Innovation of the Week: Valley startup sees the future of home robotics in communications | Crain's Silicon Valley

Innovation of the Week: Valley startup sees the future of home robotics in communications

  • The Ohmni robot serves as a personal avatar, bringing a person’s presence to a remote location. | Photo by Ohmnilabs

    The Ohmni robot serves as a personal avatar, bringing a person’s presence to a remote location. | Photo by Ohmnilabs

  • Ohmni has enough mobility to navigate throughout a home, while the display shows the face of the remote user, allowing approximate eye-level conversation. | Photo by Ohmnilabs

    Ohmni has enough mobility to navigate throughout a home, while the display shows the face of the remote user, allowing approximate eye-level conversation. | Photo by Ohmnilabs

  • Ohmni has enough mobility to navigate throughout a home, while the display shows the face of the remote user, allowing approximate eye-level conversation. | Photo by Ohmnilabs

    Ohmni has enough mobility to navigate throughout a home, while the display shows the face of the remote user, allowing approximate eye-level conversation. | Photo by Ohmnilabs

When someone moves far from home, it can be difficult for them to stay connected to the family. Phones and video systems like FaceTime can bring voices and faces to distant relatives—but these communications method are no replacement for actually being in the home and participating in the daily activities and discussions that form the basis of family life.

Enter Santa Clara-based startup OhmniLabs, which is offering the Ohmni home robot designed to erase the barriers of distance. The Ohmni robot serves as a personal avatar, bringing a person’s presence to a remote location. 

Ohmni consists of a tricycle base that connects to a display via a long pole. The wheels give Ohmni enough mobility to navigate throughout a home, while the display shows the face of the remote user, allowing approximate eye-level conversation.

“I grew up in Vietnam, and my parents still live there. Although I try to go back and spend time with them, it’s a 20 hour flight, which makes it hard. We came up with the idea of a telepresence robot that allows two-way communications," said Thuc Vu, co-founder at OhmniLabs. "With this robot, I can drive into the kitchen and see grandma and learn how to cook something or I can watch TV with my dad," said Vu.

OhmniLabs started offering Ohmni via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign this week. During the campaign, users can order one of the robots for a special price of $1,395.

Robot in the house?

Ohmni is part of a new trend in the robotics industry that has seen automatons transcend the industrial and defense markets and move into a household settings. The global population of household robots is expected to rise by 31 million between 2016 and 2019, with market revenue increasing about $13 billion, according to a press release from International Federation of Robotics.

Most of these robots will be vacuum and floor cleaning devices, such as the Roomba, according to IFR. However, other types of household robots are gaining acceptance, including lawn mowers, pool-cleaners, entertainment-focused devices and assistive robots for the handicapped and elderly, according to the IFR press release.

Ohmnilabs believes there’s an opening in the market for communications-oriented household robots.

Pet robot

“There’s a huge opportunity for artificial intelligence, deep learning and robotics in the industrial and military segments, but not much in the home area,” Vu said. “So, we decided to get together to tackle the problem of robots in the home.”

Pilot deployments of the Ohmni have shown that people quickly become attached to the robot.

“Once they start using it, the robot becomes people’s main communications channel,” Vu said. “People are so comfortable with it. They don’t strain to sit in front of a computer. Instead, the robot moves to where interactions are most natural, like the sofa."

Vu said Ohmnilabs is manufacturing its robot in Santa Clara using 3-D printing technology.

April 23, 2017 - 5:55pm