clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The company that builds the robots that make Teslas wants to build home robots

In less than 10 years, the market for domestic robots is expected to grow to $4.4 billion.

image of robots helping at home Javier Pierini / Getty Images

Industrial machines that build cars and the machines that work in your home are worlds apart.

But the CEO of Kuka, one of the biggest industrial robot makers, said in an interview in the Financial Times on Sunday that the company is planning to make a personal consumer robot.

Germany-based Kuka was bought by Chinese home appliance maker Midea last year in a $5 billion deal. Industrial robots from Kuka are used to build cars for Tesla and airplanes for Boeing.

“Midea is not doing any robotics or automation, so Kuka is automation for Midea,” said CEO Till Reuter. “And they are very well connected to the consumer industry. So together we want to do consumer robotics.”

Right now, most digital assistants for the home don’t leave the tabletop, and are essentially internet-connected speakers with adroit voice-enabled artificial intelligence software, like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home.

But Kuka’s expertise in building machines that move on their own, combined with Midea’s deep understanding of home appliances, could be the right combination for making a consumer home robot that’s actually useful.

Home robots that move generally only do one chore, like vacuum or mop, but they continue to sell. Last year, the market value of domestic robots grew nearly 26 percent from the year before, according to research from Loup Ventures and the International Federation of Robotics. By 2025, the market for home robots is expected to grow to $4.4 billion. To put that growth in perspective, the market value of domestic robots in 2016 was $1.4 billion.

Midea isn’t the only company poised to enter the home robot market. Earlier this month, the Japanese company SoftBank announced that it is buying Boston Dynamics, as well as Japanese legged-robot maker Schaft, from Google parent company Alphabet for an undisclosed amount. Boston Dynamics is considered one of the best robotics firms in the world for its versatile, legged robots that can maneuver over diverse terrain, as well as environments made for humans. But those robots have been primarily built for military research, not for the home.

Since it acquired a majority share of robot maker Aldebaran in 2012, SoftBank has been working to bring its humanoid Pepper robot to more retail settings, and even to some homes in Japan. Pepper has a wheeled base — it can’t climb stairs — and only uses its hands to gesticulate. The robot is mostly at work in stores, helping shoppers find things and answering basic questions. Combining Boston Dynamics’ ability to build agile machinery with the team behind the friendly-looking Pepper could position SoftBank to build a robot that’s much more useful.

Japanese carmakers Honda and Toyota have also been working on robotic assistants for the home. Their inventions, so far, have primarily focused on addressing the needs of Japan’s growing elderly population.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.