Robot Qubi aims to be the ultimate smart assistant at home

Robot Qubi aims to be the ultimate smart assistant at home
In today’s smart home space, robot is a relatively new concept. We’ve heard of sensors, thermostats, smart speakers, among other smart devices. Robot products, on the other hand, are few in number. However, it doesn’t mean we should rule them out in a smart home environment.

Believing robots’ potential, some companies have put down resources to develop the human-like machine. One of them is EQL Technology, a smart home startup launched by Taiwan-based manufacturing giant Quanta Computer. EQL is developing a robot called Qubi that can move around in the house while enabling smart home management.

A striking feature of Qubi is the round vacuum cleaner underneath that also serves as the robot’s feet. The company wants to provide something in the robot that is immediately useful to end users, and vacuum cleaning became the clear choice. “Instead of adding a bunch of bells and whistles, we want to provide functions that are indeed useful to consumers. The cleaning robot is the most familiar application to consumers. It is also growing increasingly popular,” said Shawn Lin, Senior Product Manager at EQL.

Many vacuum cleaners in today’s market are able to go back to the charging station automatically before running out of power. What sets Qubi apart is that, after being recharged, it can resume cleaning from the spot where it had stopped cleaning, instead of having to start all over again.

Another unique feature is that users may set up a designated area for the robot to clean. Virtual walls may be set up via mobile app to prevent Qubi from entering certain areas. Moreover, Qubi is built in with the “coordinated cleaning” technology, which allows several robots to divide areas to clean simultaneously. This functionality will be particularly useful when deployed in a commercial setting, like in a large retail store or warehouse. It not only increases cleaning efficiency, but also saves energy use, the company noted.

Smart home control via voice

In the smart home application, what Qubi does is that it will take voice commands from end users to control home devices. Qubi is linked to EQL’s Ripple hub which communicates to a variety of home devices via infrared, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals.

More specifically, Ripple talks in infrared to traditional appliances like TVs, fans and air conditioners; talks in Bluetooth to smart lights, smart plugs, health monitoring devices, etc.; talks in Wi-Fi to IP camera, the detachable vacuum cleaner and other appliances.

EQL makes its own Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices that are marketed under its own brand. All the home devices, including infrared ones, are connected to the company’s EQLink smart home platform.

With Qubi, all the devices may now be controlled via voice command besides mobile control, which Lin said is actually not a convenient control means. Taking out a phone to turn on or off devices is just too inconvenient, he said, adding that mobile app will gradually be phased out, partly due to the increasing adoption of voice control.

Lin predicted that voice control will become “mainstream” in the next couple of years. “Big players like Amazon and Google are putting more resources in the development. Their voice assistants are bound to turn smarter and smarter and become more useful.”

A typical robot differs from smart speakers in that it has a camera that can “look on behalf of users.” In Qubi’s case, it is mounted with a camera capable of shooting 360-degree picture or video, at spots like the ceiling or the floor. And its ability to move around in the house essentially allows users to check on any spots at home. This is very different from a security camera that is fixated at one place and looks at just one direction. Since Qubi can move around to check on different places, it also provides added security.

Cloud platform creates more opportunities

Qubi may be deployed in fields other than the home environment. The strength of EQL lies in the cloud platform “that makes many business models in multiple industries possible,” Lin said.

It is the cloud that collects big data and performs the computation to generate intelligence. “We are selling smart home gadgets, but this is only the first step. Without cloud, you cannot provide services for other industries,” Lin noted.

EQL is now working with business clients in telecom, retail, hotel and technology sectors, including brand clients like MouseComputer Co. from Japan. Software development kits and application program interface are provided to the clients, and the platform is highly customizable, Lin pointed out.

“Making the hardware is really not that difficult. It is the platform that can support various business models, meet the demand of different industries and facilitate different types of cooperative relations,” Lin said.

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