Amazon Wants Phone-Charging Robots to Follow You Around the Airport


On Tuesday, Amazon received a patent for a small, friendly-looking autonomous robot that can find you and bring you a charger whenever your phone is about to die.

Amazon has yet to publicly announce plans to move forward with production. But the patent, titled “techniques for mobile device charging using robotic devices,” describes a new, robotic lifeline for people who are waiting for their flight or wandering a mall whose phones are running alarmingly low on battery life.

Here’s how it would theoretically work: When you realize that your phone, tablet, or laptop is about to die, you would be able to use an app to summon a little robot pal who would then come track you down and help out. These robots would provide, for a small cost, either an electrical outlet or, if you forgot your charger, the appropriate cable. And if you’re on the go, your new autonomous sidekick could follow you around, too.

For the low cost of watching an ad, making an Amazon purchase on the robot’s touchscreen, or participating in a survey, the robot will give you access to a charge so you don’t have to live life without your phone by your side. It’s not yet determined whether or not those options will give you credit or discounts on a charge or if they alone will let you refill your phone — you might need to pay for the service as well.

And even when you don’t summon a robot, they may track you down all the same. Smartphones are constantly broadcasting information that can be used to identify and track you, even when powered down, including details on your battery state. Amazon’s new patent also details a way for robots to pick up that information and automatically offer their services to people whose batteries fall beneath a certain threshold, say 10 percent battery life.

The patent provides an example where the robot-beckoning app could automatically analyze travel itinerary information and realize that someone doesn’t have enough battery power for their laptop to last through the entire flight. In that case, a robot would come over and offer to charge their laptop so it doesn’t die on them halfway through the trip.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to share your chargebot session with a friend as readily as you might your Netflix password. Deep down in the patent, there is specific language about set time limits based on the ads you watch or the surveys you complete. For example, completing a short survey might be worth a measly 30 seconds of charge. So it’s unlikely that you would be able to pass the cord over to your friend before the robot zips away to its next customer.

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