Device of the week 3: Bearbot

Bearbot by Vivien Muller is essentially a interactive universal remote controller for smart home management. It can be trained to respond to specific gestures to control one’s household devices. It is very expressive and it interacts with users where it could also surprise them with spontaneous behaviors like sneezing, dancing, yawning and falling asleep.

It only needs to be trained once to learn the basic tricks. The mobile application tames him to identify the different remote control units:

It is able to control numerous household devices such as:

There is no limit to how much it can learn and users can replace as many remotes as they want with this device. Bearbot can also accumulate several functions in one gesture:

Interactivity through 3D gesture controller:

Moving from one device to another is easy :  

  • A gesture from up to down allows you to switch to the next device
  • A gesture from bottom to top allows you to switch to the previous device

Bearbot always displays the logo of the appliance you are about to control. You can rank and modify your devices list at any time on the app to simplify your navigation.

 

Analysis

Pros:

In the market, there are already so many versions of universal remote controllers but in my opinion what makes this one different from the rest is mostly the level of interactivity it has between the user and the device but also its capability.

Usability 

It is easy to interact with the device where at times some gestures already instinctive to us. I also think the function where it can accumulate several functions in one gesture makes it really convenient for users who utilise more than one household device simultaneously. Most of all, I think the whole concept is a really a really useful idea to me.

Interactivity 

I find how the way the bear reacts to the user’s actions to be rather natural and even life-like and even though its just a display on the screen. I really love the surprise behaviours of the device because thats what gives the “bear” a personality and character on top of the feedbacks from reading the gestures. I think it helps to develop a bond between user and device.

Appearance

I think one of its strong selling element is how cute it is designed to be. The rounded body of this device also allows for it to fit nicely in the hand allowing for it to be easily carried around. It is also rather minimalistic but yet it still retains this attractive cuteness to it which makes the device rather endearing.

Hygiene 

According to a study conducted by NSF International, remote controls count among the top spots for bacteria at home.

By reducing the need for excessive number of remote controls for the various device and integrating all of them into one general controller, it also reduces the amount of breeding ground for germs/bacteria. Since there is no need for users to touch the Bearbot aside from putting him into place, it is actually more hygienic.

 

Cons:

Connectivity

For the device to work properly, it has to be nearby (within 5m) hence it has to be kept close at hand. I feel that this a limitation because that means if the user is constantly moving around to get things done, the device might have to be constantly moved around together with him as well which might seem like a hassle instead of convenience.

However, this can be solved by using the mini Bearbots which has no screen and is not interactive. They serve solely as a relay to expand the infrared range. While it solves the distance connectivity problem, i feel that this kinda defeats the purpose of the main concept a lot.

Learnability & Functionality

With just only nine gestures that one could do to activate the functions, it could get some time getting used to and it could even get confusing since people could forget what was what. Also, how fast/easy can it learn the devices that it takes over control for? For instance, we can easily control some devices through our smartphones with IR and this itself can be a hit or miss. Not all devices from the various brands can actually successfully connect or be controlled as told to. Another important aspect is the 3D gesture sensor and like all problems with sensors, how accurate is it or do users have to keep repeating to get it to read a signal? This also raises the question of is there really a need for this device as compared to a more portable one like our phones.

Battery

It is limited to only four hours in active recognition mode. To save energy, Bearbot hibernates when not being used. When hibernating, its battery can last for a month. But what for if you buy a device and not use it? Users would have to keep chargers close at hand as well. Perks is that it uses a Qi induction charger, so it saves users the trouble of plugging and unplugging the charger every time they want to do something. However, having to keep another device close is really quite a hassle and burdensome to some plus it takes approximately 4 hours to charge full. With its limited battery lifespan, it seems more fit to be a device used to perform more specific tasks instead of something that you could carry everywhere and anywhere to perform tasks as and when you wish.

 

Suggestion

Though it has a big element of interactivity integrated into this device, I feel that more could be done to take interaction to a even higher level. This is because the device somehow still feels rather static and “unmoving” since its only the display monitor that is interacting. Hence, to take it to the next level, I thought about adding motors and audio. Perhaps the device could move on its own, like a robot with voice recognition or facial recognition  to make it even more life-live and perhaps even with artificial intelligence…I feel that this device has so much potential in interactivity. While I like the minimalistic design, I wondered about what if the surface was more textile and resembling a bear’s fur at touch.

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