A recent survey by researchers at Georgia Tech found that older adults are more amenable than younger ones — 77 percent to 67 percent — to having a robot "perform critical monitoring tasks that would require little interaction between the robot and the human." The poll also asked about the kind of help the respondents wanted from a robot. The findings represent a heads up for the robotics industry on the features most likely to succeed in the marketplace.
The researchers, Drs. Neta Ezer, Arthur D. Fisk and Wendy A. Rogers, sent a questionnaire to 2,500 Atlanta-area adults ages 18-86 and received 177 responses. They presented their findings in October at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) in Texas. The poll respondents preferred robots that could perform chores and could fetch and carry, and didn’t much care if the robot wasn’t designed for chat. Robots that could issue alerts to the owner or to his or her doctor in an emergency found particular favor with the older group of respondents.
Scores of manufacturers are answering the call for robotic household servants.
iRobot appears to be first, at least in North America, to manufacture robots designed and priced for the mass market. One model vacuums the floor robotically. Another scrubs and washes it. Both retail at prices comparable to a conventional vacuum cleaner. But these robots are squat and disk-shaped, and are just a few inches tall.
It seems the more humanoid the robot and the more and varied tasks it performs, the bigger the price tag. CareBot(TM) 3.4 Mobile Service Robot is described by the manufacturer, GeckoSystems, Inc., as a “servant class personal robot” designed for eldercare, childcare and home security. It is some 4 feet tall, “with locomotion motors capable of moving the MSR about with grace and ease.” It retails for some $20,000.
IPA, a German company, describes its Care-O-bot® 3 as a service robot designed for the care of sick or elderly, and as an interactive butler. According to IPA, Care-O-bot® 3 is able to move safely among humans, to detect and grasp typical household objects and to exchange them safely with humans.
The Wakamaru is the first human-size robot that can provide companionship, or function as a caretaker and house sitter, according to its Japanese maker, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. It moves around on wheels, is 3.3 feet tall, weighs 60 pounds, and recharges itself when batteries run low. According to Mitsubishi, it can be programmed to call or e-mail a designated person, hospital, or security firm if it notices a problem. It features continuous access to the Internet, and is equipped with voice and face recognition capabilities that allow it to search for and follow faces and movement. It has the ability to comprehend and interact with humans, and also comes with a built-in-dictionary, making it able to recognize 10,000 words.
The Georgia Tech research findings suggest users are likely to find many of the interactive features of these robots — and their many cousins — as superfluous. In any case, the price puts them out of reach of most individuals. That said, today’s robot prices could seem more attractive when seen against the cost of long-term care in a facility.
Sources: HFES; iRobot; IPA, GeckoSystems, Inc.; Mitbushi Heavy Industries