Robo-flop: why are we still waiting for domestic droids?

February 22nd, 2012

Appliance Talk Small Appliances Vacuums & Floor Care

What if an all-purpose robot maid was the latest home appliance?

Someone to empty the dishwasher, vacuum the house, walk the dog, and clunk around saying “affirmative” in an adorable electronic monotone?

Keep dreaming. For now. News today out of the US indicates robotics still has a way to go before attaining the sci-fi fantasy.

Seven adult-size “HUBO” robots were on display at Drexel University to kick off National Engineers Week on Monday. Moving, dancing, shaking hands.

As Drexel’s associate professor of electrical and computer engineering put it “they are world-class, state-of-the-art robots” and yet, unfortunately, some way off performing any domestic chores. In fact, apparently not falling over is a major problem.

Robots in the house today

True, there are a lot of domestic robots on the market but the vast majority of them have zero personality and a distinct lack of kitsch sci-fi appeal.

We see robotic lawn mowers, pool cleaners, gutter cleaners. Oh and we’ve even got Appliances Online’s very own Navibot. Kudos to the very Battlestar Galatica name (and apparently it vacuums pretty well) but it’s distinctly lacking in the charisma department.

We’ve already reported on a new study suggesting a negative reaction to robot vacuum cleaners according to both practical and emotional criteria.

No surprise – I mean, where’s the randomly flashing lights, catch-phrases or excitable electronic bleeping George Lucas promised us?

So what’s the hold-up? When will robots be cute?

We had cheerful predictions by Scientific American magazine, in 2008, that by 2010 we will be assisted by machines with the cognitive abilities of a lizard, and a freely moving and thinking machine by 2040.

As Bill Gates pointed out in the same magazine two years earlier, the hard part will be to give robots the intuitive human abilities which, for instance, help us navigate our way into the kitchen and wash up various bits of delicate crockery without smashing them to pieces.

There have been inroads made – you may have heard of the Big Dog, a vaguely horrifying four-legged robot able to traverse difficult terrain thanks to an independent onboard computer. If not, check it out here.

And a robot such as the PR2 (above right) which has the ability to fold laundry – also gives us hope.

We were also taken with “Monty” – a human sized robot, developed by Anybots, pictured here (at right) doing the dishes, until we twigged to the fact it’s controlled by a human operator.

But still, it doesn’t look like we can expect robots to develop consciousness, rebel against their human masters and stage a bloody revolution any time soon.

And despite our sad sci-fan fan-boy pinings, we suspect even the most sophisticated automatons will remain boringly functional.

However, we at Appliances Online will be disappointed if there aren’t a few bits of circuitry devoted to catch-phrases and randomly flashing lights.

Richie is a Sydney based writer with sophistication, flair and hair. Aside from blogging and writing for Appliances Online and Big Brown Box, he is also a new playwright who had his first play, ‘The Local’ performed last year at the Sydney Fringe Festival. He is also the wicketkeeper for the Gladstone Hotel Cricket Club and his favourite appliance is any 3D Blu-ray Home Theatre System that can be delivered to his house free-of-charge in the near future. He was the lead singer of Van Halen in 2002. Google+

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