The robots are coming. This isn’t a warning from the tagline on a movie poster: in the coming years, robots and robotic systems will be entering the home like we’ve never seen them before, and they have the potential to radically change how we live our lives around the home.
There’s a decent chance that you or someone you know already has a robot in their home. iRobot first launched their signature robot, the Roomba, in 2002, and since then, they’ve sold more than ten million units. You might have a Nest, a smart thermostat designed to regulate the temperature in the house while allowing you to monitor and control everything remotely. Consumer's options to connect various parts of their homes will only grow as technology becomes more sophisticated. Already, we’re seeing the early stages of true smart homes, where appliances are connected and speak to one another for energy efficiency purposes, or simply ease of use. Whirlpool offers a smart washer and dryer system, with an app that will allow you to control it remotely from a smartphone. Samsung offers the SmartThings home monitoring kit, which enables you to stay connected to various features in your home - from security to lighting - while away. And General Electric offers a suite of appliances with networking capability so that you can turn on your stove with an app, get reminders from your refrigerator when the door is left open, or remotely check on the status of your dishwasher. The convenience factor is a major driving force for each company. Around 68% of Americans own a smart phone, which is an unprecedented technological advance for society, and it allows for an unparalleled level of access to computing power and to one’s devices. As the cost of smart phones and tablets drops in the coming years, that number is only going to increase, and connected technologies and true robotic homes will become a reality.
What will that look like?
There are already some autonomous machines existing in the house. Cleaning robots, like the aforementioned Roomba, and its competitors complete the relatively basic task of picking up dirt and dust from around the house. Other tasks are a bit more difficult to accomplish, simply because the programming and hardware haven't come down in price to the point where it’s practical on a mass level. Folding clothes is still a challenging task. Similarly complex tasks that we take for granted, such as distinguishing between objects, sorting, moving to specific locations, and the like, are difficult for robots to perform. Multifunctional robotic home aides like Rosie from "The Jetsons," or Andrew from "Bicentennial Man," are an impractical reality at this point, but it’s possible that we will see humanoid robots coexisting alongside us at home.
Would you consider getting a robot to help out around your home?
Robotics will play a major part in how we care for the elderly.
Elder care will likely be a major driver of growth for companion robotics. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, in 2013, 14.1% of the American population - about 45 million people - was age 65 or older. By 2060, that number will more than double to 98 million people. This will require major changes in how we care for and live with the elderly, and robotics will likely play a major part. We’re already seeing robots used in hospitals to carry out basic tasks. As they become more sophisticated, (and more importantly, cheaper) home care robotics have a lot of potential: they can help with decision making, provide reminders for medications and food, or call for help if needed. (One of the more realistic films depicting this future is Jake Schreir’s movie "Robot and Frank.")
Robotics will help parents with young children.
Developers will likely find many uses for any device that will take some of the routine labor out of housekeeping. Just recently, iRobot announced that it was selling off its military division to focus on the home market, no doubt to focus on what will likely be a more lucrative and friendly market. As robots enter our homes, we’ll have to find new ways to live with them. Anthropomorphizing machines is almost a given – we name our cars and our Roombas already, and a generation of children growing up with companions will face completely new ways of looking at the world and their social arrangements. All of these advances will connect to your house in some way, theoretically working in some sort of synchronous harmony. It’s entirely possible that a house will have a "brain" of its own that monitors and communicates with the litany of connected devices within it. Naturally, security concerns will arise as our homes become more connected, and these will need to be addressed by both manufacturers and consumers. Any kind of network can be vulnerable to hackers. Homes will contain an enormous amount of personal information and habits – information that can easily be misused in the wrong hands.
Our future in robotics will be an interesting one, but it won’t be the perfect, utopian vision that classic science fiction stories have promised.
Consumers share part of the responsibility.
In 2013, 300,000 home internet routers were compromised, mainly because people didn’t change the default password on the device. As computing power increases, passwords will become easier to crack, and individuals will need to learn how to use passwords effectively. Basic security education is something that will need to be included at various educational levels.
On the other hand, manufacturers will need to step up their game.