Like it or not, robots are set to revolutionize home life the way they’ve revolutionized industry. At least, that’s what the robot manufacturers will tell you.
And there’s reason to believe they may be right. As technology continues to advance and improve, we have the opportunity to automate more and more of the mundane tasks we would rather not have to do anymore. That is the focus of the first part of this three part series: simple, easy-to-use robots that can perform basic day-to-day chores.
If you feel uneasy at the thought of sharing your home with a mechanical roommate – especially one that is artificially intelligent and can record everything that happens in its vicinity – well, you’re not alone. One of the most common themes in science fiction is the idea of humans being replaced, superseded, or even enslaved by robots. But rest assured that none of the robots on this list have the ability to do any of that. Nor do they want to.
As of right now, robots basically come in three categories:
- Useful robots: These guys mostly perform dirty, boring, difficult, or otherwise inconvenient tasks, like cleaning and maintenance
- Toys/games: Robots that are meant to be fun and educational
- Assistants: These are the most advanced robots, integrating many different capabilities to help streamline your relationship with the technology you use. This is also the category where things have the potential to get a little weirder than you might be comfortable with.
Over this three part series, we’ll show you what’s available now, as well as what will be available in the near future.
So without further ado, these are the robots that want to do your dirty work.
Useful Home Robots
Cleaning and Maintenance
Robots in this category are the ones that people are generally most familiar with. As mentioned above, they primarily do the stuff you don’t want to.
The first and most famous is the Roomba, an automated vacuum cleaner manufactured by iRobot that debuted way back in 2002. The Roomba uses infrared sensors to make its way around your house, avoiding walls, furniture, stairs, and other obstacles. It can be programmed to clean automatically by a set schedule, so your vacuuming gets done while you’re away at work. It’s also great for scaring the bejeesus out of your cat.
Newer models of the Roomba can be connected to wi-fi, which allows control from afar by way of a smartphone app.
And if you connect it to a home hub like the Samsung SmartThings, you can integrate it into a comprehensive routine with your other smart devices, while connecting it to a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home allows you to control it with your voice.
Not surprisingly, the convenience and usefulness of the Roomba has spawned a series of similar small robots focused on mundane tasks.
Consider the Roomba’s cousin, the Braava (also an iRobot product), which frees you from the drudgery of mopping your hardwood, tile, and laminate floors.
Robots have also made inroads into one of the most loathsome and time-consuming home maintenance tasks: mowing the lawn. Robot mowers have been popular in Europe for several years now, and they’re just starting to take off in the US.
And while some extremely discerning lawn snobs argue they won’t give you the same results as a professional lawn manicure, most reviewers agree they do a very impressive job, coming close to 100% coverage.
As a bonus, you can finally ditch the red gas can: unlike your antiquated push mower, robot lawn mowers all run on electric power. When its job is finished, or its battery is running low, it will automatically find its way back to its charging station for some fresh juice.
Another advantage is that you no longer have to rearrange your schedule so you can mow the lawn when it’s not raining. Many robot mowers work even in rainy conditions, and the ones that don’t are equipped with a rain sensor that will send them back to their charging docks until the weather clears up.
Unlike the Roomba, which robot mower you buy will depend on how much area you have to cover. Husqvarna offers a whole line of highly-reviewed models that can cover anywhere from 0.25 acre on the low end to 1.25 acres.
You love your pet like a family member, but let’s be honest: unless it’s a fish, you probably wish it was lower maintenance.
If getting home in time to feed your pets is a constant issue, this five-meal automatic feeder will keep them full and happy until you roll back up. The lid locks in place so that only one meal is available at a time, which can be dished out according to a preset schedule or triggered on demand from your smartphone. And no matter how aggressive Fido gets, the sturdy, secure design ensures he’s not getting dinner until you want him to.
But many cat lovers will agree that feeding is not the holy grail of pet care automation – a mechanical litter box is.
The Litter-Bot automatically sifts out the clumps every time your cat finishes, and dumps them into a separate, carbon-filtered odor reducing compartment underneath the litter box. A light on the control panel indicates when it’s full, and then the compartment is ready to be removed and dumped in the trash in one fell swoop.
But feeding and cleaning up after your pets aren’t the only concerns you have while you’re gone. A home surveillance robot isn’t strictly a pet care product – it can do so much more than that – but it certainly comes in handy if you want to know what your fur babies are really doing when they think no one is looking.
Once it’s connected to wi-fi, you can control your surveillance robot from anywhere in the world via your smartphone, and even converse with whoever might be in the room via a 2-way speaker (including your pets, if you really want to confuse them).
Okay, so this isn’t one of the simple, rudimentary machines we said we were going to cover in this post.
But if you’ve ever wanted to hire – or kidnap and enslave – a full-time master chef, here’s your chance.
Unlike kidnapping, it’s not illegal, but it is definitely going to cost you. Still, it will cost you significantly less than having a real, flesh-and-blood world class chef at your beck and call at all hours of the day.
Moley is by far the most sophisticated, advanced, and (yes) expensive of the robots in the first part of this series. In fact, in terms of sophistication, it has more in common with the robot assistants we’ll cover in part 3. Yet, despite Moley’s mind-blowing physical dexterity and powerful operating system, it still only cooks, so we’ve kept it here in part 1 with the other single-use robots.
Slated for its commercial release sometime in 2018, Moley is composed of two robotic arms that do all of your cooking (and apparently clean up after themselves, judging by the video), an oven/stovetop, and an interactive touchscreen where you upload and/or download recipes and tell Moley what to cook.
It appears that Moley can even learn a new recipe by watching you make something.
The movements, mannerisms, and cooking style of master chef Tim Anderson are captured in Moley’s software and reproduced by its cutting-edge robotic arms, which apparently have not only the dexterity but also the hand sensitivity of a human.
Even with the presumably high-level cuisine that Moley dishes up, the food isn’t going to be the main attraction when you have guests over for dinner – it will be the astonishing spectacle of watching Moley go to work.
It’s clear that the convenience of having dinner made for you is only one part of the appeal. When you buy Moley, you’ll do so in part for the privilege of having something in your home that, despite how hard you try, you can’t quite believe is real.
Convenience isn’t the only purpose of technology, but for some people it is a powerful one. Hopefully, part one of this series has given you an idea of how much easier your day to day life can be with a little assistance from the friendly, helpful robots out there.
In part two, we’ll look at a few robots that just want to entertain and educate you (especially if you’re a kid).