The "personal robots" market will explode in the next few years, and we don't mean all over your kitchen. ABI Research expects robots aimed at consumers to create a $19 billion market by 2017. Who wouldn't want one of the two new "personal presence" bots introduced this month by start-ups? Or Panasonic's new hair-washing robot?
Vacuum robots have had the most success with consumers so far, but its these types of personal presence robots that ABI thinks will soon take off. "While a truly 'killer app' has yet to emerge in personal robots, security/telepresence and health care-related applications are likely to gain significant traction by the end of the forecast period," says Larry Fisher emerging technologies research director for ABI Research.
For instance, earlier this month Willow Garage introduced the PR2 remote presence robot. It allows workers to attend meetings or trade shows via an Internet video connection. It has robotic arms and hands that mimic human dexterity. These can do important tasks such as fetch a beer or play a game of pool. It can also be programmed to wash the dishes or do the laundry while you drink the beer, and it won't complain or throw snide looks at you.
Fisher offers a few more practical uses for these bots: “For consumers, telepresence robots can help shut-ins join family events, or allow families to monitor and interact with the elderly or infirm in a way that a quick telephone call can’t match.”
The PR2's specs are impressive. It relies on two quad-core i7 Xeon processors in onboard servers with 24 GB of memory. It has 1.5 TB in an external, removable hard drive and an additional internal 500 GB. It uses about a half-dozen cameras and includes a 32 gigabit backplane switch, plus WiFi and Bluetooth. (Here's many more specs).
Downside: it costs $400,000 -- which doesn't exactly fit the budget of the average consumer. Seriously, that's about double the median cost of houses in the U.S. The PR2 runs on open source software and Willow is offering a $120,000 discount toward purchase for open source programmers that write apps for it.
In comparison, the Anybots' QB Personal Avatar robot is a relative bargain. QBs will start shipping in late 2010 at a price tag of $15,000. The QB doesn't have arms, so it won't function as your maid or beer waiter. It will be your remote eyes and ears with its 5 megapixels camera and three microphones. (It focuses on the loudest voice, its makers say). It weighs 35 pounds and moves at the pace a person would use to politely flee down the hall away from it (3.5 mph). It will last two hours on a battery charge.
For creep effect, it's eyes go dark to indicate when you've logged out.
Then again, maybe you just want to be pampered. Or better still, you want your bedridden grandma to be pampered. In that case, personal care robots might be for you. Panasonic will be demonstrating a hair washing robot at the International Home Care & Rehabilitation Exhibition in Tokyo next month. It's geared for the elderly in assisted living facilities and so works with a mechanical bed that transforms into a wheelchair, says Endgadget.
As for me, all I want is the Bicentennial Man. Is that too much to ask?