Will robots soon run our homes?
Today, robots play a greater role in manufacturing the items that go in, or on, the home. The home is a tough environment for robots – stairs, children, pets, windows – not at all like the confined environment of a factory. But looking ahead, a big market could emerge for consumer-focused robots such as vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, and multi-purpose servants.
Sort of like the Roomba home-vacuuming robot?
Yeah. iRobot, the maker of the Roomba, now has a floor-scrubbing robot and a robot that cleans gutters. Some robotic lawnmowers are now on the market, as are robots for home and building security.
That’s a wide range of applications. Is any one area getting more attention?
Elder care is the main home application people are looking at. The goal is to build a functional robot that will allow the elderly to stay independent and live in their homes longer. These robots would perform routine functions such as cleaning, cooking, lending an arm, and so on.
Do these elder care robots actually work?
They certainly do. The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany has been working for more than a decade on the Care-O-bot, which recognizes household objects and can safely fetch and exchange them, interacting with humans. A technically simpler example is Paro, a stuffed seal robot used in the treatment of emotionally withdrawn elderly patients.
With home robot technology advancing so quickly, will homes ever be like the ones depicted in The Jetsons?
Joe Engelberger, the “father of robotics,” predicted the development of a financially viable, multi-function robot that would clean toilets and perform a wide variety of other household tasks. He imagined a world where people bought homes specifically designed to accommodate robots. His vision has yet to come true, but it may soon enough.
Is one country getting there faster than the others?
The Korean government had hoped to have “a robot in every home” by 2013, but that dream remains a long way off.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Photo courtesy of Morio, Honda