If you’re lucky enough to be fabulously wealthy, you can go shopping with an entourage of robotic maids, like the fellow featured in the photograph above. Unfortunately, the robots shown in the photos are several hundred thousand dollars apiece, which puts them out of the reach of most mere mortals. Still, it’s an interesting question. Just how close are we to having robotic maids, and who are the companies working to bring us there?
Unlike the wealthy guy in the photo above, for most of us, our idea of a “house robot” is something like a Roomba, a little robotic vacuum cleaner that uses smart sensors to navigate around the house keeping the floors clean, terrorizing the family pet, and sometimes, getting into fights with other household appliances when their sensors malfunction.
Even so, there’s a surprising amount of work being done in the home robotics market, and if the Roomba is all you’re familiar with, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the information below. Let’s take a look at some of the companies doing the good work of inching us closer to a future that includes robotic maids.
First, there’s the Alpha 2, which is the brainchild of UBTECH Robotics. Don’t let his diminutive size fool you. Alpha 2 may only stand 17 inches tall and nine inches wide, and he may only weigh in at five pounds, but this is a remarkable little robot. He can shoot video of your family or take still pictures, check your voice mail for you, read and send emails or texts of your behalf and control any equipment in your home that is WiFi enabled.
He can also post to your Facebook or other social media accounts using voice commands. Finally, his twenty servo motors allow him an incredible range of motion, so he can actually follow you around the house as you go about your business, pitching in when and where he’s able.
If the Alpha 2 didn’t impress you, check out Budgee, developed by Five Elements Robotics. Budgee is designed to be a shopping assistant. He can follow you around from store to store, faithfully carrying your purchases or anything else you’d rather not carry yourself. He weighs just twenty pounds, has a carrying capacity of fifty pounds, and is priced right, at just $1399. Oh, and he will run for up to ten hours on a single battery charge before you have to let him rest and plug him back in.
Ecovacs Robotics takes the personal robot in a very different direction, with a focus on sheer practicality. Namely, they make robots that do specific jobs you don’t like or enjoy doing. Their current lineup consists of four different robots, DEEBOT, WINBOT, ATMOBOT, and FAMIBOT.
DEEBOT is like a Roomba on steroids. With more advanced sensors, you seldom have to worry about it malfunctioning, wandering off, or attacking random household appliances. It just trundles quietly around your home, keeping the floors tidy.
WINBOT is a small robot affixed to your windows. It only does the one thing, but it does it very well. It cleans your windows so you don’t have to.
ATMOBOT is a smart air filtration and purification system that can move around your home on its own. Armed with an array of sensors, it can detect particles in the air, and actively moves from room to room to root them out. If you’ve ever used a portable air purification system, this will make you smile, because you know what a pain it can be to have to move it from one room to the next. That’s a thing of the past with
And finally, there’s FAMIBOT, which is like a master control center for your home. Consider it to be a way to turn any house into a smart home. From here, using voice commands, you can control your wireless entertainment and home security system, as well as any other smart appliances you have in your home. It’s a bit like turning your house itself into a robot that you live in.
Blue Frog has made a companion robot called Buddy. He’s small in size, but has a huge, winning personality. Blue Frog attempts to humanize robotic companions, and their approach with buddy is to turn his display screen into a face, complete with a variety of expressions, that will change dynamically when you’re interacting with him.
Inspired by famous movie robots R2D2 and Wall-E, this friendly little fellow is priced at just $699, and is currently being used to help autistic children integrate into society more completely. Powered by Unity 3d software and built with standard Arduino components, Buddy is perhaps the most accessible ‘bot we’ve talked about so far.
An adorable little countertop robot with a surprisingly expressive “face.” Jibo was designed and built by Cynthia Breazeal, a roboticist of renown at MIT’s Media Lab. Its single “eye” has a full, 360 degree range of motion, and can follow you as you move about it.
The little robot is slated to come with a variety of pre-loaded apps that will allow it to serve in a variety of different capacities, but its primary function is to shoot video, take still photos, make phone calls on your behalf (including doing things like ordering you a pizza). This robot has an eerie emotional quality to it, and learns when you interact with it, making it unique among the designs we’ve covered thus far.
We have to give an honorable mention to Honda. While they don’t currently have any personal assistant robots that are priced to fit most people’s budgets, the company is one of the world leaders in the personal robotics industry, investing heavily in R&D, and with several intriguing prototypes so far. There’s no doubt that when the affordable, versatile personal assistant ‘bot appears, Honda will be at the forefront.
So, after having taken a look at what’s currently available, the short answer is, not yet. There’s little doubt, based on the direction of the technology, and the speed with which it is moving, that the day’s coming when robotic maids will be as commonplace as the family pet. Having said that, we’re not quite there yet. While several of the designs mentioned above are both interesting and appealing, no one, at this point, at least, has made a “Killer App” in the form of a fully functional robotic maid. Our guess is, it’s still 5-7 years out.