Are consumer robots just another way to gather marketing data?

This may not be too surprising, but I would love to have a personal robot.  But I always imagined that my robot would be like my very own Radar O’Reilly – so capable that it would know what to do for me before I asked for help.

But the marketer in me is suspicious about the motivation behind making these robots because I know how amazing it would be to have all that data about an individual and a household.

Almost overnight, we have seen the first wave of robot-like technologies enter the home in the form of personal assistants like Amazon Echo, Jibo or Google Home.  All of these devices offer a non-mobile device that is connected to a cloud-based personal assistant.  Of these devices, Jibo is the one that scares me the least.  That is probably because Jibo was designed by MIT robotics pioneer Cynthia Breazeal, whose research on social robotics points to a very different motivation for building Jibo.

Jibo at home. Is it watching what you eat so it can sell you groceries?  It probably just wants to be your friend…

The other clue about the motivation of Jibo is its business model.  The price for Jibo is around $600 (although  you can’t buy it now – you can only sign up for a waiting list).  Compare that pricing to the price for Amazon Echo ($180) and Google Home ($129).  While Jibo is packed with more features (a camera, movable “head”, and a video display), it is clear that the cost of the Amazon and Google offers are being subsidized by other business models.

Amazon Echo – it is at your service, as long as that service is available on

It certainly isn’t a surprise that Google and Amazon are motivated by gathering data about us – but is it getting a little too close to home when they are in our…home?  I guess you could say that we already have an intimate relationship with these companies today, but embedding a spy in our kitchen seems like a step too far.  What happens when these devices get more mobile.  All of my nerd friends have watched the Boston Dynamics “beast robot” video.  Just imagine our lives when the always listening echo can now stalk us around the house and pounce on us with an offer for inexpensive laundry detergent.

Not exactly my childhood vision of the future…