The phrase “home robot” famously makes people think of Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons. Rosie is a humanoid drop-in, a one-for-one replacement for a competent human housekeeper. That’s what people want. But they’re not going to get that anytime soon.
Rosie can do it all
Rosie is too ambitious for the real world. Consider one basic task: folding a t-shirt. From a robot’s point of view, this is nightmarishly complex, something that only a dedicated expensive research robot can manage (see New research helps robots fold laundry faster than ever before).
Willing to pay for this and a dedicated post doc just to fold your t-shirts?
So is the whole field of domestic robotics a bust?
When we look around the corner, we often look too far. What happens instead is generally limited and in a different direction. The good news is that there has already been a successful domestic robot. It succeeded by being just cheap and competent enough at one narrowly defined skill: vacuuming. Roomba isn’t Rosie, but it’s real and it’s here.
The phrase “robot for seniors” also conjures up images of a Rosie-like entity doing many useful things for compromised seniors. But Labrador Systems may have hit on the right mix of useful, not too expensive, and achievable. They sell a robot that is essentially nothing more than an end table that can move itself autonomously between various defined “bus stops” in your house. For someone who is mobile but compromised in their ability to carry, this simple device can make all the difference between independent living and needing expensive in-home care.
It’s just a self-driving table.
Is it even a robot? Who cares? It doesn’t matter if it’s useful.