In Apple’s latest move to identify its “next big thing”, the tech giant is reportedly exploring the development of personal home robots according to a new report from Bloomberg’s Apple aficionado Mark Gurman.

The efforts, while still in early stages, could position the Cupertino-based tech company to launch a revolutionary new product line that caters to this big market.

The report cites sources familiar with Apple’s secretive research and development efforts who reveal that the company has been working on prototypes and concepts for two distinct home robot devices:

  1. A mobile robot capable of autonomously navigating homes and following users around to provide assistance.
  2. A more advanced robotic system housed in a movable display unit or “smart screen” designed to mimic human head motions and better enable features like video calling.

While details are still scarce, the idea of Apple entering the home robotics arena represents an intriguing strategic shift as the company looks to replicate the success of its iPhone while fending off increasing competition from rivals like Samsung, Amazon (AMZN), and Google in nascent tech fields.

The Apple Car Didn’t Work – Why Not Try Home Robots?

engineer formerly working on apple car now working on apple robot

The robotics project seems to be the new focal point for Apple’s hardware team after the company officially pulled the plug on its long-rumored electric vehicle initiative earlier in 2024.

Code-named “Project Titan”, Apple’s secretive automotive initiative was active for several years, exploring potential designs and technologies for an Apple-branded electric car that would compete with the likes of Tesla, Rivian, Lucid, and others.

However, challenges regarding cost, talent recruitment, regulatory hurdles, and production timelines ultimately caused Apple to shelve its automotive ambitions for the time being. The tech giant laid off a significant number of engineers and reassigned others to focus on areas like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and home products.

With the company’s electric car project now buried, the home robotics initiative spearheaded by Apple’s AI and hardware teams looks to be the heir apparent that could be turned into the company’s next major “moonshot”.

Getting the home robot right could be as game-changing as the original iPhone given the immense potential of this market. However, the project is also challenging as Apple will need to first establish itself as a dominant force in an entirely new product category.

Apple Has a Longstanding Home Robotics Obsession

While rumors of Apple exploring home robots and unmanned drones for the smart home have circulated for years, Bloomberg’s report sheds new light on how active and advanced some of these initiatives have already gone behind the scenes.

The personal home robot concepts appear to date back to at least 2019 when former Apple executive Doug Field, now head of EV operations at Ford (F), was leading the company’s exploratory efforts into the robotics field alongside engineers from other home product initiatives.

The ideas and prototypes proposed during those early years included indoor drones for home monitoring, robots capable of doing basic household chores like cleaning dishes, and robotic arms to aid in video calling and other functions.

Many of those concepts were ultimately shelved or abandoned due to technical hurdles. However, sources indicate that Apple (AAPL) has kept investigating home robots and related technologies as potential breakthrough consumer products.

Two key focus areas that have persisted are mobile robot assistants to follow users around their homes and smart display systems with robotic motion capabilities for enhanced telepresence and video calling experiences.

The tabletop smart display with a robotic screen reported by Bloomberg seems highly reminiscent of a rumored “iPad-like” home hub device that was said to be in development back in 2022 before allegedly getting shelved.

Who is Leading Apple’s Robotics Charge?

Overseeing Apple’s renewed home robotics push are some of the company’s most influential and forward-thinking technology leaders:

  • John Giannandrea – Senior VP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, ex-Google AI chief.
  • Matt Costello – VP of Hardware Engineering.
  • Brian Lynch – VP of Hardware Technology.

Giannandrea in particular has been a driving force in expanding Apple’s artificial intelligence capabilities since being poached from Google in 2018. The AI veteran, who helped create Google’s digital assistant would be spearheading the machine learning and software side of Apple’s robotics projects at the time.

Meanwhile, Costello and Lynch are steering the hardware engineering workflows to design the physical robots, sensors, cameras, and other components required.

At least one engineer who previously worked on Project Titan’s automotive hardware has been reassigned to Apple’s home robotics group as the company shifts resources, underscoring the priority being placed on these initiatives.

Apple is also reportedly exploring how its in-house “SafteyOS” platform, originally built for self-driving capabilities, could potentially be retooled and utilized to power autonomous home robots as well.

Challenges and Competition Abound in Home Robotics

Of course, while entering an entirely new product category represents a massive opportunity for Apple to rekindle its reputation for game-changing innovation, significant obstacles also lie ahead.

For once, Apple will be a relatively late entrant to the home robotics market that already features established players like iRobot’s iconic Roomba vacuum as well as newer competitors like Amazon’s Astro home bot that offers Alexa voice control and mobile security monitoring.

the apple robot would have to rival well-established products like Roomba

Convincing consumers to pay “top dollar” for Apple’s spin on home robots has been a subject of debate among Apple executives. With premium pricing being a typical treat of Apple products, the company may struggle to gain mass-market traction in robotics if it can’t deliver sufficiently compelling capabilities and value propositions that justify a higher price tag.

There are also major technical hurdles related to autonomous navigation, manipulation, obstacle avoidance, power management, and artificial intelligence that Apple’s research teams must tackle to deliver robots that are advanced enough to give the product a competitive advantage.

Top players in the home robotics field, specifically Roomba, have collected a tremendous amount of data from their 10s of millions of sold robots. This gives them a massive head start in perfecting their robots, especially in the development of navigation systems.

Robotics experts have long extolled the difficulty of developing home robots capable of seamlessly traversing uncontrolled environments while also carrying out useful tasks without posing safety risks. Amazon’s Astro remains very much a work in progress on this front.

With this in mind, Apple’s home robots should be considered a highly exploratory science project at this stage, with sources even indicating that the company may opt to abandon or delay any launch plans if its research and development efforts fail to yield sufficiently compelling prototypes and design concepts that live up to to the firm’s high standards.

A Home Run in Home Robotics Would Be Good for Apple after its EV Failure

If Apple does successfully commercialize advanced personal home robots in the coming years, it could catalyze a long-awaited paradigm shift in how consumers view and adopt robotics and AI technologies for the home.

For all of their accomplishments since the dawn of the internet era, Big Tech’s previous attempts to bring robots and virtual assistants into the home have largely fallen flat outside of niche successes like robotic vacuums and basic smart speakers.

Apple’s unmatched ability to integrate tight hardware-software ecosystems and market paradigm-shifting technologies with mass appeal could change that if its rumored home robots live up to the hype.

Also read: 8 AI Trends for Business in 2024 – How to Find More to Stay Ahead

Similar to how the iPhone and iPad ushered in the modern smartphone and tablet era, a revolutionary Apple home robot with best-in-class AI-powered brains, video/telepresence capabilities, automation features, and a signature slick hardware design could be the spark that finally ignites mainstream consumer demand.

They’ve done it before with iOS and they can do it again. A paradigm shift toward personal home robots becoming household staples akin to mobile phones and smart speakers would open the floodgates to entirely new business models, software ecosystems, and revenue streams for companies that are able to capitalize on the trend.

A successful foray could also solidify Apple’s dominance in a nascent tech segment for years to come, while a high-profile failure could cede ground to rivals that are already heavily invested in robotics and AI capabilities like Amazon and Google’s parent Alphabet.

With so much at stake, all eyes will be on Apple’s annual developer conference in June for early hints on the company’s robotics vision and product roadmap for this daring new initiative.