Samsung Reveals More Details About Concept Robot Ballie

At its CES 2020 keynote address, Samsung introduced Ballie, an autonomous small sphere with built-in camera, microphone and speaker that moves by rolling. Samsung Think Tank Team co-founder/head Sajid Sadi, who is also Samsung vice president of research, described the Team’s vision for Ballie. Sadi noted that the first two issues regarding Ballie were “mobility and personality.” The small robot needed to be able to travel over many different floor types and couldn’t intimidate children or pets.

VentureBeat reports that, “Think Tank Team considered a cloth design before settling on the current iteration: a two-wheeled scalloped plastic frame that’s about the size and weight of a grapefruit.” Plastic, the team decided, “would better stand up to wear and tear, as well as to accidental bumps and scratches inflicted by overzealous users.”

But making Ballie into an entity that everyone could engage “in a positive way” was more challenging. “Ballie communicates where it’s ‘looking’ by physically pointing its camera (which is flanked by a flash and a four-LED status indicator) in the direction of an object (or subject) … [and] rolls and pivots on its axis deliberately to avoid startling anyone nearby.”

The AI-powered Ballie, which can both follow a person at a “close but comfortable” distance or be told to “go away,” works without an Internet connection “to minimize any unnecessary transfers of data.” “We want the software to be secure across the board … [and to guarantee] that data isn’t just being channeled up to some server for things to happen,” said Sadi. The Team designed Ballie to be intuitive with “out-of-the-box functionality that requires little in the way of configuration.”

As far as functionality, Ballie can “serve as a fitness assistant” and “an interface to smart TVs, motorized curtains, and autonomous vacuum cleaners” as well as “act as a security robot, patrolling rooms at night and when folks are away during the day.” It can also tap into Samsung’s SmartThings or other “smart home device platforms” and act as a “home monitor for children, pets, and elderly users — particularly those with limited mobility.”

Ballie can, for example, monitor what TV shows children are viewing or “watch for health-related emergencies, like falls.” “We’re doing a lot of research to make something that’s approachable, not just to someone who’s very technical, but to my 70-year-old dad,” said Sadi, who noted the technology is “pro-active” in that “you don’t have to press a button.”

Ballie is still a concept, not a product, stressed Sadi, who added that, if and when it comes to market, it will be priced affordably and will “improve and grow over time through regular software updates.”

“Not hitting a good price point and, in addition, not hitting the right feature points where people get enough value from the device [is] not having a product-market fit,” said Sadi. “We have to answer the questions …  How do we introduce people to the idea of robots that track with you? How do we make those robots useful? How do we make it hospitable? How does the robot actually fit into your life?”