Business & Tech - 08/09/18

Not A Substitution for Friends

Written by Christy C

Costing less than a MacBook, and with its cutting-edge navigation technology, well-developed AI system and video chatting function, Tēmi brings just about everything closer to you: music, entertainment, and your beloved ones.

We’ve all dreamt of having a robot that does all the tedious chores, ushers us, or even befriends us. But on the other hand, we’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know that that desire could be dangerous, and in the worst-case scenario, we could be supplanted. But whether you like it or not, the lineup of robots continues to grow. First were the industrial robots that have been handling our tasks with precision and speed, now there are all kinds of service robots in the form of a mini-human – or even dog. Mankind has officially entered the epoch of robot revolution where human beings coexist with robots. And among all the robots out there, Tēmi the personal robot is one that proves to the world that robots can do humans way more good than harm. To learn more about Tēmi, we sit down with Yossi Wolf, the creator of Tēmi and a robotics expert, who breaks down to us how robots will redefine the future of the home.

Yossi’s journey with robots began in a small but thriving electronics company in Israel. With a degree in physics, the Israeli soon climbed to the top position as a Vice President in Robotics. It was in 2009 that he decided to leave everything behind and invest all his earning in co-founding his robotic company Robo-team. Perhaps a big bet at the time, but it apparently was the right move. Over the nine years, his Tel-Aviv based startup has grown into one of the leading global providers of robotic systems, making millions supplying tactical robots to some of the world’s largest arm forces and police departments, including the Pentagon and the UK Ministry of Defence.

But when asked how he comes about switching from selling military robots to creating a home robot, Yossi gives out a surprising answer, “My grandmother!” It was during a conversation with his granny that Yossi sparked the idea of creating a home robot for those in need. “When she was serving tea and cookies, I saw her hand shaking. So I asked if she wanted a walking crane, and she firmly refused ‘no way!’” Yossi describes, laughing. “So I asked, ‘how about a robot?’, and she was like, ‘Yes, cool!’”. Determined to grant his grandma her wish, Yossi embarked on a new chapter of his career, devoting his time and decades of expertise in robotics entirely to the building of a personal robot.

Initially designed for the elderly, Tēmi the robot comes not only with a tray that holds your afternoon tea and charges your phone, but it also embodies a list of amazing features that make lives better. Users can activate Tēmi as simply as by a tap on a button, but the game-changer lies in its navigation system. Armed with two computers, 16 different sensors, and the same path-planning tech built for the Air Force, Tēmi maps and understands your home. It’s able to circumvent obstacles and navigate autonomously around the dynamic living space. Users can have the voice-controlled personal butler follow them around, or summon it across the living space. Once connected to your phone, it can be your eyes in the house when you’re away, keeping you updated on what’s happening in there. Think of it as having a Google Maps Street View Car in your house, you can travel virtually to and zoom in on your point of interest for a better view.

Standing three feet tall and rolling on four small wheels, Tēmi also acts as a smart home hub, as it video-calls your distanced friends and family, and brings music and entertainment to you wherever you go. Imagine a tablet in the form of a robot, but better than the one you already have in your hand. “The core value of Tēmi is that it gives you a hands-free experience while you consume your information,” Yossi explains. “Today, if we look around us, people are confined in their tiny smartphone, whether they are in their home or on the street, they are absorbed in swiping their smartphones, indifferent to the world around. They’ve become slaves to technology. With Tēmi, people can lift their heads, free up their hands for other meaningful things, and interact with their surroundings.”

While Yossi admits that technology can, to some extent, separate people from one another, he also sees in it its potential to bridge the distance resulted from the world’s imbalanced work life. “The modern world is absurd. We work so hard for our family that we don’t get to see them enough,” says the working father. “Many people are experiencing loneliness and depression as a result of the lack of close family ties and reduced connections with friends.” Whilst quitting one’s job may not be a realistic option, Yossi strives to turn technology into an intermediary that reconnect all workaholics with their beloved ones, anytime and anywhere. “Designed especially for video chats, Tēmi carries the mission to bring people together through video, so we can all spend more time with each other, to become a better parent to our children, a better son, and a better boss to their colleagues.”

Amid the awe and anticipation that come with the household robot, many have expressed concerns over robots taking over the domestic sphere and substituting humans. But Yossi has no intention of making one that replaces human relationships. “Tēmi is not here to replace us. Tēmi has not been made to be our friend, but rather our communication device,” Yossi reiterates. Like other home robots, Tēmi has facial recognition function. With the in-plug Google artificial intelligence tools, it recognises your voice and responds to your most bizarre questions on its display. But what distinguishes Tēmi from other home robots is that it is eye-less. “Many robots out there have eyes and hands, which create an illusion that they can be your companions. In my opinion, they are more like expensive toys,” says Yossi. “Tēmi doesn’t have any human features because we want to make it clear that it is a machine that serves humans. That’s why we have Tēmi put humans at the centre so that the human is still in charge.”

For now, Yossi and his team are working to open up Tēmi’s Android platform to developers, who can add hundreds of new skills into the machine. “Right now Tēmi is like an iPhone, with all the in-built basic features, but more incredible functions will be added to the system in the foreseeable future,” Yossi hints. Priced at USD 1500, the robot is even cheaper than a Macbook. From a business point of view, it might not be an ideal price for a well-developed robot such as Tēmi. But for Yossi, it is an essential move to democratise robotic technology. “In the past, only the rich can afford a personal robot. Tēmi is at the forefront to make the technology accessible to as many people as possible,” Yossi explains. To introduce the product to a wider audience, the Tēmi team will soon open two signature stores in China and the US.

As smart technology advances at the speed of light, Yossi pictures a promising future where household robots play an indispensable part of future homes. “More and more Tēmi will be in the market two years from now, but they won’t be just for music and calls,” he predicts. “Instead, its usage will be applied to other aspects of life, including telecare, security, education, etc. Robots will be the third dimension that we don’t have today on the internet. Expect Tēmi to be your doctor or tutor when actual doctors perform examinations and medical services, and teachers giving out language tutorials, all through Tēmi’s video chat system. Tēmi enables the person to be with you without being actually presented. The future will only be brighter with robots continuing to empower human, enhance and enrich human experiences.”

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