Recent Sphero spinoff Misty Robotics brought a decidedly non-consumer-focused device to the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this week. The Misty that I Developer Edition is your first baby step for a startup with much grander aspirations than the one that gave birth to this. In June, the business announced a $11.5 million Series A headed by Venrock and Foundry Group to aide in its plans to build a mainstream household robot with a much wider skillset than the business leading Roomba.
An early attempt at that may arrive later this year, in the kind of Misty II, a more highly polished and commercially oriented variant of the business’s robotic’s platform. For now, however, its attention is far more narrow, with programs to court programmers, as it works to build something more acceptable for the home market.
Misty that I Developer Edition is sort of the Apple I to the Misty II’s Apple II. There’ll likely be a developer edition of this II, but the organization’s forgoing the consumer edition of the I. It’s all understandably a little convoluted a first glimpse, but the startup’s operating on getting its sea legs, as it prepares for its apparently impossible: a home robot that could do everything. At a briefing in a hotel package at CES this week, CEO Tim Enwall and Head of Product Ian Bernstein laid out a rather grandiose roadmap for me personally.
It’s a ten-year plan, based on Enwall, and the startup’s investors have apparently agreed to this extremely long runway. After all, someone must bring robots to the mainstream, correct? Why not Misty? Bernstein was the founder and CTO of all Sphero, which immediately moved from distant management chunk to Disney darling, also Enwall headed up Revolv, which finally got sucked up into Google/Nest.
There’s little army of Misty I’s in the hotel suite when we meet the team. Bernstein puts one on the floor and fires it up. It’s the body type of ET: The Extraterrestrial, balanced on four wheels and constructed out a black plastic exoskeleton, that’s maybe a bit more Xenomorph. As Misty (known mostly as a “she” by her founders) fires up, a set of dots within two mounts simulate some semblance of eyes on which resembles a blue screen of death.
When fully functional, the eyes are a bit more lifelike, though still early stages. There’s here akin to this animated personality Anki has developed for Cozmo by assembling a team of animators from areas like Pixar and Dreamworks. In reality, much about this first Misty model is rudimentary, and that’s sort of the purpose. The robot matches a similar function as Willow Garage’s bygone Turtlebot or iRobot’s Produce, offering programmers a means to build ideas on a robotics platform.
It’s a far more limited supply, however. Enwall informs me that it requires his team to six hours to build a device, totaling approximately five to ten units weekly. It’s not exactly a solid business model in the long run. Rather, the business will be exporting prospective developers through its internet platform, and hopefully establishing an ecosystem of applications ahead of the Misty II’s launch.
Bernstein walks through a few of the fast and dirty features ancient programmers have programmed in at a recent hackathon. At the most persuasive presentation, Misty she utilizes her front-facing camera and facial recognition to discover people. When she sees her, she moans back on her brakes like startled. It’s a far cry from the safety and smart home connectivity intended for its already announced successor, but it’s a start.
Fittingly, it all feels a bit like watching a baby takes its first tenuous steps. It’s the very first public-facing movements of a startup that has a very long road of ahead of it — a potential that’s once frightening and hopeful.