Part Pixar, Part Roomba: Meet Moxie, the Pasadena-Built Learning Robot for Children
Rachel Uranga covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
Wide-eyed and sweet, meet Moxie, the $1,500 robot for children.
The creators of the one-foot tall emotive machine want Moxie to become your child's newest companion. Geared toward autistic children, the company believes Moxie embodies "the very best of humanity" in a form of technology that fuels learning.
"What we are trying to do with this product is to amp up the benefit of social or, if you like, emotional intelligence," said its creator Paolo Pirjanian. "I want every child to be able to access this."
Over the last four years, Pirjanian, the former chief technology officer at iRobot, and his team of therapists, designers and engineers at Pasadena-based Embodied built a battery-powered creature that makes eye contact, reads facial expressions and converses with children. Pirjanian eventually hopes to develop these robots for older adults in isolation or those with Alzheimer's or dementia.
The venture-backed company has raised $34 million in the process, securing money from the funds of big name companies looking to bring artificial intelligence into our everyday lives including Amazon, Intel and Toyota.
"What Paolo has built with the team at Embodied is a new way for humans and machines to interact that involves emotional intelligence, emotional awareness and really tries to infuse humanity into a field of machines," said Jason Schoettler an investor and co-founder of Calibrate Ventures. "This is not an evolution in my view, this is a revolutionary step forward."
Moxie Makes eye contact, reads facial expressions and converses with children. Image courtesy of Embodied
The robot looks less like Stars Wars C-3PO than a character out of a Pixar movie with giant green eyes, rosy cheeks and a round head. It's pre-programed lessons are intended to guide children through development with discussions about feelings and relationships- difficult areas for children with autism to navigate.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 54 U.S. children have autism spectrum disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes interaction and communication challenging.
Researchers have become increasingly interested in the use of so-called social robots to help children with autism develop social skills.
"The robot actually does personalize its interactions for that particular child over time using machine learning," Pirjanian said. "The data that we are collecting will potentially help the healthcare community to have better insights into what techniques work for what kind of a child, because it has to be individualized for every single child."
But such personal data can become prey for hackers. Pirjanian said there's sufficient protections. The robot's information is encrypted and can only be unlocked by a parent's unique key. It's also audited by Privo for compliance with regulations governing children's online protection.
In a six-week study conducted by Embodied, their researchers found Moxie improved eye contact, self-esteem and emotional regulations for school-aged children with autism after regularly interacting with the robot. But, the company's study is of a small sample size and may not actually reflect real life outcomes.
Moxie the Robot: AI for Autistic Children www.youtube.com
Other companies have sought to jump into the market.
SoftBank Robotics has bankrolled NAO, an educational robot that sells a version aimed at autistic children for about $17,000. RoboKind, a Texas-based robotics company built Milo, a $6,500 robot for autistic children that includes plus a $3,500 subscription fee. Both have versions that are aimed at the wider $3.9 billion educational robotics market that includes bots that teach STEM. But the market has yet to really take hold.
Moxie could change that and it could shake up the $20.4 billion consumer robotics market. The company opened up its site for pre-orders this week and will give customers access to a full-year subscription which includes so-called behavioral analytics and new content that includes "missions," which are often task or challenges that Moxie presents to children.
John Lee, a partner at JAZZ Ventures and investor in the company, said that he found the technology intriguing because it really improved people's lives. Parents with autistic children often struggle with diagnosis and learning how to guide their children toward resources.
"Embodied's mission is to build socially and emotionally intelligent companions that promote positive social skill building in children," he said in an email. "This might open up people's minds to how technology can be used in a positive way and, perhaps, that opens up new products that address other markets."
Maja Mataric is a pioneer in the field of social robotics who was one of Embodied's original co-founders but is no longer associated with the company. Mataric, who holds shares in the company, declined to state why the two parted ways.
But, she said one of the biggest challenges that companies like Embodied face is having the ability to test the robot fully to see if it offers true therapeutic benefits to children.
