How much time do you spend working? How much time do you spend eating and sleeping? Time is the most valuable resource we have, and because it’s free, arguably the resource we waste the most. One day the hardest thing in your life is learning your 10 spellings a week as a child, and then before you know it you’re old enough that people call at 7.p.m. and ask “Did I wake you?” The economist shows depending on where you were born, how you spend your time can vary significantly.
What doesn’t change however, is that we would all like more time, time the robot revolution aims to give us. The robot revolution refers to the mainstream adoption of robots with domestic robots representing the first stage of this revolution. Domestic robots aim to save you time by doing everyday tasks and chores around the house. The hope is that the movement from industrial robots to personal robots, will transform our lives in the same way the movement from mainframe computers to personal computers did. The infographic below by NCF shows why domestic robots may do just that.
What’s driving demand for domestic robots?
1.1 Desire for better quality of life in terms of time:Humans have historically always attempted to avoid dangerous, mundane everyday chores often at the expense of others. In the 19th century, it was children who shouldered this burden, being forced to do dangerous chores such as chimney sweeping, washing and cleaning. In the 20th century it was ethnic minorities, and arguably longer than any demographic group it has been women who have been doing the everyday tasks and chores. Behavioural economists, suggest that not much has changed, with the desire to improve the quality at life remaining, this time it is simply at the expense of a robot and your wallet.
1.2 Healthcare: The ‘caring economy’ will be a key feature in the near term. The quantity of life according to the Human Life Database has increased by 7.4 years but the quality of life has been far more difficult to extend. To fill this gap domestic robots are being used both in the home and in hospitals doing everything from cleaning to gardening . For example, in Europe the GiraffPlus robot is being used to care for the elderly as part of an EU-funded project to increase the elderly’s independence.
2. What are some of the key challenges domestic robots face?
2.1. Robot’s sensory system: Robot’s require real world dynamic sensing, and the intelligence of domestics robots will rely heavily on being able to perceive, sense and interact with the world around them. As humans we take for granted the sheer scale of sensory variation that we can handle relative to a robot. For example, if you went to a friends house, and you were asked to make them a sandwich because you lost a bet, this would be easy for you despite being in a completely foreign environment. This is due to our perceptive abilities, which are challenging to replicate in domestic robots.
2.2. Robot decision making (AI): It is impossible to educate or warn a child about every single danger they may face growing up. The best parents can do is equip them with a set of tools to make good decisions. In a similar way it’s impossible to programme in advance a robot for every possible situation they may face in a domestic environment. The challenge lies in developing tools and AI that aids decision making allowing the robot to learn new skills and improve with experience.
2.3. Mobility: Real time obstacle avoidance is critical in homes.Most homes have stairs which have posed a problem for even considerably more advanced military robots. Building domestic robots therefore, that can dynamically change in length at a low cost will be crucial to the early majority adoption.
2.4. Human augmentation: One of the key demand drivers for domestic robots is healthcare in the near term. However, over time, as bodies are augmented increasingly to resemble cyborgs, issues such as being unable to walk will become less prevalent. For example the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale and marketing of a prosthetic arm called the DEKA Arm System, which uses electronic signals from the wearer’s muscles. This upper arm prosthetic produced by DEKA R&D is sensitive enough to pick up an egg without breaking it highlighting the rapid decrease in differences between prosthetic and real arms.
Additionally,the research and development into muscle restoring drugs based on myostatin inhibition are likely to pose a long term challenge to the industry. Whilst more than a decade of, if drug discoveries such as the muscle and cognitive restoring function of protein GDF11 are successfully commercialized than the need for elderly care is rapidly reduced given humans are less prone to injuries and aging.
Domestic robots represent the first of the four key groups in the robot revolution in the long term.They are the low hanging fruit which will make the lives of the elderly in particular considerably easier in the near future. On a longer term view we expect domestic robots to continue to be used for everyday chores, but demand for assistance to elderly to slow down, assuming the emergence of technology such as biotechnology and prosthetics reducing the need for carers.