Robots seems to be everywhere now. They used to be relegated to building our cars and now they’re driving them. Experts think they’ll soon be taking a lot of our jobs too. As fast as the robot revolution is approaching, it still hasn’t delivered the robot experience that we’ve been promised from sci-fi: a home robot that’s as much a friend as it is a tool. There have been contenders, like the super cute Jibo, but none of us have genuinely social robot pals patrolling our living rooms yet. A Chinese company called NXROBO could be the first to truly deliver.
BIG-i is a robot that looks like, well, a big “i”. And it has a big eye. Unlike Jibo, BIG-i can drive around your home. At first it seems to make the same basic promises we’re heard before: it keeps your home safe, it controls your media using voice recognition, and it feels more like a being than a remote control. BIG-i looks like it will deliver on all of that but it’s the other features that make it really exciting to us. NXROBO wants BIG-i to be more socially aware than any other robot.
As well as using voice recognition, BIG-i also recognises faces and even body language. This means you can beckon it and give it orders using gestures. BIG-i learns who your friends and family are and considers anyone a stranger if you haven’t introduced them before. You can ask BIG-i to notify you if it ever spots a stranger, hence the security aspect. It learns who your family or friends are and the hierarchy of relationships. It knows you as its most loyal friend so can be allowed to take commands from others but will always prioritise anything you say.
Where it gets really advanced is that BIG-i learns who you are. It learns your behaviour. It learns what you like. By combining natural language voice programming and its advanced recognition methods, BIG-i can learn things just by being shown and told. On the website they give the example of “Hey BIG-i, if you see Tommy grabbing the fruit, please remind him to wash his hands.” When you leave the kitchen, it can remind you to turn off the stove. To get it to do all this, you just talk to it. If it works as easily as they claim, it could be a game-changer for social home robots.
“Hey BIG-i, could you help me find John? He might be in the breakfast nook.”
You can ask BIG-i to find someone then it can call you once it’s found them so you can speak. Its big eye allows video calls and this all works remotely too. The connectivity also extends to the Internet of Things. You can give it home automation commands like “If I sit on the couch after 7pm, please turn on the TV” or “If I leave the house, order Roomba to clean the living room.” We can just see BIG-i ordering Roomba around thinking, “I’m in control now”.
It even plays hide and seek, meaning it could be left alone with kids to keep them occupied. A lot of people still don’t trust robots so they have to be approachable and friendly. The design of BIG-i seems to tick all the right boxes. It isn’t so big that it’s scary but isn’t so small that you treat it like a toy. The lack of sharp edges means it will be safe around kids and animals the soft texture will probably help. It seems everyone wants to touch and pat BIG-i:
There’s no concrete info on pricing or availability yet. If you sign up for updates by email, you get $50 (£34.34) discount on the social robot when it’s available and access to the developer version if that’s your thing.
It should come in a few different colours but we don’t recommend the yellow unless you literally want a Minion following you around forever.
Main image © NXROBO