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Picture of Kuri — a robot from Mayfield Robotics

“Kuri is an adorable member of the family”

Reading time: 10 minutes

He makes sure everything is okay at home when people are out and he plays lullabies when it’s time for the kids to go to bed. We talk with Ben Kearns, one of the fathers of Kuri the robot.

Ben, please complete this sentence: Kuri is...

...an adorable home robot whose job it is to entertain, bring joy and help people in their everyday lives. When the family is out, he patrols the house and makes sure everything is okay. If he hears a loud noise, for instance, he can inform you on your smartphone. In the evening, when everyone is home, he will play the kids lullabies. Our aim with Kuri is to demonstrate that people can find it inspiring and satisfying to interact with a robot.

Kuri’s job is to entertain people and help them in their everyday lives.

So Kuri is effectively a member of the family.

Kuri learns from his experience of the world around him.

Exactly. He remembers the faces of people he sees every day. When he sees mother, he reacts differently than when he runs into her young son around the house. Kuri learns from his experience of the world around him. We manage that by regularly updating his software and modifying Kuri’s behavior.

What is challenging about developing a robot like Kuri?

Ben Kearns, one of the fathers of Kuri the robot.

It’s essential to observe how people interact with their children, with their friends, or even their pets — in other words, with their loved ones. From that we can infer the behaviors that people expect from others. Then we teach that to the robot — we give it a personality. And that’s why there’s such a difference between using a smartphone, say, and dealing with a robot.

Let’s look to the future: How do you envision the world ten years from now?

I believe we will interact altogether differently with technology in the future. Today we spend lots of time staring at all sorts of screens. That means we tend to be isolated from our surroundings rather than engaging with them. The invention of robots that know how to behave in social settings marks a fundamental shift away from that isolation.

Kuri demonstrates that people can find it inspiring and satisfying to interact with a robot.
What qualities does it take to develop robots like that?

It’s an extremely varied skill set that covers everything from troubleshooting hardware errors to programming new software and working out technical details. That’s no small challenge. It’s also why part of my job is to keep team morale high.

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