While robotics has advanced enough to allow for self-driving cars, and even surgical robots in space, the era of household robot servants has not yet arrived. Companies like Amazon and Tesla are ramping up their efforts to create the humanoid robots of tomorrow, but there are many challenges to overcome in developing such technologies.
Now, one expert in the field of robotics from Ohio State University says that such technological hurdles indicate we are still a good way from seeing household robots in every home.
Background: What is a Household Robot Servant?
Today, many different types of robots are being implemented in different areas of society, mainly in factories or warehouses. But according to Dr. Ayoung Hereid, an associate professor at Ohio State University, household robots are a breed apart from what we see in these industries.
“This is an autonomous device that could be deployed in a home to do some simple daily tasks,” he explained in an interview with the Debrief. “For example, a robot can cook a meal or do laundry or clean. A more useful one could assist elderly people in a nursing home.”
Analysis: Challenges to Household Robot Servants
One of the biggest challenges that these types of robots face is interacting with a wide variety of objects. Unlike factory robots which may only interact with boxes or other objects, household robots have to interact with a wider range of objects in an unstructured manner. From wood floors to toys to dogs, these robots have to be prepared for any situation. Especially in homes with growing children running around, or pets, these robots need special sensors to detect what is happening around them.
“In a factory setting or warehouse distribution, you have a nice structured environment. There is a finite number of places for the robot to go,”Hereid says.
“But in a household, everything is constructed differently. So how robots can handle these kinds of uncertainties in this environment is a big challenge.”
Hereid and other researchers are looking into the possibility of using artificial intelligence (AI) to help at-home robots, but the process is rather tricky. “With AI we often focus on the digital world, instead of objects,” Hereid said. While AI may be able to help a robot better analyze a household environment using sensors and data prediction models, it ultimately won’t help in making this unstructured setting more predictable.
Outlook: When Will They Arrive?
Due to these challenges, Hereid predicts that household robot servants won’t be here for at least a decade. However, many companies, like Tesla, are hoping to reduce this timeline.
“Dyson is also working to have a cleaning robot available,” Hereid said. “But for how long to get other robots into a household, I assume we still have a pretty long way to go.” Hereid is encouraged that there is more interest and investment happening in developing these products.
“The future is quite bright,” Hereid adds.
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/