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The Future of Robots

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Timeline: The Rise of Robots

Need something done? Soon you may be turning to various "service and personal" robots. These machines perform domestic chores or tasks such as milking cows or handling toxic waste, or serving in fields like emergency medical support.

The timeline below summarizes experts' opinions on how soon every home will have a little mechanical helper.

Stephen Keeney, ASIMO Project Leader, American Honda
2006 Roomba sales top 2 million. [This already happened in May 2006.]

2007 Sales of pool-cleaning and window-washing robots rise significantly. A new, bipedal Honda Asimo unit that can run
(at 4 miles per hour) debuts in United States.

2009 In just three years, 4.5 million domestic robots have been sold.

2010 Service and personal robotics sales exceed $17 billion.

2025 Sales of service and personal robots near $52 billion.

2040 Most households now own a robot or are considering buying one.

Single-Duty Robots: All Work, No Play

Friendly Robotics' RL1000 Robomower
Photograph: Ames F. Tiedeman, Systems Trading Corporation
Current robots tend to look like regular machines, and most--such as the vacuuming iRobot Roomba--perform only one task. For example, Friendly Robotics' RL1000 Robomower (pictured at left, with docking station) will cut your lawn while you watch TV. The autonomous mower costs $1800.

Ever performed a software patch on a lawnmower? Wireless diagnosis could someday permit automatic patching of software problems, but currently if your Robomower starts doing nonstop doughnuts, you'll need to turn off its motor and plug it into a phone line to download a software patch.

The Next Steps in Robotics

Photograph: Courtesy of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan.

Today's robot designers will have to solve some fundamental problems before robots can become as versatile, independent and useful as the ones we've seen for years in the movies. Click the accompanying image for more about these challenges.

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