Helper Robots

September 12th, 2012

Here’s what we dreamed of as kids: jetpacks, flying cars powered by that cool, jetsonesque sound effect, time travel, and, of course, helper robots.

That last idea was especially intriguing: What humans wouldn’t want a Rosie to make their bed for them in the morning, go to work for them when they didn’t feel like making the commute into the office, or vacuum the living room rug when they’d rather put up their feet and watch some Mythbusters?

Unfortunately, this promised day of robot butlers, maids, and workers has never dawned. Sure, we have little robots that vacuum our rugs, but they’re always bumping into things and don’t tell us that they don’t miss spots.

Can We Do Better Than Vacuum-bots?
And, really, are vacuum-bots the best that we can come up with? Where is the robot that’s able to help our children with their math homework so we don’t have to remember our freshman-year algebra?

A recent video on the BoingBoing website — “Thanks a lot, robot friend” — highlights the problem perfectly. In just 20 seconds, we see a tiny robot helper holding a beer in one claw and a bowl of strawberries in the other. A human hand appears on screen to activate the robot. However, as the robot pours the beer into a glass, he constantly misses the mark, spilling the liquid. Then, the robot’s arm falls off, sending the beer can to the ground.

It’s a perfect example of the state of helper robots today. In short, they aren’t very helpful.

Washing Your Hair the Robotic Way
Panasonic, though, is stepping up. The company last year unveiled its Hair-Washing Robot. Really. This robot can wet, shampoo, rinse, and condition your hair. It will also give you a spot massage.

Of course, you can do all of this yourself, without the help of a robot. To be fair, the robot is designed for elderly residents who might need the assistance (though personal experience makes me wonder if the Hair-Washing robot might be better marketed to parents of tweenaged boys, for whom the proper definition of “clean hair” is a frequently debated hot topic).

The Robot Bed
Panasonic also introduced its robotic bed last year. This nifty bed can transform itself into an electric wheelchair and then back to a bed again.

Again, though, this robot is designed for the elderly – not necessarily for post-Superbowl Monday mornings.
So, we ask, where are those amazing helper robots that the world of 1950s science fiction promised us? Heck, at this point we’d even take a robot that revolted and turned on us!


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