Last year at CES, LG introduced a bunch of new robots because, as near as we could tell, LG figured that robots were cool so they'd better make some robots or something. The most photogenic (and smallest) was Hub, which bore a striking resemblance to Jibo, but we also met two burly service robots designed to work at airports. For CES 2018, LG is adding three more robots to the CLOi (that's pronounced KLOH-ee, obviously) family. New this year are the Serving Robot, Porter Robot, and Shopping Cart Robot, "developed for commercial use at hotels, airports, and supermarkets," and it's definitely not a coincidence that they're just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where LG is also based.
Last year was when talking to a smart speaker started to become the norm, but surprisingly, LG has struggled to replicate the same success with its CLOi series commercial robots. Ahead of LG's CES show, I talked to its Head of Research for Life Robots, Jaewon Chang, who updated on the company's robot trial service in South Korea's Incheon International Airport. Since deployment in July, each of the five Guide Robots has interacted with around 2,500 people. However, only a quarter of travelers used voice interaction, with the majority preferring the touchscreen mounted vertically on the robot's chest. Likewise, just as few people let the robots guide them to their destination. Chang needs to find a way to boost those figures -- and make us learn to trust these big friendly robots.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to South Korea to look over LG's work in both the AI and robotics fields, including some detailed time with its LG CLOi Airport Guide Robot. That's a design that LG has iterated on over time, and I had the chance to sit down for an interview (via a translator) with Hyungjn Choi, LG's Leader of Life support Robot Biz. That's a fancy title to say that he's in charge (in his own words) "of robot business development and product planning" at LG. Robots in industry are nothing new, but people-centric robots are a tough challenge. Mr Choi is quite clear that the first robot was the toughest. "Technically speaking, the most difficult one is the first one that you can see when you arrive (at Seoul's Incheon International Airport), the Airport guide robot.