500 when they finally reach the market.
One of the biggest drawbacks of robots is that you can’t easily buy one yet. Mr. Thompson had to buy the Moorebot in Canada. He said other robot manufacturers have pushed back their rollout dates several times.
Experts have predicted that by 2020, one in 10 households will have a personal robot. By that time, more than half of those same households will probably already have digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant.
At the home show, Mr. Thompson will demonstrate Google Home, a voice-activated system that can control Phillips Hue lighting, a Nest thermostat and Google’s Chromecast, which uses a mobile device to stream TV shows, movies, music, sports and games. He noted that these devices could be controlled with Google Now or Google Assistant but not Alexa, Siri or Cortana. The interfaces are not compatible.
“So if you love your Nest thermostat, don’t build your home automation system around Siri,” he said.
“The moral of the story is that you have to think about the products that you want to connect to your voice-controlled system before you buy Google, Alexa or Siri."
Mr. Thompson and his Top 10 Life-Changing New Products will appear at 5 and 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon, 4 and 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and 11 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. Sunday on the second floor of the convention center.
Kevin Kirkland: email@example.com or 412-263-1978.
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