"Companies usually need to spin out a product in just a couple to three years. That's the startup money that they have. A clinical study altogether will take two to three years just to conduct. So there's no time," she said.
Still, she said robots hold promise. Earlier this year Mataric, the founding director of University of Southern California's Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center was a co-author on a study looking at the ability of robots to improve development for autistic children using the technology at home. In the study, Mataric and her team at USC left Kiwi, a social robot that gauges child interest and tailors response, at the homes of 17 autistic children for a month. The bot played space-themed math games and offered personal feedback. At the end of intervention, all improved math skills while 92% improved social skills.
Researchers have become increasingly interested in the use of so-called social robots to help children with autism develop social skills.Courtesy of Embodied
Still, she said there hasn't been wide scale studies on the use of robotics in the home.
"Robots are not aspirin," she said. "What happens in the worst case scenario? What happens in the best case scenario?"
"Sometimes the best case scenario could be the worst case scenario, right? What if the robot is so effective that the child adores it, but they adore it so much that they don't play with anyone else," she said. "Those are the kinds of things, one has to worry about."
The idea for the company can be traced back to Pirjanin's own experiences. Born in Iran, the Armenian Christian fled to Denmark after the Revolution as a teenager. Feeling lost and behind in his studies, Pirjanin eventually bought a computer and became enthralled with its possibilities after seeing a documentary on Pixar Animation Studios.
"I was fascinated. 'How can a computer this simple create something so lifelike?'" he said to himself. "It drew me into technology. I followed that curiosity."
He got a PhD there and moved to California to help develop robots for exploration on Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. From there, he went on to work with Idealab founder Bill Gross where he eventually helped develop a visual navigation technology that was the foundation of his company Evolution Robotics.
That company was bought in 2012 by iRobot, maker of the self-driven Roomba vacuum, for $74 million and he became the company's chief technology officer. iRobot, which last year recorded selling its 30 millionth robot, is arguably one of the few companies that has successfully mass marketed robots, a useful background for somebody attempting to convince parents that their children need robots to develop emotional skills.
Pirjanian said he left the company because he felt he hadn't been doing the work that had originally sparked his imagination. Embodied, he said, was a way to bring all the skills he had learned as a roboticist from machine learning to natural language processing to life. At first he eyed building a robot for the elderly, but learned about the benefits it was having on children.
Children who have social emotional and cognitive challenges were seeing benefits from a robot companion that improved their chances in society, he said.
"I knew very well this was a complete moonshot," Pirjanian said. "It's been a challenge but we are finally ready to launch."
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LA Tech Updates: TikTok pays Creators as Rivals Dig In, Amazon Reportedly Eyes Sears, J.C. Penny Stores
TikTok Doles Out Money to Creators, Batting Away Rivals<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODQ3Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzI2Nzc5OH0.nqOLhJhVWxeEzL1-Bs6w7LNxiiNnnx0-o7rlFhF1f1w/img.jpg?width=980" id="b7b3a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="624f145b0a9bfe26d79eb69af3533a7e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Tiktok announced today the first receipts of a $200 million creator fund including several Los Angeles-based app stars. It comes as the social app faces<a href="https://dot.la/instagram-reels-2646902459.html" target="_self"> increased competition</a> from those trying to<a href="https://dot.la/triller-2646853219.html" target="_self"> lure away talent </a>and the threat of an outright ban.</p><p>The company has promised to up their funds for rising U.S. creators to <a href="https://dot.la/does-tiktok-pay-2646841503/tiktok-promises-2-billion-for-creators-over-3-years-as-rivalry-with-facebook-heats-up" target="_self">$1 billion </a>over the coming three years. </p><p>Among the 19 selected so far is Los Angeles-based <a href="https://firstname.lastname@example.org?lang=en" target="_blank">Alex Stemplewski</a>, a photographer who shares the impromptu photo shoots he has with strangers in public with his 9.6M followers.</p><p>There's also <a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@lgndfrvr?lang=en" target="_blank">Justice Alexander</a>, one of the top Latino creators on the app, who captures quick video of the many pranks he plays on his girlfriend and daughter with his 5.4M followers.</p><p>Well-known TikTok-er <a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@daviddobrik?lang=en" target="_blank">David Dobrik </a>recently gave away a Tesla to one of his more than 20M followers <a href="https://www.tesmanian.com/blogs/tesmanian-blog/tesla-model-3-giveaway-david-dobrik-results-video" target="_blank">as part of a sweepstakes for the most heartfelt story</a>.</p><p>The Creator Fund will open their applications in the middle of the month for anyone 18 years or older looking to expand their work on Tiktok. To be considered, creators must have 10,000 followers or at least 10,000 video views in the last 30 days and follow community guidelines.</p>President Trump recently signed an executive order that will ban the Chinese-owned company by September 20th unless it's sold to an American company before that date. TikTok has responded by threatening legal action.
