Innovation

"First family robot," Alpha 2, does yoga, tutoring, and more, but concerns remain

At CES 2016, Alpha 2 demonstrates how it fits into your family, becoming a nurse, teacher, and even a yoga instructor.

Alpha 2
Image: screenshot of Indiegogo's Alpha 2 website

On January 7, 2016, Alpha 2 greeted visitors at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Arguably one of the most adorable robots out there, Alpha 2 descends from the Nao line, which is a leader in humanoid robots. Nao, which focuses on research and education, has come up with some great advances in robots—one of them played soccer in the RoboCup.

Alpha 2 is a Wi-Fi-enabled robot, made by UBTECH, which is currently raising funds through Indiegogo. As of January 7, it has more than $1,300,000. Once production begins, it's expected to cost in the ballpark of $1500.

At 17" x 9," Alpha 2 is a small, humanoid robot—and because of the size, said a representative for UBTECH, it's considered "more of a helper than a companion." UBTECH said that Alpha 2 deserves the title of first family robot "because it provides something for everyone."

The video of Alpha 2's family-friendly features is truly incredible. It shows the robot doing yoga, helping with homework, printing documents, and even assisting with housework. Upon release, it's expected to do even more. Users simply download an app to connect. Alpha 2 can take voice commands and its English (its first language) is pretty good.

According to UBTECH, Alpha 2 "will be able to dance, remind you to take medications, interpret languages, act as a weatherman, and act as a security guard for your home." The company is also inviting third-party app developers to contribute apps.

Still, it's important to temper expectations. According to Joanne Pransky, the "world's first robot psychiatrist" there are a few questions we must ask:

  • How soon will the functions on the video be available?
  • How easy/seamless is it to get it to do the functions on the video?
  • What are the processes necessary for the end-user?

She is particularly curious about how the robot is able to hand over the correct tool to the man in the video who is fixing plumbing under the kitchen sink. "How did the tool get in the robot's hand?" Pransky wonders. "Did it find it among other tools in a box, bend down and pick it up, or was the tool placed in the robot's hand before the video take?" (According to an UBTECH spokesperson, Alpha 2 simply picked the screwdriver up from the ground.).

There are still some restrictions, the company admits. Although Alpha 2 can grip (it holds a screwdriver and an umbrella in the video) it still can't open doors.

Roman Yampolskiy, director of the Cybersecurity Lab at the University of Louisville, shares Pransky's concerns. He says that Alpha2 "looks cool," but may not be able to perform the complex task seen in the video. "It is basically SIRI with a toy body," said Yampolskiy. "There's no way it will get you the right screwdriver."

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Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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