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Here’s why all the robots at CES 2017 are hyper-cute

The star of CES so far is not a self-driving car or a new wearable; it’s a small, wide-eyed robot. This is LG’s Hub Robot – a home assistant that is being launched as a competitor to the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Powered by Amazon’s Alexa AI, the Hub Robot can play music, look up info online, and has a screen that can display information and play video. As the central control unit for LG’s IoT technology, the device can also coordinate a home’s worth of smart tech, and smaller versions of the bot can be added around the home for even more control (and even cuter sizing).

Away from LG’s booth, there are plenty of other friendly robots vying for visitors’ attention, including Panasonic’s egg-shaped, baby-voiced ‘companion robot’ and Sony’s Xperia Agent, a concept home assistant that swivels its head round when you talk to it. These products play on familiar physical traits inspired by babies and animals – up-tilted necks, rounded bodies – and are purposefully designed to be unthreatening and endearing.

Panasonic

Why all the cuteness? Two main reasons. First of all, people are wary of AI – artificial intelligence is a big, scary concept that we have long been warned against. The ‘rise of the robots’ is a long-established sci-fi horror story, and there are headlines every day telling us that robots could put humans out of work – or worse. Cute robots with lovable personalities counter these narratives, making us feel safe (but please, no more female voices or female names. Just don’t).

Secondly, home assistant products are a way for big brands to make themselves even more integral to consumers’ lives. These are products that we interact with, in our homes, in our most private moments. If they’re not pushing all our “ah, that’s cute” buttons, we might not trust them as much. With this in mind, character development is not a frivolous choice for brands working with AI, but a strategic priority.

Those eyes, though!

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