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Robot Killer App

Robot Killer App

    In an earlier post I asked which topics you prefer me to blog about. I was surprised that the topic of robots wasn’t popular. I say that because interest in anything is usually based on how much we expect it to influence our own lives. And I can’t imagine anything that will change all of our lives as much as the coming Robot Age. We are the last generation that will remember life before robots. In about five years, shit is gonna get real.

    So how will the first big push into residential robotics happen? If you break your daily chores into categories, which of those categories do you see as the first killer apps for robots?

    We already have robots that vacuum carpets. But armless robots that scoot along the carpet don’t impress me. I’m wondering when I’ll buy the first robot that can move through my home, manipulate things with its arms, and communicate by voice.

    The other day, I was clearing the dinner table and putting dishes in the dishwasher. It occurred to me that technology has already reached the point at which a robot could clean your kitchen and dining table after a meal. A robot could collect plates, scrape the debris into the trash, and load a dishwasher. If you saw the Youtube video of a robot doing ironing, or pouring a glass of water, you know why I think the technology is already here.

    I could also imagine a robot walking the family dog when everyone else is working or in school. You’d need the robot to train the dog with treats, just as a human would. But that seems doable. And the robot would need to have a DVR function in the cloud to record whatever is happening and discourage pranksters and dog thieves. Perhaps you, as the dog owner, could watch the entire walk on your smartphone or computer at work. You could even talk to passersby through the robot, just so they know they are being watched and video-recorded.

    I also have a vision of a Transformers-like robot designed specifically for childcare. At night it turns into a bassinet with video feeds to the parents. If the baby cries, the parents can have the robot bring the baby to their room, or try to soothe it by rocking. When it’s time for a walk, the bassinet becomes a self-moving baby carriage. For meals, the robot morphs into a high stool. If the smoke detectors in the house go off, the robot carries the baby to safety automatically. And I would think it could sniff out a diaper problem and alert parents. A robot won’t replace adults for childcare anytime soon, but I can see childcare getting a lot easier with a robot helper. In time, the robot can even teach the kid language skills.

    I think it will be a while before robots can cook gourmet meals or clean your bathroom just right. But I’ll bet we’ll have commercial robots that can clear a dinner table, take the dishes to the dishwasher, do laundry, and help with childcare in five years. And I think the price tag will be around $5,000, with a monthly maintenance plan of $100.

    The first company that cracks the residential robot market has a good chance of becoming the most important company on earth. The robot revolution will make the industrial revolution look like practice swings.

    By the way, if there are any college robotics majors looking for a fun project, I have one for you. I need a small robot that can find and pick up tennis balls from anywhere on the court and throw them in a hopper (a basket) on its back.

    When a human takes a tennis lesson, or uses a ball machine to practice, the unpleasant part of the process is picking up the two hundred balls that are left all over the court. A tennis teacher could save ten minutes of tedium from every hour-long lesson.

    I would think the technology for a tennis ball robot is already here. Let me know if someone already built one.

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