Because of the pandemic, CES is virtual this year and seemingly twice as long.
Next week will be a doozy with more product announcements even if nobody can rub elbows in person on the Las Vegas Convention show floor to see the future. But as we navigate the very first virtual CES sans Input flight suits (look, I’m sad about it too), I just have one important question: Where on Earth is Samsung’s Ballie?
Ballie, if you forgot, was a ball-shaped home robot Samsung announced at CES 2020 mere months before Covid-19 spread across the world and forced many people into recalibrating for a work-from-home life. Standing in the back of Samsung’s overcapacity CES keynote, I watched as the company pitched Ballie as part of its “Age of Experience.”
In one of its always aspirational demo videos, Samsung showed off the admittedly adorable highlighter yellow ball robot rolling around a person’s home to assist not only with chores but living. Brimming with personality (as much as a grapefruit-sized robot with a camera for an eye can have), Ballie was more BB-8 than The Jetson’s sassy Rosie.
Ballie was touted as a real man-and-his-robot breakthrough. Ballie could cuddle with your cute doggo. Ballie could wake you up, scan your face, and watch you smile. Fill your cold-blooded heart with warmth and maybe even genuine happiness. Ballie could control your smart home — open the blinds, regulate the thermostat, or summon the robot vacuum. Help you perfect your yoga pose in front of your rotating Sero TV inside of your massive, minimalist, and perfectly Instagrammable apartment.
Ballie would miss you when you left for work and you would have probably missed it back.
Ballie was supposed to be your (and your pets’) friend. “It's not just a social robot,” Leo Jun, the director of Samsung’s Think Tank Team, told Engadget. “It's actually designed to be a companion, and it's a little bit different in its interpretation, but we think this is very believable.”
Ballie could have been the chosen one to rescue us from eternal darkness.
We needed Ballie in 2020, a year when we were all left isolated and more lonely than ever before. A difficult and challenging year that pushed us all to our physical and mental limits. But Ballie was nowhere to be found. Ballie failed to roll into our lives during our greatest time of need for companionship.
Why did Ballie not show up? Ballie could have been the chosen one to rescue us from eternal darkness. There was no better moment in time to test whether Ballie could succeed where other personal home robots like the Jibo failed spectacularly. Ballie could have been the second coming of Sony’s Aibo if only Samsung had the courage to ship it. I reached out to Samsung to see if Ballie was alive, but didn't hear back. Poor ball bot never got to spread joy.
So as I sit here at my desk, eight days into 2021, fully expecting to live more or less socially distanced from friends and family for another year, I request Samsung to ship Ballie. Do it now before Ballie becomes a really dumb idea again when things get back to normal.