When I was growing up, I expected to have a robot servant like Rosie from the Jetsons by the time I grew up. Fast forward to 2019 and most consumer robots are either vacuum cleaners, kids’ learning tools or pets that feign affection for you. Today at CES, UBTech’s Walker opened a door and led me into the future, a near-future where your family can have a robotic butler that can walk over to the fridge, take out a beer and bring it to you.
A 4.7-foot, 170-pound humanoid style robot, Walker has 36 different actuators that allow it to walk on two legs, climb stairs and, most importantly, grasp objects with its hands.
While it has two legs, two arms and hands with five fingers, UBTech’s robot is on the left side of the uncanny valley. Walker looks and talks like a robot rather than a human impersonating android; it’s white and gold and is shaped a little like Honda’s famous Asimo.
The Walker in Action
At UBTech’s CES booth, I got to take part in a five-minute demo that took place in a faux living room. First, I stood outside the sliding door and watched as Walker slowly stepped its way across the room, lifted up an arm and opened its hand to grasp the door hand and let me in.
The robot then offered to put away a small bag that UBTech provided. I placed the bag on his right palm and watched as Walker carried it over to a hook and hung it up.
After I sat down on a couch in the middle of the room, Walker came in and did a little dance for my entertainment. He then headed over to a mini fridge, opened its door with his hand and pulled out a tall can of diet coke for me.
While holding the can in one hand, he walked up to a kitchen counter and grabbed a cylindrical box of potato chips, before walking over to the couch and placing the soda can on a side table. The robot also held out his hand to offer me the chips and a company rep accepted them from him (the company had asked me not to do the grasping part).
Finally Walker checked his calendar and reminded me that I have a “date at 8 pm.” He informed me that it was raining out and subsequently went over to an umbrella stand and pulled out an umbrella for me. That was the last part of the demo.
Walker is still a prototype and UBTech representatives told me that the company doesn’t expect to ship any units to consumers for at least a year if not several more. However, the company plans to start shipping units to partners sooner so they can get a jumpstart on supporting it.
UBTech didn’t reveal much about Walker’s internal components, but reps told me that it runs a special version of the popular ROS (robot operating system) OS. Its face is an LED screen that can be used for video conferencing / telepresence and there’s a 1080p camera built in. The primary means of controlling Walker will be with voice commands. It uses USLAM mapping to make an internal map of your rooms and furniture.
The robot is rated for two hours of battery life. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, remember that, like other home robots, Walker will probably return to its charging station when not in active use so, unless you’re having it move around continuously all day, it will probably be fine.
Unlike other robots with this kind of movement capability, Walker is targeted at the home. UBTech showed videos of it walking upstairs with a chlid, playing piano and performing other household tasks.
UBTech hasn’t yet determined a price or even a price range for Walker, but company reps were quick to say that the initial models will be expensive, but that later units will get cheaper because of production efficiencies.
We may be several years away from every middle class family having its own robotic butler. But Walker shows us what that future will look like.