By Jake Garcia
Until recently, robots and artificial intelligence was strictly the stuff of science fiction movies. Advances in robotics, however, increase the likelihood that consumer robots will soon be integrated into our everyday lives.
People across the globe spent $1.6 billion on household robots last year, and this figure is expected to grow to $6.5 billion by the year 2017, according to ABI Research. Most of these robots perform routine chores or have some entertainment function, although using robots for security purposes is becoming more prevalent.
Suddenly, that sci-fi fantasy doesn’t seem so fictitious after all.
Many of the market’s existing robotic devices come from iRobot, a company founded in 1990 by two MIT students and their professor. Although the company’s most familiar robot is the Roomba, a vacuum cleaning device, the iRobot Looj is gaining people’s attention. The Looj tackles the dreaded task of cleaning gutters, getting rid of dirt and leaves while brushing the gutters clean. Its advanced sensors allow the Looj to propel itself down your gutters, making quick work of this unpleasant task.
Individuals with expansive lawns that require frequent upkeep will enjoy the Husqvarna Automower, a robotic mowing device. After placing a series of sensors around your lawn to set the borders, set the Automower free and it will efficiently cut the grass. Husqvarna uses cutting-edge technology that enables the Automower to avoid trees and obstacles, accommodate awkward corners and function effectively on slopes or hills. Noting sheep steadily graze on grass in different areas, Husqvarna was inspired to perfect its random mowing pattern.
Currently, power line inspections must be performed by electric company workers or helicopters equipped with infrared imaging. This method is expensive, time-consuming and dangerous for workers. Researchers have introduced a prototype robot called the SkySweeper that moves along the power line, inspecting as it goes, tech site GizMag reports. Eventually, researchers hope to change the SkySweeper’s power source from batteries to the power line itself, allowing the robot to perform its work indefinitely without requiring a new charge.
Developed by the Pohang Institute of Intelligent Robotics in South Korea, the Windoro makes the arduous and boring task of window cleaning much easier. Windoro employs special sensors that detect a window’s borders and any obstacles, according to cnet.com. Its two parts stay in contact via magnet, enabling Windoro to clean both sides of a windowpane simultaneously. Windoro makes use of rotating pads, water and detergent to clean your windows.
In Ottawa, winter can mean endless trips outside to shovel driveways and sidewalks. I-Shovel may soon put an end to that; this robot has a built-in computer and sensors that detect snow and get to work removing it. I-Shovel’s manufacturers report that it is designed to “wake up” whenever a reasonable amount of snow has fallen, keeping the driveway and sidewalks clear throughout a major snowstorm. You’ll have to wait a bit longer for its release, however, as the I-Shovel is patent-pending.
As more of these devices leave the drafting room and come to market, expect to see a wide range of robots performing everyday household tasks. Although today’s robots perform fairly specific tasks, robotics engineers envision a world in which increasingly complex robots perform a range of actions.
Jake Garcia is a recent graduate who majored in engineering and music.