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Kickstarter: Vector The Voice-Enabled Happy Housebot

Kickstarter loves projects with that “cool” factor. Not only projects that are actually practically useful, but products that manage to be useful in style. Projects that not only work, but can also werk. And that look great werkin’ it.

The Vector project seems well aware of this. From the Project Page:

Vector is the answer to our sci-fi dreams. He’s a home robot who’s always on, happy to see you, voice-enabled, and eager to help.”

And for what it’s worth, this isn’t just a statement: The project page comes complete with more than enough videos of Vector looking very cool and very happy – more than enough to live up to the science fiction fantasies of many of the upcoming bot’s would-be purchasers. 

For one, the little guy is tiny:

And for two, as this image shows, it’s got a nice black and green color theme complete with two large, cute square eyes and an inquisitive-looking little mouth. Those certainly help Vector’s whole theme out in their own way.

Another little quirk that you might not have guessed from the image above: Although there’s not an image on the Kickstarter that shows this off yet, Vector’s face is not composed of LED lights. It’s a screen. That means that while, in this image, the screen displays two small eyes, it could just as easily display an image of a cloudy sky if you aksed the bot what the weather was like, the face of a digital clock if you asked for the time, or the current value of Apple stock if you’re looking to catch up on the business side of things.

There’s a lot of things this little dude can do, but the most useful ones include its ability to see (So it won’t fall headlong off countertops), hear (So it can answer your questions), and remember the location of its own charging station, allowing it to dock up and self-charge one it starts running low. Among its voice commands include the ability to call you a name once it learns to recognize you, take pictures from a smaller and cuter angle than you ever would, and pull a plethora of information off the internet:

It can tell you who won the last super bowl or world cup, when your favorite sports team plays next, give you weekly weather updates, it recognizes a number of important names and people, It can tell you when the next full moon will be, it’ll play Blackjack with you, do math problems and simple unit / currency conversions on the fly.

The Kickstarter page also claims a large amount of the robot’s appeal is that it feels “alive”. And though the videos on the page have it looking pretty adorable, it’s hard to tell how “alive” Vector will actually feel once you’ve owned him for a month and a half.

Let’s get to pricing: As Kickstarters go, the prices for backers are more comparable to “sale” prices than what the Vector’s full price on release will be, but let’s take a look anyway —

The first backer reward is a $200 Early Access package that is, according to the description, $50 cheaper than the full price of the bot. That sets the machine’s release price at $250 – Pretty cheap for a housebot, but certainly not a small investment.

And that’s where the idea of a Vector starts to fall apart – for me, anyway. It’s definitely a premium product, as dollar-for-dollar, this thing doesn’t hold up in terms of usefulness compared to similar items.

When we take away all the cute-factor cool-factor swag of the Vector, what remains? Well, there’s no real purpose to the device roving around everywhere other than to take pictures, and we can’t imagine the camera inside those tiny eyes is all too fantastic. The bottom line is that it’s too tiny to do any kind of manual labor, so for efficiency’s sake, there’s no real reason as to why it shouldn’t stay in one place, unless it has difficulty hearing over long distances.

After this, we’re left with the equivalent of an Amazon Echo or Google Home – A vocal AI assistant to schedule things for you and answer questions. We suppose – if you’re really stretching it – there’s the added benefit of being able to see a little picture of sunny skies when you ask what the weather will be, but the Vector itself – and therefore its display – is so tiny that this can’t be that big of a boon.

So then, you’re paying about $100 more for the cuteness, the roving, the self-charging picture – taking bot that can recognize you and looks happy when you come home. Is this a waste of money? That’s up to you. If you’re fascinated by the thought of the little bot rolling over to the edge of the countertop and greeting you when you come home from work, then by all means, go for it.

But there’s one piece of the Vector that we haven’t really been able to really see yet. This is the piece that could push it from niche, high-end accessory to new essential product. And unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s going to be possible to see until the Vector actually gets in the hands of some excited consumers.

Anki say much of the bot’s design is based around it feeling “Alive”. If the bot’s AI speaking and interaction interface is so good, if its facial expressions are so dynamic, movements so human that it really starts to blow people away, the Vector will become a must-have. But if it’s that kind of purchase that’s cool for the first 40 days and then sort-of-okay for the rest of it’s life, it won’t knock any socks off.

So how alive is the Vector? We’ll have to wait and see. But if you’re betting it’s more alive than those no-good haters think it is, feel free to drop your $200 investment here and reserve your bot today.

All images via official Vector Kickstarter Page.

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