Yossi Wolf, the CEO of robot-maker Roboteam, almost didn’t want to call his newest product a robot. When people think of robots, he says, they expect the stuff of science fiction—machines with faces and personalities indistinguishable from humans. Temi, the rolling robot Wolf hopes you’ll soon have in your home, looks more like a tablet on wheels.
Wolf knows a thing or two about robots, though. For years, his company has built them for the military—the kind of all-terrain bots that can maneuver into sensitive areas, climb through sand and over rocks, help safely defuse explosives. Now, he hopes to bring that expertise into your living room with Temi.
The easiest way to describe Temi is as a moveable version of Amazon’s Echo Show. Summon Temi from across the house and it’ll find its way to you, using the same path-planning tech Roboteam built for the Air Force. It uses facial recognition to identify and track you, and plugs into Google’s artificial intelligence tools to mimic Google Assistant’s functionality. Temi also gives you a hands-free way to video chat, watch TV, or listen to music while you amble around the house.
Wolf’s not trying to build an artificial best friend or a robo-sidekick; instead, Temi was designed to be a video chat and music machine. Let’s say you want to video chat with your grandma. Temi uses voice recognition to make sure it rings your grandmother, facial recognition to keep your face in frame, and a microphone array to make sure you’re heard. Right now, Temi mostly works like one of those telepresence robots. But long-term, Roboteam will open up Temi’s Android-based software to developers, who can build all sorts of crazy things into the machine.
The actual robot, Temi, stands 3 feet tall and rolls on four small wheels. It has a 10-inch tablet for a head and a thin, curved body on top of a base that looks like an industrial vacuum. It can roll around for eight hours on a charger, and connects over Wi-Fi, LTE, and Bluetooth. It doesn’t have eyes or look human, like Pepper and Kuri and other robots. Think of Temi more like a portable massage station or one of those rolling standing desks.
“We tried hard not to provide Temi a face,” Wolf says. When you talk to Temi, your words show up on the screen with a typed response below. That’s it. “Many of the robots, they’re not so much in focus,” he says. “They try to be companions, friends, eyes, and hands, and whatever. And I don’t believe the technology is mature enough to replace humans.”
For now, Temi is still very much a work in progress. Roboteam’s running a small beta test, with plans to expand to 1,000 users this fall and become widely available in late 2018. When it does launch, Wolf says he’s committed to selling Temi for less than $1,500. That sounds steep for a tablet on wheels (one that doesn’t even vacuum for you!) but Wolf believes Temi can help provide people a better relationship with their technology.
“We are working so hard, and we are spending so much time looking into a smartphone, we forget to spend time with our family and important people,” he says. “I knew that only a robotic device will be able to put you at the center. Only a moving device will really be able to serve you, to come when called.” Robots may be invading your home, but you’re still in charge.