While the idea of a household robot might bring to mind Rosie from The Jetsons, odds are it's going to look a lot different. It might, in fact, already be here.
The robotic invasion of homes began in earnest more than 10 years ago, when iRobot's Roomba vacuum cleaner began to gain a foothold. And by 2029, says futurist Ray Kurzweil, those machines will be smarter than us.
Before they evolve into Skynet and the Terminator, though, today's robots are largely focused on taking care of the menial tasks most of us would rather avoid. The downside of that is, in some instances, those tasks are sometimes people's jobs—and the employment threat goes far beyond the manufacturing floor.
Here's a look at robots that could either make your life easier or potentially be a threat, depending on your circumstances.
Chris Morris is a South Carolina-based freelance writer.
Pit masters might argue that good grilled foods require a deft human touch, but the FZI Research Center in Germany makes a convincing case otherwise. Earlier this month, the group unveiled a robot that cooked and served 200 bratwursts for a very satisfied crowd. Using RGB cameras, the creation was able to judge when the brats were crisping up and needed to be turned. To humanize the 'brat-bot,' they even gave it a moustache and the ability to make occasional jokes while it cooked.
Passengers on Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas cruise ship don't have to worry about tipping the bartender at the Bionic Bar. A pair of robotic arms (named NIC and BIO) work tirelessly to mix mojitos and Bahama mamas. Can't get away to experience that? Somabar, due out later this year, will mix your home drinks for you. The device has six sealed chambers that keep the mixers and spirits fresh, and automatically makes the drink you select on the accompanying smartphone app. About the size of a coffee maker, the self-cleaning system has a menu of 300 pre-programmed drinks and can turn out a cocktail in just five seconds.
Laundry's one of those weekend chores that nobody enjoys - especially when it comes to folding. Foldimate is an in-development robot that takes care of that last task for you - even steaming the clothes to ensure they're wrinkle-free and giving you the chance to perfume or soften them as well. Expected to cost between $700 and $850, it's scheduled to ship in 2018. That's a good way out, yes, but so far, the company says over 132,000 people have registered for pre-order notifications.
Robots that create clothes with little (if any) human interaction are mainly used in the textile industry right now (and are predicted to severely disrupt the garment and footwear industries in Cambodia and Vietnam). One device from SoftWear, due out this fall, claims to be capable of full garment assembly. While this technology isn't quite ready for the home market, the groundwork being laid could find its way to your sewing room in years to come.
With temperatures hitting record highs this summer, no one wants to subject themselves to the torture of cutting the grass. But there are several options that save the bother. Robomow is a robotic lawnmower that takes care of your lawn in much the same way that Roomba takes care of your floors. Competitor Lawnbot operates similarly. With these mowers, though, it's less a once a week activity - and more of a daily maintenance. (Think of it as the lawn care equivalent of a daily shave.)
Love your cat, but hate cleaning up its waste? This automatic, self-cleaning litter box scoops the bodily functions out of the litter and keeps the clean litter in place, so your tabby will always have a clean potty - and you won't have to deal with the smells. (This is, of course, presuming you're able to coax your cat into the device.) Prices run $349 to $449, but the company says it shattered its revenue forecasts within 75 days of the product's debut.
Sometimes you're not sure if a cold or minor injury is worth a doctor's visit. idAvatars hopes to help with that, having designed an avatar interface (named Sophie) to help diagnose medical problems and triage patients remotely. Patients describe their condition to the system, which reads their body language (including things like gesture, posture, tone of voice and facial expressions) and looks at things like skin conditions via photos sent by the patient to determine their status. From there, it will suggest if a doctor's visit is worth the time.
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Jibo is about as close as you're likely to find to the aforementioned Rosie or R2D2 these days. Equipped with voice and facial recognition, the tiny butler-bot does a lot of the things you've come to expect of digital assistants (i.e. reading off recipes, reminding you to take an umbrella if rain is in the forecast, etc.). But he comes with some other advantages. For instance, having a party? He'll snap candid pictures and videos when people are smiling. Scheduled to begin shipping in October, he's also currently sold out, but you can sign up for the waitlist at Jibo's website.
We all need to unload from time to time - and doing so to a spouse or friend isn't always an option. Robots, though, are guaranteed not to judge you - and that actually encourages some people to speak candidly. Blabdroid learned this by having its small, almost childlike, robot approach 75 people and asked them a series of intimately personal questions – such as “What would you regret most if you died tomorrow?” and “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” The answers they got were so surprisingly candid that they expanded the program. The company is now working with hospices to let dying patients tell their story or get things off of their chest before they pass. Post-traumatic stress disorder groups have also made inquiries.