When Will My Robotic Housekeeper Be Ready?: Page 2

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“The hardest part in a robot that goes around the house and cleans up, is the arms or the manipulators. It’s really hard to make an arm that is flexible enough, that can pick up things, grab tightly enough so it won’t slip out, but not enough to break it. There are arms that are successful, but they cost $20,000 to $40,000.”

Norman said that engineers are good at making intelligent machines that do specific tasks, but it’s very difficult to building something that can switch tasks.

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He believes that current models of driverless cars and smart dishwashers may be more like intelligent robots than the automated vacuum cleaner “robot” zooming across the floor.

Drawing the line between an intelligent appliance and a “robot” is become more difficult.

“Some people think that a robot is something that goes around and does things and is cute. It’s anthropomorphism. To us a robot has to be alive, moves around and appears to be intelligent in its movements.”

Given the existing hurdles in software, hardware and sensing, Norman believes it will be several decades before a HERB-like robot will find a place in the average American home. In Japan, however, this automated future may arrive sooner.

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That’s because there’s a greater social acceptance of robots as agents of good in Japan, whereas many people in the United States perceive them as Terminators or drones. Japan’s aging population will need robots to remind them to eat lunch, take medication or empty the dishwasher. In fact, Norman is working with a firm in Hong Kong to build a household robot called Autom that keeps its owner from eating too much.

“It walks in the kitchen says ‘good morning: did you stick to your diet at dinner?’ It doesn’t’ move but looks like a robot,” Norman said. “People seem to like it. Or they hate it.”

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