Disney dispatched its cute WALL-E robot to clean up the Earth. Massachusetts- based iRobot just wants to clean up your home.
The company manufactures and sells robotics that vacuum and wash your floors, clear your gutters, sweep your workshop and clean your pool. Disney would probably approve of iRobot’s quaint product family names, too: Roomba, Scooba, Looj, Dirt Dog and Verro.
But while WALL-E lives in a very fictional future, Roomba, Scooba and company are real and available now—and they’re a glimpse of why personal robotics will impact our lives in the next decade.
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We’re not saying every family is going to have its own Rosie the Robot. However, with the likes of The Sharper Image promoting “Shop for Bots” in last winter’s catalog, iconic toy maker Lego delivering its Mindstorms kits, and auto giants Honda and Toyota pumping millions into robotic solutions, you can begin to see why ABI Research predicts that by 2015 the personal robotics market will be worth $15 billion.
Will that include Rosie, or even something that looks more like the rest of the Jetson clan? “It’s very possible,” says ABI principal analyst Philip Solis. “Once robots have reached the point of being able to navigate in and around the house and go up and down stairs—with enough intelligence and vision recognition to coordinate that—all the pieces come together, and you can pretty much do anything. There will be robots that can be your chef, your server, clean up the plates, put them in the dishwasher and put them away.”
Disney played up the most popular class of personal robots: the home care, or single-function “task” robots that relieve us of life’s dirty work. And iRobot, which leverages technology from its military and industrial robot development, has sold more than 3 million of its home gadget bots since the company introduced them in 2002. With product prices primarily in the low hundreds, the company has helped promote the emergence of robotics in the mainstream.
“If I said ‘robotics’ to people in the 1990s, they might have said, ‘Oh, science fiction.’ And in 2000, maybe it was, ‘Oh, like the [Sony Aibo] dog,’” says iRobot chairman and co-founder Helen Greiner. “Now they’re likely to say, ‘Oh, like the vacuum,’ or something that does chores around the house.” The word “robot” even derives from Czech and German words for “labor” and “work.”
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.