Don’t be fooled by its name, “Buddy” is very French. And this is the first time that visitors to CES, which will be held this week in Las Vegas, will meet this emotional robot in its final form in the aisles. The man behind this beautiful eight-kilogram baby on wheels, Rodolphe Hasselvander, took the opportunity to announce the official launch of the “Buddy” in the United States.
This robotics and artificial intelligence engineer by training founded Blue Frog Robotics in 2014, after winning the World Innovation Competition and winning 200,000 euros from the BPI to bring his idea to life. “We have developed very sophisticated lab robots but they are mainly intended for professionals and are very expensive.“, explains Rodolphe Hasselvander at Usine Digitale. The “Buddy” is, meanwhile, available from 2,000 euros.
It was his experience with an old man around him, with a loss of autonomy, that convinced him of the need to create a robot for the general public and adapted to the concrete needs of individuals.
Use cases that have a strong social impact
Blue Frog Robotics aims to be a major player in social robotics and thus relies on use cases with a strong social impact – starting with assistance for the elderly, the original application designed for “Buddy”. Often, “Buddy” is able to patrol a house and interact with the person who greets him. “The robot will become like a pet“, says Rodolphe Hasselvander, praising its benefits “kind presence” for isolated people especially. As seen by Digital Factory, the “Buddy” can actually caress and react to its interlocutor.
But its many sensors, its camera and its two wheels stand alone when “Buddy” notices that the old man is not up yet, or that he simply cannot find him. In this case, it sends a notification to the entourage who can control the robot remotely to perform “removal of doubt“.
“Buddy” can also be configured to send an alert from a keyword spoken by its owner, unable to get up for example in case of a fall.
On the school benches
But “Buddy” is not exclusively reserved for seniors as it has also reached school banks and is now present in 1,750 schools. It can be used for learning code or languages, but also to support children with autistic disorders thanks to a wide range of applications. It also allows children in the hospital to take lessons remotely.
When we asked its maker the added value of a “Buddy” compared to any other type of videoconferencing device, he replied that “it has nothing to do with it“.”The robot moves, it can follow friends around the yard. There is a real incarnation, it allows more things than what we can do with a simple camera“, he underlined, quoting the anecdote of a class that took the robot with it on a visit to the Louvre Museum to tell the absent child not to miss anything.
But “Buddy” can put its intelligence at the service of public places or stores, to welcome people and inform them, as is already happening in some Boulanger stores and some Huawei stores. Finally, the robot can be used by developers who want to work on other applications and uses. “We have a vocation to go to the general public, but we are not there yet“, acknowledges Rodolphe Hasselvander, who intends to go directly to individuals this year.
Many use cases of “Buddy” remain to be imagined. “Today, we develop most of our applications but we have embedded applications developed by our partners“, refers to the boss of Blue Frog Robotics, who has set himself the goal of creating a “robot apple“where eventually everyone will be able to configure their robot with the features they want, from an open application store.
On the right track
If there is still a little way to get there, the company first hopes that by the year 2023 sales of “Buddy” will accelerate – 2,000 robots have been deployed since the start of its marketing, there it is more than a year old. Blue Frog Robotics also announced, at CES, the inclusion of a new application suite that now allows customers to very easily configure the assistance robot, while the company is responsible for configuring situations now.
With about twenty people currently, the company should double its workforce by the end of the year and raise new funds. “We want to go further and find more capital to go international and build this whole ecosystem around the robot“, sums up its founder.
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