Apple's loss in electric car venture could benefit home robotics

Calvin D

For over twenty years, various companies have endeavored to duplicate the remarkable success of Roomba, the robot vacuum that revolutionized home cleaning, yet the vast majority have faced setbacks. An illustrative case is Apple, a giant in the tech industry, which has seen its fair share of projects, like the electric vehicle initiative, not reaching fruition despite having substantial advantages. However, Apple's foray into mixed reality with the Vision Pro and its rumored exploration into home robots depict a company undeterred by past failures, ready to tackle challenging sectors anew.

Home robotics stands as a particularly tough nut to crack, with the robot vacuum being the sole substantially successful product in the two decades since Roomba's debut. iRobot, Roomba's creator, has attempted to expand its portfolio with various other robots aimed at different household tasks, yet none have matched the vacuum's success. Their efforts underscore the difficulty in finding another niche where robots can significantly impact daily life as the Roomba did.

The design and functionality of home robots are largely limited by their physical form. The compact, disc shape of most robot vacuums, while ideal for their primary function, restricts their ability to perform other tasks. Innovators like the startup Matic and Amazon with its Astro home robot are exploring new designs to overcome these limitations, hinting that the future of home robotics may lie in rethinking robot form factors entirely.

Home robot Image: Amazon

Yet, developing more advanced and versatile robots, such as those capable of mobile manipulation, presents its own set of challenges. These technologies have not yet been perfected even in industrial settings, making their adaptation for affordable home use a daunting task. Robots like Hello Robot's Stretch showcase potential strides in home automation, despite their current high cost and limitations like the need for teleoperation.

Apple's interest in entering this arena suggests a belief in the potential for crossover from its developments in autonomous technology and AI into home robotics. However, despite having a track record in robotics through initiatives like the Daisy robot arm, moving into home robotics represents a significant endeavor. The tech giant is reportedly exploring this with a focus on development and perhaps eyeing a role similar to its Vision Pro project, in which developer contributions are key. This approach, while ambitious, highlights the ongoing challenge of making versatile yet affordable robots for everyday consumers.