Are Robots for Real?

Are Robots for Real?


There were robots at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, (yes, really).

And they do all kinds of things, from taking photos to carrying your stuff to … well … performing like a ham on a holiday (see video below).

We saw no Jetsons-like Rosie the cleaning robots, though there are several vacuuming and floor-cleaning robots like iRobot’s Roomba and LG’s Home-Bot Square. There are lawn mowing robots, gutter-cleaning and pool-cleaning robots, too.

The robo-ham called RoboThespian was actually performing on the behest of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the technical standards-making organization.

So I asked robotics engineer Morgan Roe of U.K.-based RoboThespian developer Engineered Arts Limited and representing IEEE, when … you know … we might see a lifesize, walking, talking robot like RoboThespian, only wielding a dust feather and polishing cloth.

Roe paused, then said, “With the way technology is progressing … “ And I expected him to say 10 years, five, or maybe even less. …

“It will take about 25 years.”

“Whaaaaaaat?”

Darn it, I want a robot charging closet being spec-ed into homes—now!

 

NoBots?

How can this be? Twenty-five years for walking, talking house-cleaning robots, with “the way technology is progressing?”

“But ahhhh,” Roe said knowingly. “You’re talking about a robot that can respond to complex commands and has a level of artificial, responsive intelligence and that knows when to clean out the fridge or mop the floor.”

I took another look at RoboThespian. He was on a stand. He spoke in preprogrammed recordings and was being operated by the guy behind him. The more humanoid-looking robots at the Robotics Tech Zone at CES were similarly hindered in their mobility, or appeared grafted onto wheels and carts of some sorts. It had a distinct B-movie vibe.

Sigh.

A bystander remarked that today’s most effective robots—like the vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers—don’t have human features like heads and mouths and hands. They look more like speedy turtles.

Hmmmmm. There must to be other things for these zero-personality worker bots like Roomba to do.”

Then it hits me: Toilet-bowl scrubbing.

Who wants to clean a toilet bowl, right?

I asked Mr. IEEE where the toilet-cleaning bots are. There’s clearly a need, but he doesn't know. There have been spinning brushes and an iRobot floor-cleaning Scooba. Kohler’s somewhat robo-sexy Numi toilet and Toto’s high-end Neorest have self-cleaning functions, too. But is there a real Toilet Bot?

RoboThespian launched into a heartfelt rendition of “The Sound of Music,” and I laughed. He’s a good entertainer and showpiece, but no Julie Andrews. And he’s completely useless at cleaning toilets.

**

By the way, I scoff at the notion that it will take 25 years of technology advances to get to the Jetson’s Rosie. The way technology is progressing—or I should say accelerating—it can’t possibly take that long, I don't care what the engineers at IEEE say. Or maybe it will take that long for groups like IEEE to forge robotic standards! Just joshing, standards dudes! –SC

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