Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Robots

For some reason I started to think about Home Automation and particularly robots and how they change our lives. Most people don't realize just how many things in the world are currently handled by robots. Granted most of these are in factories or warehouses, but people that know me, know I am a fan of the Roomba.

However, one of the things that I've always wondered was why people always want their robots to do many things and worst of all, to look humanoid. That is to say, they have 2 legs, 2 arms and a head.

Does your robot really need a head to vacuum? I think that's the success of the Roomba; it's designed to do one thing - suck dirt and pick up debris from your floor. There are still issues with it. I have once sofa that's too low and therefore the Roomba can't get underneath to vacuum. iRobot, the makers of the Roomba have also made one that "mops" called the Scooba. I'm not sure how well it does it's job, but it seems to work well.

Again, what people need to understand is that if you want a robot at home to do chores, it's not going to look at all like a human.

Robots need to be made to work on a particular task as efficiently as possible. Humans are not the most efficient design for everything, but our advantage is we can do multiple things at the same time (well mostly.)

Washing windows? Why not make windows that wash themselves? (They're working on this BTW.) Also, there are robots that do this to some extent: look at this video.

Washing clothes: A washing machine already takes care of that for you. You just need a robot that sorts clothes by color, puts them in the washing machine. (You can just put them in the hamper - unless you ALSO want yyour robot to pick up your clothes. How lazy are you!) However, how about making the washing machine more intelligent? Why not have it dispense the right amount of detergent? All you do is fill containers with liquid or powdered detergent, bleach, fabric softener. The machine can detect what types of clothes are in there and dispenses the right "ingredients" for the wash.

If you start running low of something, it emails you, or better yet, adds it to the shopping cart that your fridge... Oh, I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyway, you still need to move the wet (and heavy) clothes to the drier and then fold them. But those are two different things. The same robot that sorted the clothes could move them to the drier, and another would fold them (and iron.)

Picking up things (like shoes, clothes, books, and general crap) can be done by one robot - all it needs is an arm and pincers. This one looks quite interesting, granted it seems more like a toy than a real functioning robot, but maybe it can be hacked.

Spills! Dropped a glass with a liquid? Dropped a jar with mayo? One robot to pick up the bits and gook (all excess,) the others (Roomba, Scooba) take care of cleaning the floor.

Toilet: Yes, someone's been working on it. However, I think that approach isn't the best. Again, it's doing what a human would do. Stick a brush and scrub. See how bulky that looks? This one disenfects the seat. I think that this can be done more efficiently in a different way. It may mean changing the toilet or at least the seat.

Tub: I found this but don't really know how well it works.

Shower: Well, not exactly a robot but I found this. Maybe what you need is something to scrub the bottom (like a mini-roomba type scrubber.)

Pools: These have been around for a while (I think iRobot makes them too.)

Gutters: Roomba has one too. Again, doesn't look like a human, but needs human interaction.

The one thing that I did think all of these robots could benefit from is a network connection and the ability to communicate between each other and a "master" device. How about being able to program or have them remotely execute.

Although I focused on a lot of things that have to do with cleaning, robots don't need to just be focused to cleaning. Walking the dog? (Didn't find anyone that's working on that.) Cutting the grass? (There's a few.)

Yes, I know what most people are going to say. Each robot isn't cheap (eg. Roomba goes for $300+) so having one for each task makes it expensive (10 robots at $300) and these existing robots don't have the networking capabilities yet.

Still, it defintely made me start to think about what the not so distant future could hold as the components to build these devices become cheaper and cheaper. Not to mention you can buy one robot at a time over a period of several years. My Roomba is 4 years old and still works (although I can't find the filters for it anymore.)

What robot are you waiting for?

-P
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