Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crossing the Chasm: will consumer robotics ever do it in my lifetime?

When will a consumer robot cross the chasm?

 What will be the first consumer robot application to bridge the chasm between early adopter and the early majority?

This, I believe, is the central question this consumer robotics must answer. Crossing the chasm means selling a product not just to enthusiasts, but to the early majority. I submit for your consideration that consumer robotics has NOT been able to jump the chasm yet, and the whole industry is stuck, and is of no real interest to major companies like Google, MS, Apple etc... those with companies with huge stacks of money and who have to power to transform this market. While MS has shown leadership in this area, it is the sole standout in the crowd.  See the article by BG : A robot in every home.

What could that first product be that jumps the chasm? There are so many possible areas where consumer robotics can grow. Obviously any new field must be technically in reach within say, several  years, it must address a pressing need. So, will it be Telepresence? Security? Intelligent toys? Elder care? Maybe even a nannybot? Or the famous "get me a beer robot" (and is the 'get me the beer robot' an expression of complete lack of imagination in the publics mind as to what robots can do for us).

Military robotics, lead mostly by iRobot, has been  able to bridge the chasm, and now we see the widespread use of robots in the military and police forces. Lego Mindstorms, may have done it (or is in the process of doing it) with education/hobbyist robots. Intuitive surgical has transformed surgery. What is wrong with consumer robotics? Why should anyone be enthusiastic about it as a business opportunity?

Here is some background to the crossing the chasm problem: "Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers", Geoffrey A. Moore

Here is what I think is standing in the way.  We are stuck with the notion that consumers will not pay more than X dollars for a robot. People are focused on that X number because there is a lot of data to support the idea that $100.00 for an entertainment robot is the max and around $300.00 for a utility robot is a maximum people will pay.

Yet, people also have cars, which cost a lot more. Why? Because they deliver something of unique value to the consumer. People will also pay a few hundred a month for cable. Why? Because there is a constantly renewing source of entertainment.  TV is part of our culture.

What we need to think about is delivering VALUE to the consumer and let the price fall where it may.  What is the pain that consumers undergo that a consumer robot can alleviate? 

The first step, I think, in performing a methodical analysis of this question is compile a pain-list of consumer activities. 

Then, the second step is to determine the technical readiness of robotic technology to address each of these pains.

It is only through a methodical analysis of this problem are we going to get anywhere. Building stuff and seeing what sticks has not gotten us very fare.  Just my 2 cents. 

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