Amazon Wants to Use Sears and J.C. Penny Stores as Fulfillment Centers: WSJ<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkzMzU3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTUxNDQzOX0.2jvZQNPg69Ok14O5ag1zX33kbKt1aD8iK7bz4EJVw3k/img.jpg?width=980" id="bb2d6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4918cc13e6e261fe485e6ddcf2185d78" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />live.staticflickr.com <p>Amazon is in talks with mall operator giant Simon Property Group to convert Sears and J.C. Penney department stores into package distribution centers, according to a report from <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-and-giant-mall-operator-look-at-turning-sears-j-c-penney-stores-into-fulfillment-centers-11596992863" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>.</p><p>The discussions come as Amazon continues to grow its e-commerce empire which has helped contribute to the downfall of brick-and-mortar retailers including Sears and J.C. Penney, which both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That trend accelerated with the pandemic as malls closed and millions of consumers rely on Amazon for online shopping.</p><p>Shares of Simon Property Group, which has 21 malls in California including the Del Amo Fashion Center, Brea Mall and Ontario Mills, jumped on the news. The company is set to report earnings after Monday's market close. </p><p>Adding more warehouses would help Amazon speed up deliveries as the company plans to offer its Prime members 1-day delivery of their orders. Amazon<a href="https://ir.aboutamazon.com/news-release/news-release-details/2020/Amazon.com-Announces-Second-Quarter-Results/default.aspx" target="_blank"> posted $5.2 billion in profits in the second quarter</a>, doubling its bottom line from the same quarter a year ago, despite spending more than $4 billion on COVID-19 initiatives.</p><p><a href="https://www.geekwire.com/2020/amazon-reportedly-wants-use-sears-j-c-penney-stores-fulfillment-centers/" target="_blank"><em>This story was originally appeared on GeekWire.</em></a></p>
Join us on Tuesday, August 11th at 11:00am PST for an exclusive dot.LA Strategy Session: Is the Green Rush Over?
California is the world's largest legal pot market, generating nearly $3.1 billion in spending in the Golden State alone. But cannabis-related businesses in the U.S. live in a legal-limbo, operating in this strange gray area between federal laws that make marijuana illegal and states that have decriminalized its use and sale entirely. This has led to sometimes difficult choices, workarounds and issues with which the cannabis and cannabis-linked companies are forced to contend.
