OffBeat

Why the lucrative near-future of personal robots won’t include robotic assistants

It’s 2013, and if you still don’t have a personal robot assistant, you have every right to be disappointed.

But while the world of Bicentennial Man is still very far away, the world of the Roomba and Scooba is very much here: The personal robotics industry made $1.6 billion in 2012 and will pull in $6.5 billion by 2017, according to ABI Research.

The Roomba, however, isn’t really the future of robotics popular culture has trained us to get excited about. Where are our personal assistant bots?

According to ABI research director, Philip Solis, while lots of money is going into personal robots, one obvious reality is holding up the technology: Personal assistant robots are really tough to make compared to your average automatic vacuum cleaner.

topio

Above: How can you beat a ping-pong robot who has the whole Internet on his team?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Single-task robots are more affordable, so a market for them exists more easily,” Solis said by email.

While the physical component of personal robots is largely ready, Solis said the devices are currently being held back by software and, more significantly, artificial intelligence, which require a bit more work to pull off properly.

What’s interesting is how manufacturers plan to fix the robotic smarts problem. “Personal robots will essentially be a physical extension of the Internet at some point,” Solis said.

Basically, inside the skulls of every future TOPIO and ASIMO will be the Internet itself. Robots will be personified versions of the web. “They will just add a physical presence, physical capabilities, and emotional intelligence to form better interactions – a more natural user interface,” Solis said.

It’s neat, slightly unnerving stuff. In this model of robotic intelligence, every bot will be plugged into a shared intelligence database, where the experiences of one node will be used to create the functionality of all others in the network.

Reality, it seems, is finally catching up to science fiction. Bring on the bots.

Top photo: Flickr/Eirik Newth

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