The Washington Post

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

The robot 'OSA' (Open Source Android) is on display at the Swiss based Maxon Motor AG booth at the Hannover Messe in Hanover, Germany, 08 April 2013. (MARCUS BRANDT/EPA)

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 research firm ABI Research.

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

According to ABI Research research director Philip Solis, though there’s a lot of money being poured into personal robots, the technology is being held up by one obvious reality: Personal assistant robots are really tough to make compared to your average automatic vacuum cleaner.

“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 for prime time, Solis says that 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, though, 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.

Copyright 2013, VentureBeat

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