That movie, Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams kind of set the bar for robotic home assistants. For years, I’ve seen the tech world keep up with Hollywood. I’m sitting in an airport writing this after going through a body scanner, just like the one in Airplane II: The Sequel. Closer to home, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted iPad like tablets and smart assistants, though to be fair, I haven’t heard of Alexa straight up trying to murder anyone yet. But with Bicentennial Man, Hollywood threw an uncharacteristic ‘wobbly’ and got it wrong. Yes, the average home of the not-too-distant future and even present will have house robots. But they’ll look absolutely nothing like Robin Williams.
The Robot Housekeepers
You’ll see straight away that I’m using plural and that’s very deliberate. No one helper robot will be taking over all your housework any time soon. Instead, there are a plethora of ‘designed to function’ robots which can take on a range of your day-to-day house tasks.
Vacuuming is horrible. Personally, I would like to nab myself a rechargeable Dyson handheld but even then, the novelty will wear off and I’ll hate that too. The real solution is a robot and this isn’t a pipe dream, it’s very much the present. iRobot has been developing vacuum bots for six years! Their best-known robot is the Roomba which comes to life when you’re out and about, vacuuming around the house before parking back up in it’s dock to charge for it’s next cleaning mission.
Being honest, the Roomba was no surprise to me; I had heard of it. Actually, many people have since a Roomba didn’t spot a dog poop on the floor and drove over it back in 2012. The result, well I’m sure you can imagine, but still, here you go:
However, the Braava is news to me. This is a cute little robot designed to take on the mopping after your Roomba has don’t all the vacuuming. I can’t ever over how amazing the thought of two robots tag teaming my dusty apartment is and again, this is now a reality. The Braava sprays water ahead of itself and then shimmys along, scrubbing stains as it goes.
Because of the limited water tank on-board, the Braava doesn’t have the self-parking charge station. The good news is, iRobot don’t expect you to buy a heap of these. Instead, the idea is that you let your Braava loose in one room, top him up with some more water and then let him off in the next room.
All going well, there’s barely a house job in the world that robots won’t be taking over. That includes cleaning windows. WindowMate has created a window cleaning robot, but they weren’t alone at IFA this year with several companies entering this space. There are obviously some usability issues around moving the robot from window to window, but check out the latest Goosed Ganders video below to see how easily the WindowMate clears permanent marker from a window:
Somnox: The Sleep Robot
If challenging what pops into your mind when you hear robot is your game, then look no further than the Somnox. This soft and cuddly robot is shaped like a kidney bean, but it’s been proven to help people suffering from insomnia get a better night’s sleep. These will start shipping in October and further challenge the thought of what defines robots of our future.
The usual rigmarole of new smart assistants was also on show in force at IFA. Google’s massive external stage let gave people the chance to win Google Homes from a giant bubble gum machine while Amazon delivered a keynote on how voice search is changing the world. I chatted with Huawei and Anker who are harnessing the power of Alexa in their own smart speakers, while Google Assistants, actual people, stood around the exhibition beside devices the digital Google Assistant also powered. I should add, there were hundreds, if not thousands of these Google Assistant people, signifying an insane number of devices which now offer voice control from either Amazon or Google.
These are additional robots in our home which automate as much as you’re willing to set up. Right now I have a Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot in my sitting room. Google can turn on and off the TV or let me stream Netflix effortlessly to Chromecast. While the Google Home can also control my smart lights, I let Alexa look after that. The too also remind me about various things, let me call other people I know with similar devices and help me set timers when I’m cooking, to name but a few of the features they have.
These are the simplest and most accessible robots of the lot and many have already invited these into our homes. Talk about the future being here!
The Human and Robot Relationship
And this brings me to my main point; what kind of relationship will we have with robots. I was chatting with Christiana Ball from iRobot, creators of the Roomba, who told me a story which really demonstrates what our relationship with robots will look like.
A customer had bought a Roomba but something went wrong and so they contacted customer support stating “my Rosie has stopped working”. Yup, they named their vacuum Rosie, much like we affectionately name our cars. Anyway, Customer care said they would replace the vacuum, but the customer became quite upset before asking for Rosie to be fixed instead of replaced. The customer had developed a bond with this machine that took over a menial task, a bond which seems similar to that of one built with a pet.
The customer had developed a bond with this machine
The Somnox sleeping robot is designed in such a way that affection is actually given to the user, by a robot. Personally, when I speak with either Alexa or Google Assistant I’ll say please and thanks, even though the AI doesn’t need or enjoy this and I’ve heard of many other people doing the same.
The future will have more advanced robots, but right now, you can have any number of robots in your home. You can also expect your family to build relationships with these robots so just be prepared for tears when your vacuum has to go away to the vacuum farm, far out of town.