The Apple rumor-mill is buzzing again, this time over plans for a new device that will really have legs. Actually, mostly arms: Apple’s iBot is still in early prototype stages, and focus has centered on the robot’s extraordinary upper body dexterity, which will enable it to be used not only in the Apple manufacturing process, but the device will also be made available to consumers themselves as an extension of Apple’s move into the home entertainment market.
The computer giant registered iBot some five years ago — in 2008 — but the name was thought to have been filed away and forgotten long ago as a concept that even Apple couldn’t convince us we needed. But yesterday’s leak serves as the first evidence that Apple engineers have indeed been at work on their very own robot. Early designs show the iBot, like ASIMO and Telstar V before her, to take a roughly humanoid form, albeit in Apple’s classic white shell.
Standing at 4′ 8″, the sleek, dare we say it — cute — yet still fundamentally professional looking iBot is tall enough to perform most human tasks comfortably, but not so tall as to be intimidating to users. Primarily controlled via a standard Apple remote, the iBot features a large ‘home’ button at the nape of its neck for emergency power downs, and has the ever-present scroll wheel placed over the upper left hand side of its chest, accessible to both iBot and owner.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a source within Apple told journalists: “We’re going to start small, this is new territory for Apple… We collaborated with the Rilakkuma Lab at Kyoto’s Technological Institute to develop the degrees of freedom in the finger and arm joints necessary to do the painstaking work of assembling the intricate electrical elements of our iPhones [and] iPads, but also worked with a strong focus on the consumer angle. It’s the first real effort at creating a full-scale robot with such levels of functionality for the broad consumer market.”
As such, the iBot seamlessly integrates into your current Home Entertainment Systems. The iBot works with iTunes and AirTunes technologies so to play music throughout your existing home speaker system, or it can broadcast the music from its own inbuilt 20 watt speaker system. Additionally, the iBot can intelligently ‘learn’ your entertainment preferences, tailoring selections for your television viewing for your wirelessly connected Apple TV. Even more extraordinary, the iBot can carry out a stunning array of household chores, from cleaning the floor to scrubbing the toilet. It promises to learn the preferences of its owner, able to make calls, remember to pay bills. iBot will even entertain children as she dances along to music and ‘reads’ e-books to lull them to sleep. As the iBot learns your habits, she will take initiative to carry out tasks that you may have forgotten, such as walking your dog (more along the toy poodle than mastiff lines, the iBot cannot in its present design walk any dog over 40lbs).
iBot utilizes Siri technology, and developers have been met with a few problems along the way. While Siri is somewhat functional in her iPhone application, developers found they had to undo a large number of the snarky pre-built answers developers have fed into the software.
Sandwich photo via Shutterstock
“When we first asked the iBot to ‘Make us a sandwich’ Siri told us ‘I’m not permitted to prepare food’ — but she can! She can make a sandwich, she can make the coffee, she can operate a washing machine and fold the laundry, but we had a really hard time going through and overwriting all those dumb smart-ass responses those guys had programmed into it… some of them were more serious, when we asked her to call an ambulance, she said ‘From now on I’ll call you ‘An Ambulance’ it was maddening, and we had to redo the whole thing.”
While their source suggests that Apple will “start small” with the iBot, expectations for the device are high. “We expect this to become as standard and necessary for any household as the family car,” an Apple employee stated. Current pricing suggests that the iBot will retail for around $10,500, though that price may come down as early iBots are retained within Apple and used specifically to manufacture iBots.
“Our plan is to begin with 10 laboratory constructed iBots, once we iron out programming kinks,” the Apple Employee continued. “Those 10 will each — though working on a specific manufacturing task — will each be able to turn out an average of 15 iBots a day. Slow compared to the rate of production we’re used to, but we hope to improve upon that as we learn and the iBots learn to work together more efficiently. But even with that in mind, we could have a work force of around 500,000 within a few days if we allow for the occasional dud battery and so on.” Apple developers are presently at work on a UI for controlling the iBot run production lines.
We’re still not entirely sold on the idea. Yes, Apple has convinced a market weary of personal TVs that we can all benefit from full color video screens on our music players and an iPad, but can we really benefit from from a personal robot? Time will tell, and Tim Cook is rumored to launch the iBot this September. But whether it takes off as a personal consumer electronic device or not, it will undoubtedly remedy some of Apple’s concern’s over labor conditions in Chinese factories. The source added, “We’ll need people to monitor the iBots, of course, and that will involve potentially long shifts in front of computer screens as production continues 24 hours a day.”