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More than half of consumers, 57 percent, say they expect to own a domestic robot within the next ten years to perform some despised household chore, but what they'll get may not be much more than the iRobot Roomba vacuum machine.

Consumer Electronics Associations "5 Technologies to Watch - 2006" says robots already wash clothes, clean dishes, heat homes and protect out property, but to do so out of sight from within appliances that consumers use daily.

To free these robots from their metallic shells, further advances in three existing research and development areas will be necessary.

  • Environmental sensing and interpretation technology that gives machines the ability to recognize everything from people's moods and spoken commands to overheated in-wall wiring and dirty dishwater.
  • Raw processor power to run complex recognition, navigation and artificial software quickly and efficiently.
  • Advanced servos, motors and mechanical actuators, coupled with strong, lightweight and precisely machined support components, to create viable synthetic musculoskeletal structures capable of fast, accurate and fluid motion.

    While that sounds like the workings of an android, a robotic humanoid form with bipedal motion is not necessarily a requirement of modern robotics, CEA says.

    A robot is more accurately defined as a mechanical device that can detect its environment, make decisions based on sensory information and execute a physical operation based on that decision.

    In many forms, robots that fit that description are already among us.

    To help foresee what the future may offer as a more visible robotic creature, CEA asked a group of consumers to list their most despised chores.

    In the order of least liked chores to less least liked chores consumers said they most despised cleaning the kitchen, bathroom and dishes; dusting; doing the laundry; mowing; vacuuming; taking out the trash; cooking; adjusting windows and window treatments; choosing what to watch; turning lights on and off; adjusting the temperature and selecting music.

    Note how some of those chores already get an assist from those invisible embedded bots, typically because manufacturers tend to build in automation where consumers want them most, provided the development is cost efficient enough to sell to the public.

    "Homeowners who have invested between $1,500 and $7,500 or more in their household appliances are unlikely to balk at the cost of a domestic robot if it would perform $1,000 worth of minimum wage manual labor each year," freeing the home owner from the time, which is today's currency.

    "A robot that carefully scrubs kitchens, bathrooms, cars, floors and windows could be sold as a power tool that performs more than $3,000 worth of maintenance necessary to protect the tens of thousands invested in a home's fixtures and furnishings over three years," CEA says.

    Still, performing certain chores calls for a range of collective abilities found only in humans and they are abilities technology can't yet mimic -- at any price.

    The best technology can do is assign groups of similar tasks to purpose-built or specialized robots as the next evolutionary step toward the personal android, says CEA.

    So what can we expect in the next decade? Roombas that get up off the floor.

  • ScrubBot -- A scrubbing robot, looking like a scaled-down version of the robotic arms found at car assembly factories, could plant itself in the center of the kitchen and use liquid cleanser and rotating brush to gently scrub countertops, sink and appliances before switching to the squeegee attachment to clean the glass surfaces. After selecting the mop head attachment and repositioning itself in the doorway, ScrubBot could mop the kitchen floor and stand guard until it is dry. Likewise Mr. Cleanbot could do the bathroom, dust the house, wash the car and even do windows. CEA estimates it would cost about $2,350 to pay someone minimum wage to duplicate the tasks over a three year period.

    "At that price a ScrubBot suddenly seems reasonable," CEA reports.

    And no more dishpan hands.

  • GoferBot -- Smaller, more mobile but less dexterous, "Fetch" could collect the clutter of the day in a large onboard bin and perhaps sort clothes by color and load them into the washing machine and later transfer them to the dryer. Don't expect this not-so-nimble rolling bot of bolts to fold and iron. However it could perhaps collect dishes and load them into the dishwasher, patrol the house, collect trash and keep things tidy. It could also interact with Mr. Cleanbot and tell it to clean its collection bin. "Fetch" could also change from maid to butler and shuttle objects and messages around the home.

    At minimum wage, the dishes, laundry and trash alone would cost more than $3,000 over three years, according to CEA.

    "But the value of sending your robot to fetch beers for you and your guests during a playoff game is immeasurable," the report says.

  • Embedded SoftBot -- Robots aren't just designed for manual labor. There are a host of tasks they can and already do including turning lights on and off, opening and closing windows, adjusting temperatures, selecting music and picking television programs for about $3,400 worth of time over three years.

    Networking many of these tasks in a central home computer is already possible and may soon include managing the mountain of video and audio content available from the Internet and television. Home security, energy efficiency and price comparisons for goods and services are other tasks that can be performed automatically with so called software "agents."

    "A benefit of personal software agents is that each family member can have a virtual robot follow them around the house and even to the car and the office. When I move to the living room couch, the race highlights leave the computer screen and reappear on the television. (It) could adjust the room temperature, lights and window shades to my preferred settings," CEA writes.

    "Internet agents lack the muscle required to manipulate objects in the physical world. All brain and no brawn, most software agents lack the physical capabilities that would otherwise qualify them as robots. However, employing personal agents to manage information, content and systems from inside of a home network effectively turns the entire dwelling into a robot," the report says.

    Home, sweet robotic home.

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    George's Avatar
    George replied the topic: #12982
    Domestic robots? My god, what's the world coming to where we're talking about robots in our houses so we have less social contact in-person with people?
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