Amazon is reportedly working on a home robot code-named Vesta. The robot is scheduled to go into a testing phase this year and could ship in 2019, which raises the question: is Apple working on its own home robot, and will it come to market years behind Amazon’s offering, just like HomePod followed Echo.
What we know about the Amazon’s Vesta project is unconfirmed and comes from Bloomberg. Sources say the company is a few years old and is being run by Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division. The division is currently hiring engineers with principle sensor and robotics software experience.
Amazon’s Robot Experience
Amazon isn’t any stranger to robotic design. The company has a division called Amazon Robotics, formerly Kiva Systems, handling its custom warehouse inventory-moving robots. The robots navigate Amazon’s warehouses moving products so humans can fulfil orders.
The company bought Kiva Systems in 2012 and has been increasing robotic support in its warehouse locations dramatically over the past few years. That’s not the same as designing robots for our homes, but does give the company a lot of experience with reliable autonomous systems.
Apple and Robots
Apple designed its own robot, called Liam, to disassemble iPhones for recycling a couple years ago. The company just unveiled the second generation version, Daisy, for Earth Day this year.
That’s a pretty limited history with robots, at least publicly. Apple always has secret projects in the works, and it’s possible that includes some sort of personal robot. TMO’s John Martellaro says this is a space Apple should explore and hopes eventually we will see something from the company in our homes.
Apple has said in the past it wants to be everywhere we are, and robots could be a part of that. Right now, that “everywhere” strategy includes our iPhones and Apple Watches with Siri. HomePod could be part of that, too, if the device catches on with consumers.
Robots at Home
Insider sources say Amazon is still sorting out exactly what features its home-based robot will have. Odds are it won’t do the dishes of fix you dinner. Instead, it could be a sort of mobile Amazon Echo with sensors and cameras so it can follow you around or act as a remote monitoring system when you’re away.
That seems like a reasonable place for Amazon to start because the device doesn’t have to be as complex. It’s also a likely place for Apple to get into home robots, too.
Companies like iRobot and Ecovacs have shown there’s a real interest for this tech in our homes with their robotic vacuum cleaners. Extending that to other specialized robots, like home monitoring and voice assistance, is a natural next step.
Amazon’s Robot Lead
Assuming Amazon really is far enough along with its robot project to ship in 2019, Apple could be seen as lagging—assuming the company has plans for a home robot. For Apple, that’s a problem CEO Tim Cook probably isn’t worried about.
Apple has a history of watching what other companies do in a market, and then coming in later with its own game changing devices. The iPod is a perfect example, as is the iPhone, and now Apple Watch. The same could happen with home robots.
The home robot market doesn’t really exist in a big way yet, but it’s coming. Apple is likely working on its own ideas while watching to see what works—and doesn’t—when other companies start shipping.
Amazon’s reported robot will ship before anything Apple has in the works. It won’t, however, be first to market. Kuri from Mayfield Robotics is shipping this spring, and Jibo is already available, as is Zenbo from Asus.
Considering how quickly the home robot market is gaining new players, that’ll make for a lot of products Apple needs to watch to see what works well and what consumers respond to. Still, if Echo and Alexa are any indication, Apple will have to work hard to catch up when it releases its own robot.