Are you being served? Israeli-founded startup creates robot butler on wheels

Temi says it will integrate Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant to further expand its droid’s capabilities

Yossi Wolf, the CEO and founder of New York based startup Temi with the Temi "personal butler" robot (Courtesy)
Yossi Wolf, the CEO and founder of New York based startup Temi with the Temi "personal butler" robot (Courtesy)

If you’ve ever dreamed of having your own butler, a new robot called Temi may be just the thing.

On a recent visit, a 16th-floor Tel Aviv R&D office was teeming with silent robots navigating over carpets and milling around engineers’ desks.

Yossi Wolf, the CEO and founder of New York-based startup Temi, was interacting with them, ordering them to play music or recommend the best pizza restaurant in San Francisco.

“Temi, play funky music,” said Wolf, addressing one of the “digital butlers” the firm has created for home and office. On cue, one of the robots started playing a catchy guitar groove, to the entertainment of all those present.

Temi claims to have created the “world’s first, truly intelligent, mobile, personal robot for your home,” and last month officially started sales in the US at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The company also said at CES that it entered a collaboration with Amazon to incorporate Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant into its robots to expand their capabilities. The partnership is “a major step up for Temi,” Wolf said.

Through the combination of AI and autonomous navigation, the personal robot on wheels can follow a user around home or office and perform a variety of tasks via its camera and the user’s smartphone. The robot also understands voice commands, using an interface developed by the firm — in English for now, but soon in other languages, the company said.

Thus, one could read a bedtime story to their kids from afar via a high definition video call.

Temi can also be a mobile home hub through which users can manage smart appliances.

A tray connected to the robot’s neck carries a wireless phone charger and is capable of holding up to five kilograms (11 pounds), uncannily like a butler’s tray.

The butler itself resembles an armless human, with a 10.1’’ HD LCD screen mimicking a head perched upon a 3-foot (one meter), 26-pound (12 kg) body. The screen angle adjusts continuously to match the position of the user’s face to assist in communication, and the many speakers and microphones on the robot’s body help with music, videos, games and phone calls, Wolf explained.

The Temi robot at its docking station (Federico Maccioni/Times of Israel)

The real innovation, however, lies in the brain located just above the base of the robot, which enables autonomous navigation by analyzing data collected via the cameras and the sensors using algorithms that create a 3D map of the space around the robot. This allows Temi to plan its path, avoid obstacles on its way, and track users.

“The mobility technology that allows the robot to navigate independently represents a real game changer” that differentiates Temi from other robots, Wolf said.

The robot can move at a meter per second, with independent motors and four wheels that guarantee stability of movement. It can operate for eight hours, and when it senses the need for a recharge, it independently makes its way to its docking station.

In terms of privacy, the cameras and microphones do not record unless told to do so and in any case, the company provides a lens cover for the camera for those who feel better protected this way, Wolf explained.

Wolf, a former CEO of Roboteam, a company developing tactical ground robotic systems for the military, came up with the idea of Temi four years ago after visiting his grandmother, who unable to hold a glass in her hand or move with ease. Wolf remembers asking her if she’d like to use a walking device and she adamantly refused. But when he suggested a personal assistant she couldn’t say no.

After a variety of attempts, Wolf and his colleagues realized that what they wanted to produce wasn’t just a device for elderly people, but a modern and easy-to-use robot that would assist and entertain all kinds of people in the indoor environment of their homes and offices.

While other robots can cost thousands of dollars, the Temi butler is available for $1,499, thanks to the company’s decision to develop the robot’s own technology from scratch, Wolf said.

Unlike other firms that are developing robots to very closely resemble humans, Temi has been designed simply to act as an assistant or handy support tool.

In December Temi said it closed a $21 million Series B funding round, bringing the funds it has raised to date to $82 million, according to a statement. Leading investors for the Series B round included China’s Alibaba’s first investor and former CTO John Wu, as well as Italian Generali Investments S.p.A and Hong Kong-based IoT company Ogawa, which is focused on the health and wellness sector.

The new funds will be dedicated to broadening the company’s global business with worldwide partnerships and to transition smoothly from R&D to commercialization, Wolf said in the release. The partnership with Ogawa will allow Temi to sell its robots it 180,000 points of sale around the world, he said.

The company, whose business and manufacturing location is based in Shenzen, China, already produces some 10,000 robots per month.

First deliveries are expected for March 2019, the company said, and Wolf added that the company will soon enter the Japanese and European markets.

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