In many ways, the state of robotics in the first part of the 21st century is a lot like the state of automobiles in the first part of the 20th century:
- There weren’t a lot of cars,
- Cars didn’t do very much,
- Cars were mostly a status symbol, and
- Cars required a full time technician to keep them running.
But cars had the promise of being useful, the promise of changing the very fabric of our lives. And, little by little they were adopted. It is hard to imagine now living without cars and trucks. We depend on them to move us about, deliver our food, move raw materials to the factories and the finished products to our stores. Our cities literally would collapse if cars and trucks were to vanish in the blink of an eye. Will it be the same for domestic robots?
Since the 1950’s we have been enthralled with the idea of domestic robots. Whether it was in outer space or here on earth, robots have featured prominently in science fiction, popular movies, and television shows. In many cases these robots worked around the house, making lives better.
In a recent survey, 41% of respondents said that they would be willing to get a loan to pay for a domestic robot. Provided that it was useful. What defined useful? Well there was quite a laundry list (speaking of which, laundry was on the list). Topping the list was carrying heavy things around the house, and providing home security. These are key benefits that Gamma Two Robotics also identifies, especially for the age-in-place and home assistance markets.
In addition were requirements like:
- house cleaning
- acting as a reminder system
- baby sitters, and assistance for the elderly
Over all, 68% of the respondents indicated that they thought a domestic robot could be useful, and only 29% said that they would not consider buying a robot, even if it provided service. This is absolutely in line with a number of studies that have been released lately. In one, kids were asked to describe the world they would inhabit when they were adults. Across the board, this world was populated by friendly, companionable robots. In another study, school kids describe the robots acting as teachers, helping them with math, and homework, as well as being a companion.
Our vision is to create a world in which people live better lives, assisted by affordable. reliable, helpful robots. This will only work if people actually want robots in there lives, so all of these surveys are reassuring. But the robots have to be useful. If they are not making lives better, they are great as status symbols, they might be excellent conversation topics, but they won’t really be helping.
So I applaud those people who say “Yeah, I’d consider getting a loan to pay for a service robot.” But I really applaud those people who say “But, it can’t be a toy; it has to be useful.”
Where’s your robot? Ours are being built by Gamma Two Robotics, here in Colorado