The CES “booth babes” may largely be a thing of the past, and in 2019, cute-as-heck robots have seemingly replaced them, dominating the show floor.
Among the cute robots of CES are Sony’s very good (and very expensive) robo-pup, Aibo, and the doe-eyed, sloth-like Lovot Groove X, which you can see in a video below. But as many of CES 2019’s most adorable bots illustrate, robo-cuteness is more than just an aesthetics trend — it’s a prediction.
Global population growth and aging demographics suggest that at some point, certain healthcare responsibilities will inevitably fall to robots. By 2050, the 65 and older crowd is projected to make up over 20 percent of the U.S. population, while Africa’s population is expected to double to two billion. Care-taking needs on both sides of the spectrum will ultimately outstrip human capabilities.
But there’s a bit of a, uh, problem when it comes to getting a li’l automated help: People are terrified of robots and are very convinced robots are going to murder them. A 2017 study found that 70 percent of people fear a robot takeover; that same year, Stephen Hawking publicly spoke out against A.I., calling it, potentially, “the worst event in the history of our civilization.”
There’s even a term, now, for the creepy-crawly feeling we get when a robot becomes too human-like: Uncanny Valley. It’s the dividing line between, “Oh, cool, that robot is looking at me” and “Oh, crap, that robot is looking at me.”
While the definition of “robot” continues to be a machine that resembles a human being, with the ability to replicate human tasks automatically, many of CES 2019’s cutest robots look more like anime pets than people. And though they provide services like doling out medication and monitoring emotional responses, their human resemblance comes in the form of emotional connection and mimicry.
6. Lovot Groove X
With the tag lines, “It isn’t alive - but it is heart-warming” and “A new home robot that stirs your instinct to love,” the Lovot (rhymes with “robot”) from Japanese tech firm Groove-X relies on Emotional Robotics to build a relationship with its human. The home robot is designed specifically for long-term companionship. Its temperature-sensing camera reads your body language and tracks motion, while the sensors hidden in its soft, soft body detect your touch.
5. Pillar Learning Codi
Pillar Learning Codi aims to cut down on children’s screen time, while using A.I. to tailor songs and stories to meet your kid’s educational needs. Parents can even use Codi to record and exchange voice messages with their children, further positioning Codi as a robo-tutor.
4. Softbank Pepper Robot
“We believe in a future where human-shaped robots will help humans in their day-to-day lives,” reads Softbank Robotics’ mission statement. Their “social humanoid robot,” Pepper, is designed to recognize human faces and assist with every day tasks, especially ones that rely on social interactions; it’s currently marketed specifically for retail settings and schools.
3. Yukai Bocco Emo
Another automated companion, BOCCO emo is an “evocative robot” from Japanese tech startup YUKAI, designed to respond to your presence and mood, and help around the house with basic tasks. Its original model, which launched at CES 2015, has since been used throughout Japan as a way of remotely caring for other household members - often, elderly parents.
2. Zoetic Kiki
California-based Zoetic’s Kiki is an A.I.-powered robo-pet that looks sorta like a fox, sorta like a pup and has the ability to lock in on specific human faces and then follow them around a room. Kiki’s selling point is its non-verbal communication abilities. With a wide range of facial expressions and 16 touch sensors, Kiki promises to “love you back.”
One of the first robo-pets, Sony’s Aibo, which originally launched in 1999, is back and cuter than ever, utilizing A.I. to develop a personality as it learns from and interacts with its owner. No two Aibos are supposedly alike, though the robo-breed shares a few key characteristics: They hate heights, and they love the color pink. Also, it can remember the faces of 100 people. How many can you dog at home remember?