Categorized | Technology

The Rise of Consumer Robots

Sony AiboTechnology has come a long way over the last couple of decades. This is a fact that becomes all the more evident when we examine the evolution of consumer robots.

Twenty years ago, the thought of owning a robot in the home – one that could clean the house, watch the kids, or perform our most menial of household chores – would seem preposterous. Yet this is the reality we are now facing. Recently, a number of companies have rolled out a variety of consumer robots and fantasy is set to become reality as this emerging market is jump started. ABI Research predicts personal robot sales will pass $15 billion by 2015.

Since the Sony Aibo, the popular pet robot which was discontinued in 2006, development of personal robots has been an area of interest and several companies have stepped up to the mark with new, innovative products and services. Bossa Nova Robotics recently announced ‘Ballbot’, a consumer robot which is able to take commands and act as a personal maid by carrying out simple household chores. The $5,000 unit marks an important transition that robots are making – moving from the world of industry right into our homes. Sarjoun Skaff, the co-founder of Bossa Nova commented on how Ballbot will “open up a whole new slew of uses” insisting that there is a “groundswell” of robotic devices that “cooperate with people”.

Skaff’s words tie in with what experts are predicting about our interaction with robots in the future. Manuela Veloso, robotics professor of Carnegie Mellon University, expresses the view that “robots will be accepted in everyday life” as consumers become more comfortable with the machines. She comments that consumer robots are becoming an increasingly more prominent part of the American home, and “may be fixtures within several years”. Her view on the acceptance of artificial intelligence becoming a key part of peoples home lives is echoed by experts in the field who predict that, in 10 years, general purpose robots will perform household chores or even serve as butlers at cocktail parties. These ‘general-purpose’ robots will cost between $25,000 and $30,000 per unit – making the Ballbot’s $5,000 price tag seem rather modest.

But this recent evolution of the robot marketplace doesn’t stop with Ballbot. A new version of ‘Romo’, the smart phone robot developed by Romotive, has recently been introduced. This clever device operates like a remote control car, using the consumer’s iPhone as its brain – and was coined by CEO Keller Rinaudo as “Skype with wheels”. Rinaudo commented on how consumers use it for everything from chase the cat, to monitor their children while they are away, which shows that consumers are already becoming comfortable with allowing a robot to perform such tasks for them.

The gimmicky side of this innovative technology also seems to have caught on in areas of the business world, rather than being developed just for the home. An upcoming conference in Silicon Valley will showcase dancing robots, and full human-sized robots as greeters. Also the automation technology company ABB have taken a different approach in consumer robotics, by demonstrating a robot that produces paintings based on human sleep patterns. The robotic arm interprets the sleep waves of hotel guests in the Ibis Hotel, Paris – turning them into meaningful patterns which it then paints, thus creating a unique piece of artwork.

But even with such fashionable gimmicks catching on in the world of big business, experts believe this is not where the money lies. Home is where the technology of the future will be deployed, and this is where the richest opportunities can be found.

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