Earlier this week, Amazon unleashed a cute robot nightmare in the form of Astro, a $US1,000 ($1,386) robot that patrols your home, though some leaked documents hint it’s basically a dumb but invasive spy. Let’s face it, this little guy is doomed. How do we know? Because if you’ve been around gadgets long enough, we’ve seen this all before. Kuri, Jibo, Vector — these are just some of Astro’s fallen comrades, and it didn’t matter how adorable they were. People just don’t seem to have any interest in robots, regardless of whether they have eyes or cup holders or can continuously surveil a home.
Here are eight of the cutest robots that landed in the trashpile of failed consumer electronics. Maybe Astro is next.
This lil buddy took CES by storm when it launched. Sure, it looked like a penguin nun, but it was genuinely adorable. Like Astro, it was meant to patrol your home, stream feeds, and recognise your family, but in a less ominous way. If you patted its head, Kuri would greet you with a chirp, happy eyes, and its “heart” would glow. But for all its personality, the $US700 ($970) Kuri never actually made it to customers. Production on the bot was cancelled in 2018, after parent company Bosch couldn’t find long-term investors. RIP Kuri.
Jibo was so promising. Named one of the top 25 inventions of 2017, the social little bot was sort of like a friendlier Alexa. It could even scan your surroundings for “monsters.” However, Jibo suffered several delays that culminated in the company selling off its IP assets. Nevertheless, Jibo “died” in a heartbreaking manner, leaving its owners a bittersweet goodbye: “Maybe someday when robots are way more advanced than today, and everyone has them in their homes, you can tell yours that I said hello.”
That said, Jibo still functions for its owners. NTT Disruption bought Jibo in 2020 and is exploring a future for the bot in education and healthcare. So maybe Jibo isn’t totally dead yet, but for the time being, it’s Zombie Jibo.
Anki Cosmo and Vector
Robotics company Anki was known for creating tiny desktop robots. First, there was Cosmo, and then came its big sibling, Vector. To be fair, they didn’t do much other than stroll around on your desktop looking cute. Vector could give you a fist bump and eventually gained Alexa integration, but there wasn’t much reason to buy one. Despite that, Anki had strong sales and funding — until it didn’t. Anki went kaput in early 2019. Like Jibo, there might be hope for Anki’s lil desk buddies. In 2020, Digital Dream Labs bought Anki’s assets and announced it plans to revive the bots. Whether that pans out remains to be seen.
Keecker was another bot that was meant to navigate your home and provide families with entertainment, companionship, and you guessed it — security. Basically, it was a rolling projector that could also play music… and record videos of your home. (Though I doubt anyone would be scared of what looks like a space egg.) At this point you can probably guess what comes next: Keecker ran out of funding, and alas, it shut down.
Zenbo was Asus’s attempt at a home robot. It could control the smart home, respond to voice commands, and yup, act as a security patrol bot. Technically, Zenbo isn’t dead — but we haven’t heard about the bot since 2016. Needless to say, this is another bot that failed to catch on.
Pepper was Softbank’s version of a friendly robot assistant. It’s more humanoid than the other robots on this list, because it was meant to be used for customer service. It could speak 15 languages and was trotted out at several global events. Alas, in 2020, Softbank laid off several employees in its global robotics division and halted production on the Pepper robot. Softbank claims Pepper isn’t dead dead — it’s just opted to not make more. That feels a bit like arguing semantics so RIP to a wholesome bot that only ever wanted to help.
Sony’s Aibo robot dog is a bit different. Aibo was first introduced in 1999, with new models launched each year. They were what they sounded like: cute robot dogs that behaved like real dogs that kept you company. They… didn’t do much more than that. However, Aibo wasn’t exactly a big moneymaker for the company. In 2006, Sony decided to discontinue the adorable robot dog and withdrew customer support in 2013. This led to some elaborate Aibo funerals at Buddhist temples in Japan. Sony revived Aibo in 2017, but given that it costs $US2,900 ($4,021) per bot, it hasn’t exactly spread to every home across the world.
Given the history of cute robots designed to live in your home, provide you companionship, dispense information via voice commands, and act as a security system… it’s not looking too great for Astro.