For years we’ve been predicting a future that is based in a “robot world.” Has that day finally arrived? The latest onslaught of bot technology, which spans from new robotic vacuums to fresh advances in cloud computing, seems to indicate that innovation can always be found in automation. And let’s face it; CES is the saving grace of the home appliance industry. There aren’t a lot of exciting new developments in home appliances – not unless you’re counting the plastic pals that we’ve been purchasing to do our housework of late.
What can we expect to see in consumer electronics this year?
After a lot of industry analysis on the state of CES, a few interesting conversation threads have emerged on the future of the home robot. Most of the discussions come back to the two types of home robots currently available on the market: the ones that use complex software, and the simpler ones. The question that developers keep returning to is the fundamental philosophical issue of whether we should continue to make our robots complex and general purpose (these are often large and expensive), or do we produce simpler, single-purpose machines (a cheaper and more popular alternative).
If we look at the 2012 trends that dominantly featured with regards to robotic vacuums, the latter seems to be the overwhelming winner amongst consumers. The prevailing example of a single-purpose machine that was a clear market leader in the last year is iRobot’s Roomba vacuum. A simple cleaning device at heart, the Roomba uses a mix of paths to clean a room. You can conveniently set it up, let it go, and empty its captured dust at the end of a cleaning session.
Simple versus complex
The problem with robotic vacuums, like the Roomba, is that they cannot satisfy the inbred desire in human consumers to want more functionality from our technology. Manufacturers must constantly innovate for customers, who are always on the verge of demanding more from purchased products. Applying this theory to robotic vacuums, consumers have already said they would like to know where the Roomba is in a room, and how much cleaning remains. This specific demand could be solved by simple monitoring and simple triggering. Add additional automation to the equation, in the form of smartphone remote functionality, and the reach of the device is extended (while still retaining its single-purpose nature).
For now, iRobot’s Roomba will suffice. What about tomorrow? The best robotic vacuums of today will inevitably lead to further developments in the future. In order for a robot to be more adaptive and flexible it requires extensive computer resources, which is where cloud computing comes in. Connectivity and the cloud have opened doors to distributed robot intelligence. So while today’s robotic vacuum cleaners are simple tools that complete simple tasks, tomorrow’s could very well take advantage of developments in user interfaces – retaining their cleaning brushes and compartmentalised size, but adding more complex functionality.
Leaving us with no other conclusion than the following – it definitely is a brave new world out there for our robot pals.
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Bella Gray is a lifestyle blogger who specialises in home automation and CES. A maestro of tips and strategies for sustaining your house-hold with the latest steam mops and new technology, Gray is the go-to-gal for all your home management queries and solutions.