Rise of the Home Robot

AI helpers can make life easier and deliver a little fun, too

Robotic arms cooking a meal on a kitchen stove without human assistance

Remember Rosie, the robot housekeeper from the animated series The Jetsons? The series was set in 2062, so most viewers assumed they wouldn't see home robots in their lifetimes.

However, Rosie gets the last laugh as a gaggle of artificially intelligent products is already sprinkling our early 21st century homes with cooperative helpers who are slowly becoming practical home assistants.

Robots vs. Thinking Entities

Merriam-Webster defines the word robot as a machine that can move independently and perform complex actions.

It's important to note the definition does not include 'can think independently.' Such thought requires a technology level studied in labs and isn't available to the masses at a reasonable price. Yet.

Most types of robots available today are for commercial use, but some help the average consumer at home. These home robots (aka domestic robots or consumer robots) are relatively basic machines that can be easily programmed to move around and perform repetitive tasks.

The Virtual Assistant Craze: Are Siri and Alexa Robots?

Virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa aren't technically robots since they cannot move independently or perform actions beyond retrieving information and sharing it with humans.

However, they are an indicator of the level of public acceptance toward artificial home helpers. Due to the speed at which consumers have adopted virtual assistants (Amazon has sold more than 200 million Echo devices equipped with Alexa's skills since 2014), manufacturers are taking advantage of this and expanding it to a physical version.

Vector, for instance, is a social robot that combines Alexa capabilities with artificial intelligence to allows it to recognize people and objects as it helps with small activities around the home (timing meals, for instance) and performs a variety of pre-programmed tasks.

Amazon has been working on expanding Alexa into a home robot prototype for several years, codenamed 'Vesta' after the Roman goddess of home and family. The device, rumored to be waist-high, is still in the early stages. The likelihood of walking, talking Alexa helping out in the kitchen is not probable right now.

Alexa aside, though, there are plenty of other home robots already on the market ready to do the dirty work.

Which Robots Are Used in the Home Today?

Once prohibitively expensive, home robots are slowly inching down in price to become affordable for broader consumer groups. However, some are still a bit pricy, and most do require access to Wi-Fi and the internet, which can be a barrier for many households struggling with digital divide issues.

Even so, those with a bit of cash to spare are spending it when the benefits are apparent. The current demand is for household help: Whether you work from home, manage a busy household, or commute to an office, everyone is looking for ways to spend less time cleaning in their spare time.

While some options are still priced entirely beyond the reach of the average household, don't forget few could afford Roombas just a few years back. Now, there's a Roomba robot for almost every budget. Supply and demand will eventually make the most helpful home robots affordable, even if it takes another 10 to 20 years.

Here's a look at a few of the robots rising in the home right now.

  1. The robot vacuum is the big hit these days but its sister product, the robot mop, isn't far behind. These helpful cleaning robots have come a long way since first developed in 2002. They now work via voice recognition, intelligent app control, and laser-based technologies that let them intelligently map out floor structures so they can clean them accurately and thoroughly.

    iRobot started the trend, but now mainstream manufacturers like Samsung are in the game as well. Pricing starts around $150 for the most basic models and skyrockets to the $1000 range for versions that can prioritize which rooms to clean first.

    A Samsung Jetbot AI+ vacuuming a home.


  2. Lonely? Get a robotic pet. These are touted as the perfect companion you don't need to clean up after. Sony's got one called Aibo which uses sensors, cameras, and AI technology to create a home companion with a personality that adapts to your needs over time as it learns your preferences.

    Some of these robotic pets are still in development and are exorbitant in price. Still, the idea is, using a home network, sensors, and artificial intelligence, a robotic pet can react appropriately to a pet owner's moods, serve as a guard dog, and help solve problems the human might be experiencing.

    Sony's Aibo sells for $2,900 while prices for more advanced companions are hovering around $75,000. Woof!

  3. The robotic kitchen is a means to an end for anyone who wants someone else to cook. The full-on robotic kitchen from Moley can cook complete meals using fully-articulated robotic hands. It also suggests dishes based on items you have in stock, tells you when ingredients need replacing, learns what you like to munch on, and even cleans up after itself.

    Price? Far beyond the average consumer's budget, this kitchen just came on the market for a cool $340,000.

  4. Hate cleaning a dirty grill? There's a robot for that. The Grillbot is a mini robot for your barbecue. It has wire brushes that use a computer to regulate speed and direction while sending the device up and down your grill grates to clean them to perfection. It borrows the robot vacuum concept and applies it to those grimy grills that are never fun to clean after the barbecue is over.

    It's not perfect, but anything that cleans the grill for you is better than doing it yourself. The hit to your budget? Around $130.

  5. Need to entertain your child while you work from home? There's a robot for that. While not exactly a robotic babysitter, the Miko 2 Robot has enough going on to keep a child engaged so you can get other things done.

    It uses artificial intelligence algorithms to learn a child's preferences and can deliver millions of topics, concepts, and lessons (curated by you) in a conversational manner and interact with the child. This entertaining assistant sells for $299.

There are more examples on the market, including a tiny robot that can attach itself to your windows to give them a thorough cleaning, one that will mow your lawn without help, another that cleans cat litter; the list goes on and on.

Robots won't be replacing humans anytime soon. But it's clear more and more companies are finding ways to include artificial intelligence in the home, giving the robot a clear path to an affordable future in our homes.

Move over, Rosie!

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