Segway's Personal Robot Is A Glimpse Of The Actual Future

"A robot in every home -- that's our target." Ready for mass production, Segway's personal robot is powered by an Intel Atom processor, uses a RealSense depth-sensing camera, and runs Android. Groceries too heavy at the store? Have your personal robot carry them for you. Tired of walking yourself? Jump on.

Segway's "personal robot" project is being developed in concert with both Intel and Xiaomi, using all three companies' expertise in robotic navigation, wireless connectivity and the Internet of Things, it wants to make a device that will actually be useful, will actually be bought.

At Segway's press conference, Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich contributed some thoughts on Moore's Law continuing to drive down the cost of batteries, computing, and real-world interaction like RealSense. The new Segway robot is essentially a low-powered mobile device, the kind of thing that Intel is very good at -- "it's basically a Cherry Trail tablet" driving the robot, says Krzanich. The combo of the three companies, according to the Intel boss, is the biggest factor in keeping the price of the personal robot from being too ridiculous.

Two 800-watt motors will push the 13kg robot up to 18km/h up to 30km, up a 15-degree slope, and with 15 different safety functions -- like those fancy software-defined gyroscopes and accelerometers and rangefinders -- to map its environment and plan paths autonomously, and remember those paths for later. A five-camera setup with Intel's RealSense ZR300 camera senses obstacles for navigation, and a laser projector alongside the infrared RealSense setup means it can track and map in any light up to complete darkness.

Sure, you can ride the robot, should you want to, in the same way as you would one of those it's-not-a-hoverboard self-balancing scooters -- you know, the ones that keep setting houses on fire. But the real value is in the more advanced functionality. Says Segway: "We could make it a pure robot, or we could make it a hybrid of a Segway and a robot -- and enrich it with intelligent elements." The hardware is extensible; you can attach robot arms, camera gimbals or other application-specific elements as required.

Later this year, the company is inviting developers to suggest applications for the personal robot, and collaborate on further hardware development. In the final quarter of 2016, they'll start testing with a group of beta users, to refine the way it actually gets used in the real world. After that, who knows.

Segway has been around for 15 years, and it considers itself a leader in personal transport -- it talks a lot about ease, fluidity, and the intuitiveness of operation. The comapny's fleet includes a police patroller, a trike, and a four-wheeled prototype alongside the traditional Segway. Its self-balancing robotics experience means that it has a lot of background in all-terrain navigation. Let's see if that translates into a personal robot that's a little more useful than a straight-up hoverboard.