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Smart speakers to outsell wearables during U.S. holidays, as demand for wearables slows

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Smart speakers will likely outsell wearable devices this holiday season. That’s the latest prediction from analysts at eMarketer, which forecasts a slowing growth rate for devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches here in the U.S. The wearable market is continuing to grow, to be clear, but it’s struggling to reach the mainstream. Next year, only 20 percent of the U.S. adult population will use a wearable devices at least once a month, the firm says.

Note that eMarketer is looking at wearable usage and market penetration here, not sales.

That being said, the firm is estimating that usage of wearable will grow just 11.9 percent in 2018, rising from 44.7 million adult wearable users in 2017 to 50.1 million in 2018. As a percentage of the population, that’s a climb from 17.7 percent to 19.6 percent.

Things won’t improved much in the next few years, either, if the forecast holds out. The growth rate will slow to single digits in 2019. By 2021, eMarketer is estimating 59.5 million adult wearable users, representing 22.6 percent of the population.

The firm attributes the majority of the growth in the sector – a market today that’s dominated by fitness trackers – to new users of smartwatches, like the Apple Watch.

This news follows an earlier report where eMarketer had significantly downgraded its projections for wearable usage in the U.S. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The relatively “modest” growth for the wearable market overall is something other analysts have pointed to, as well. Globally, the market saw just 7.3 percent growth in Q3 2017, according to IDC, for example. Canalys had reported in August 8 percent year-over-year growth, largely thanks to Xiaomi.

Gartner, meanwhile, had predicted 17 percent global growth in 2017, but counts things like Bluetooth headsets (such as AirPods), body-worn cameras, and head-mounted displays in its grouping, alongside smartwatches, fitness trackers, wristbands, and other health monitors.

According to eMarketer, the problem with wearables in the U.S., and smartwatches in particular, is their high cost combined with the fact that they haven’t really sold mainstream users on these being gadgets you simply can’t live without.

Instead, they still feel more like luxury items – things that are nice to have, but not necessary.

“Other than early adopters, consumers have yet to find a reason to justify the cost of a smartwatch, which can sometimes cost as much as a smartphone,” eMarketer forecasting analyst Cindy Liu said.  “Instead, for this holiday season, we expect smart speakers to be the gift of choice for many tech enthusiasts, because of their lower price points.”

A holiday bump in smart speaker sales is almost a certainty at this point. Amazon’s top seller during the Black Friday holiday shopping weekend was the Echo Dot, for example, and Strategy Analytics recently predicted nearly 12 million smart speaker units sold in Q4 2017, bringing the year’s total to 24 million units.

eMarketer has also forecast 55 percent of U.S. households would have one of these devices by 2022.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

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This humanoid robot works out (and sweats) like we do (or should)

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There are plenty of humanoid-looking robots out there, but very few actually have bodies that are particularly analogous to our own when it comes to moving and interacting with the environment. Japanese researchers are working to remedy that with a robot designed specifically to mimic not just human movements but the way humans actually accomplish those movements. Oh, and it sweats.

Kengoro is a new-ish robot (an earlier version made the rounds last year) that emphasizes flexibility and true humanoid structure rather than putting power or efficiency above all else.

As the researchers explain in their paper, published today in Science Robotics:

A limitation of conventional humanoids is that they have been designed on the basis of the theories of conventional engineering, mechanics, electronics, and informatics.

By contrast, our intent is to design a humanoid based on human systems — including the musculoskeletal structure, sensory nervous system, and methods of information processing in the brain — to support science-oriented goals, such as gaining a deeper understanding of the internal mechanisms of humans.

The paper uses Kengoro and similar robot, Kenshiro, as examples of how to accomplish that intent; indeed, the whole issue of Science Robotics was dedicated to the concept of improving anthropomorphic robotics.

It’s important, they explain, to imitate human biology wherever possible, not just where it’s convenient. If your robot has powerful arms but a stiff, straight spine and no neck, that may be better for lifting heavy items — but it just isn’t how humans do it, and if human-like motion is actually desired, you essentially have to put in our weaknesses as well as our strengths.

And truly human-like motion should be desired, if a robot is supposed to exist in human-centric environments and interact with people.

After putting together Kengoro with muscle, joint and bone-like arrangements of motors and struts, the researchers put these similarities to the test by having the robot attempt a number of ordinary exercises, from push-ups to calf raises.

All the way down! Are you a robot or a soft, weak human?

Use that anger!

As you can see, he’s a little jittery (“he” because the robot is modeled after an average 13-year-old Japanese boy). He probably should have stretched first. Still, he probably did more crunches for this article than I did this year.

The sweating thing probably deserves a little explanation. Essentially the motors have water running through them to help cool them off as they work, and they can expel that water through artificial pores in order to more quickly release heat. It’s not exactly a critical feature, but if you’re going to mimic humanity, you might as well go all the way.

It’s an interesting and unsurprisingly complex endeavor that Yuki Asano et al. are pursuing, but the results already seem worthwhile, and the applications they envision are promising. The “human mimetic humanoid” project is ongoing, so expect more from Kengoro in the near future.

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Kuri the adorable home robot starts shipping to pre-order customers

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Kuri, the home robot that wants to be more companion and less Roomba, has begun shipping out to customers. Kuri creator Mayfield Robotics, a Bosch-owned startup, revealed that its initial shipments have gone out via FedEx – which means it technically met its goal of beginning to ship the photogenic little friend bots prior to the end of 2017, if only just.

Kuri was originally unveiled almost a year ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it’s been steadily getting smarter and closer to production-ready status since then, with regular updates from the roboticists at Mayfield, who wanted to create a domestic robot that wasn’t just functional, but that would be welcomed in as a virtual member of the family.

The little robot features touch sensors, expressive eyes with a built-in camera and live-streaming capabilities, the ability to communicate via onboard speakers, microphones and gestural motion actuators, obstacle avoidance smarts and wheels that can handle room crossing from one room into another, as well as multiple types of floors and carpets.

Kuri’s designed to autonomously navigate the house, learn over time, automatically capture special moments, play back music, audiobooks and podcasts, and generally be a pal around the house. It’s a novel and daring approach to bringing robotics into the domestic sphere – especially given its $700 price tag. Mayfield seems to be enjoying healthy interest, however; the queue is currently set to deliver sometime next spring for reservations made today.

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