Back in September 2009 we got our first interview with a roboticist thanks to Dr. Cory Kidd, who graduated from MIT and formed Intuitive Automata. Now, almost exactly two years later his cute robotic weight loss coach, Autom, is available for pre-order (see MyAutom). It got off to a somewhat rough start though, as it appears most of the blogs and news sites out there got the pricing a bit wrong.
You can pre-order the robot for $195, and pay an additional $670 when the robot ships to you. However, I’m not sure this is the full story, since the website says you get a free 6 month subscription, which suggests that after that you may have to pay a monthly fee to continue using some of the web services.
Commentators on sites like Engadget are quick to say it’s over-priced, but they’re judging Autom from a tech geek’s point of view; all they see is a palm pilot with eyes. Others have said that an annual gym membership would be better, but I think this too misses the bigger picture. Autom is targeted at people 50 years of age and older, who are (a) not as interested in the tech, and (b) wouldn’t necessarily spend that money going to a gym anyway. And keep in mind that Intuitive Automata are working with insurance companies to potentially offset much of the cost of the robot.
Why insurance companies may be interested in Autom as opposed to the multitude of other weight loss products and programs out there is rather important. In field trials with an earlier, less attractive prototype, Dr. Kidd found that participants stuck to their weight loss program twice as long as those who used the same program on a standard laptop or pen and paper. Several participants didn’t return their robot until it was absolutely necessary. Simply put, a robot that can talk to you feels more credible than seeing an animated character on a computer screen, and it helped keep people involved where pen and paper simply fails.
Already we’ve seen that Roomba owners tend to name their robots, but imagine a personal robot which is designed to encourage healthy living, looks cute, and is never judgmental!