The Future of Consumer Robots is Here

A generation of today’s adults grew up watching TV shows such as The Jetsons. The popular cartoon portrayed a space-age family living their own robotic housekeeper, Rosie. Most of the children watching the show in the 1980’s probably never imagined that such a scene would become reality in their lifetimes.

The popularity of home robots such as Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home Assistant, and Roomba prove that the concept of consumer robots isn’t so far out after all. These devices do everything from controlling indoor temperature to making phone calls and more from simple voice prompts.

Below is a look at how consumer robots will continue to become part of the fabric of modern living.

The Transformation of Elder Care via Robot

Social scientists predict that the world population will hit 10 billion people in just over 30 years. Additionally, over 20 percent of these people will be over the age of 60. Caring for seniors as they age will be especially challenging in countries like Japan and Germany that already have low birth rates.

One forward-thinking solution to this dilemma relies on a future coexistence with robots. In this scenario, robotic companions would be placed into the homes of older people needing assistance with activities of daily living as well as mental stimulation. These automated companions will help seniors stay connected not only with their families, but also with society at large. Two companies, Intuition Robotics and OhmniLabs, have already started exploring this possibility.

Can a Robot Learn Empathy?

With robots increasingly becoming a part of everyday life, some people worry that humans will no longer have meaningful interactions that contains a wide range of emotions. One skilled architect is on top of this already. Madeline Gannon is currently studying how to define the relationships that people have with these machines.

As part of her work, she’s developed a robot named Mimus. Mimus is programmed to display different types of body movements designed to elicit specific emotional responses in people. Her goal, and the goal of other architects and scientists like her, is to design a robot that can improve upon human empathy rather than detract from it.

The Predicted Growth of Consumer Robots at Home

Robots performing elder care and learning human empathy are just two of many examples of what consumers can expect to see over the next several years. Although older consumers still have a somewhat fearful response towards robots in everyday life, younger consumers seem to wholeheartedly embrace the idea.

What many people don’t understand is that robots and automated technologies already do a lot of work behind the scenes. For example, devices powered by artificial intelligence already give directions on GPS devices and help to complete Internet searches.

Part of the apprehension that some people have towards robots is the portrayal of such technology in TV shows and movies. Rosie, the maid on the TV show The Jetsons, was as tall as the members of her human family and rolled around on two legs just as they did.

While Rosie was quite friendly, more menacing examples of robots can be found in movies such as Terminator. The concept of robots featuring advanced artificial intelligence becoming “self-aware” and turning against humanity is a frightening concept indeed.

Today’s “robots” look far less like the Terminator, and much more like a computer or a piece of stereo equipment. However, these automated devices are quite effective at tasks such as mowing the lawn, vacuuming, and cleaning windows.

Consumer Robots in Education and on the Job

Starting as early as preschool, today’s generation of school children has been around computers and robotics their entire lives. That means they’re much more comfortable using them as part of a formal learning strategy.

One program already under development is facial recognition software that encourages students to keep with their learning task when they start to look bored or distracted. The program also offers children praise when they do well. Robots can even read to children or perform some basic care tasks as they do for the elderly.

In the workplace, robots have taken the place of human workers for smart redundant tasks. While this may sound discouraging, it frees them up to get more important work done. Automated toll booths on U.S. highways, self-checkout stands at grocery stores, and machine-based ticket sales at train stations are just some common examples.

Perhaps the biggest change to the American workforce because of robots will take place on the factory floor. Robots have already worked on assembly lines for years and will continue to disrupt the manufacturing industry by repeatedly performing tasks that humans could only do for a few hours.

Robots aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, their use will only increase in everyday life. Embracing what they can offer to make life easier is essential to learning to co-exist with them.