Facebook has been awarded a patent for “a self-balancing robot” designed to roam on either three or two wheels with built-in storage and rotating arms.
The patent, filed in 2015 and awarded on 6 March, describes the robot as having a display, camera, microphones and a speaker forming part of its “head unit”, and it looks like a cross between a Segway, an Imperial droid and the Mars rover.
The most important question, of course, is why? Why is Facebook considering branching out into hardware in this way, and what value would the robot add to the social network and its other interests? Our guess is that it has something to do with either Facebook’s VR arm, via Oculus, or the company wants the droid to become a sort of robo-butler. The latter could be powered by a version of Mark Zuckerberg’s Iron Man-inspired Jarvis AI – the voice-controlled assistant Zuckberg built as part of his annual project in 2016.
In a Facebook post at the time, Zuckerberg said he spent a total of 100 hours building the assistant, which could be built into this weird self-balancing robot. It could even be an alternative to current “telepresence” robots that let people send machines to meetings on their behalf.
Details beyond the design of the robot in the patent are vague, but it explains: “Conventional mobile robots are typically supported on two, three, four or more wheels.
“The two-wheeled, self-balancing robots have the advantage that they can be tall with a relatively small footprint; however, they can have limitations with respect to load carrying capacity.
“On the other hand, the three- and four-wheeled robots are more stable and can have higher load carrying capacity, but less height. Accordingly, there is a need for a robot that has both the height of a self-balancing, two-wheeled robot and the load carrying capacity of a three- or four-wheeled robot.”
As with all patents, there is no guarantee the robot will ever become a reality but given Facebook’s reach online, and its software history, it’s a little bizarre to have filed such a design in the first place and could give clues about what the social network wants to conquer next.