Hilary Bricken, Partner of Harris Bricken
Hilary Bricken, Partner of Harris Bricken<p>Since joining Harris Bricken in 2010, Hilary has earned a reputation as an exceptional and fearless business law attorney. Hilary's clients—start-ups, entrepreneurs, and companies in all stages of development—value her bold approach to business strategy. Hilary also appears before city councils and community forums, where she advocates tirelessly for her clients.</p><p>In 2017, the American Bar Association (ABA) named Hilary one of the <a href="https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2017/07/aba_young_lawyersdi/" target="_blank">top 40 young lawyers</a> nationwide and before that <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2013/12/14/newsmakers-of-2013-deal-makers.html" target="_blank">The Puget Sound Business Journal</a> named her as one of only seven deal makers of the year. She was by far the youngest and the only private practice attorney to garner this honor. Hilary was also named one of "<a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/print-edition/2015/09/11/2015-40-under-40-hilary-bricken.html" target="_blank">40 Under 40</a>" leading businesspeople by the PS Business Journal. In every year since 2014, Hilary has been chosen as a "Rising Star" lawyer by Super Lawyer's magazine.</p><p>Major media outlets like the New York Times, VICE, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, CNN, Rolling Stone, Forbes, MSNBC, and Bloomberg all have turned to Hilary for her on-the-ground perspective on cannabis laws. Hilary's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M4Fse1Ioaw" target="_blank">Tedx talk</a> on "big cannabis" (see below) has garnered more than 50,000 views and she also authors a weekly column for <a href="https://abovethelaw.com/tag/hilary-bricken/" target="_blank">Above the Law </a>on marijuana policy and regulation.</p>
Tanya Hoke, Managing Director of Galen Diligence
Tanya Hoke, Managing Director of Galen Diligence<p>Tanya has more than a dozen years of experience managing investigative due diligence for clients in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals and manufacturing to financial services and consulting. She has been advising investors in the cannabis industry since 2015, and focuses on issues relating to fraud, money-laundering, compliance, and corporate governance. Tanya is a Certified Fraud Examiner, a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist, and a licensed private investigator. She has served on the National Cannabis Industry Association's Banking & Financial Services Committee and the State Regulations Committee. Tanya received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College and a Master of International Business degree from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she serves on the MIB Alumni Advisory Board.</p>
Brad Rowe, Director of Compliance, Operations and Regulations Analyst of Rowe Policy Media
Brad Rowe, Director of Compliance, Operations and Regulations Analyst of Rowe Policy Media<p>Brad has designed, implemented and delivered a dozen public policy research projects over the last six years through his time running BOTEC Analysis, at UCLA and with Avenu/MuniServices Cannabis Compliance and Support Services and Rowe Policy + Media. Brad is Lecturer of Public Policy at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and recently started teaching Cannabis Policy and Society, the first of its kind in the country. </p><p>He serves as Advisor to the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, coordinating the Criminal and JuvenileJustice Research team and the California Cannabis Data Collection Project. He sat on the CommunityAdvisory Committee for the Los Angeles County Department of Health's impact assessment on cannabis. </p><p>In 2020 Brad has taken on the cannabis "dosing problem". To help naive and legacy consumers dose new cannabis products predictably and reliably. The HowHi App Data Project provides evidence based insights into the Quality, Duration and Amplitude of the cannabis experience. The variables are crowd-sourced via experiential self-reports on iOS and Android interfaces. </p>
Andrew Freedman, Senior Vice President at Forbes Tate Partners
Andrew Freedman, Senior Vice President at Forbes Tate Partners<p>Andrew brings vast experience from his three years as the State of Colorado's first Director of Cannabis Coordination. During this time, he developed distinctive experience effectively implementing voter-mandated legalized adult-use and medical cannabis while protecting public health, maintaining public safety, and keeping cannabis out of the hands of children.<br><br>Andrew's role in developing a successful operating model for cannabis regulation and stakeholder collaboration was identified as one of the reasons for the State of Colorado's success in implementing adult-use cannabis legalization by the Brookings Institution. Governor Hickenlooper has gone so far as to praise Andrew's work while on national television, stating, "Andrew Freedman, who came in and helped us once it was passed . . . [has] done a remarkable job of creating a regulatory framework."<br><br>Andrew has received national recognition for his leadership. Men's Health Magazine named him one of the 30 most influential health influencers of the last 30 years. He was recognized as one of Fast Company's "100 Most Creative People in Business" in 2016. He has been featured on 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Governing Magazine, and dozens of local stories throughout the nation and internationally.</p>
Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA
Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA<p>Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer.</p>
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