By the end of 2002, over half a million people decided pushing a vacuum wasn’t for them, or so indicates statistics for the Roomba, the flying-saucer-shaped autonomous vacuum. Whether the motivation for adoption of the new technology was one of time, physical disabilities or the novelty of a cool gadget to do the work for them, the Roomba is merely one example of how today’s and tomorrow’s robots may be used more personally to help and to serve people.
Making a jump from the industrial settings of the 1960s when robots first began taking their places on factory floors, reports the Christian Science Monitor, today’s robots are hoping to set up home, sometimes quite literally, as assistive and service-oriented tools that take on more human-like qualities and tasks as well.
Companies like Sony and Honda are entering the game, developing their own service-oriented robots to make human life and tasks easier, like Honda’s ASIMO, a walking-talking robot that runs courtesy of 26 separate motors. Even the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is getting involved, sponsoring a project in which 15 universities develop robots that can move courtesy of Segways.
At MIT, for example, one of the universities involved in the DARPA project, scientists in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are working on a personal assistant name Cardea. Currently Cardea, who moves courtesy of a Segway, can open doors, among other tasks. Equipped with one arm but eventually planned to have three arms for juggling tasks like carrying groceries while opening a door, Cardea could become a valuable assistant in an elder care or even an office setting.
Additionally, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is currently designing a robot to assist elderly people and disabled workers, as well as a surgical robot system and other service robots, all courtesy of a nine-year funding grant from the Korean Science and Engineering Foundation.
Officials at the MIT laboratory indicate that the current state of robotics may mirror the state of computers in the late 1970s –- clunky and expensive and still missing a purpose in the minds of most consumers. “But that could change in a decade if you drive down prices and find a ‘killer’ application, like word processing or spreadsheets in the case of computers,” MIT graduate student Aaron Edsinger, who works in the school’s robotics lab, told the Christian Science Monitor.