It’s 2016, and robots that cook and clean for us have yet to take over the American household. But that doesn’t mean that homes staffed with robots aren’t a possibility in the near future. Here are 11 facts about the past, present, and future of personal robots.
1. PEOPLE IN 1900 THOUGHT THEY’D BE COMMON BY NOW.
At the turn of the 20th century, a group of French artists produced a series of paintings depicting what they imagined life would be like in the year 2000. Among the personal robots they envisioned were sweeping bots, grooming bots, and razor-wielding barber bots. We haven’t quite reached that level of robot integration in the home yet, but it’s a world that’s a lot more feasible than it was 100 years ago.
2. SOME OF THE FIRST HOME ROBOTS WERE CHILDREN’S TOYS.
One of the hottest gifts a kid could receive in the 1980s was a programmable robot. Some came ready-to-go while others gave owners the option to assemble them themselves. Once they were put together, the robots could perform simple tasks like moving around and lifting light objects. The robotic toys on the wish lists of today’s children are much more sophisticated.
3. AUTONOMOUS VACUUMS HELPED MAKE DOMESTIC ROBOTS MAINSTREAM.
The first domestic robot to break into the home in a big way wasn’t a humanoid maid or butler, but a disc-shaped piece of dust-sucking machinery. Robotic vacuums were an exciting development for homeowners in the early 2000s. Using motion sensors, the devices could navigate obstacles in a room while detecting dirty spots on the floor. Millions of robot vacuums have been sold since their debut. The technology has come a long way since the early robot vacs. Some robots have advanced features such as laser navigation, Wi-Fi connectivity and corner clever technology—much more sophisticated than the early round bounce-around robots.
4. SERVICE ROBOTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE FEMALE.
Robots are officially genderless, but the voices given to our computerized helpers tend to be those of women. Some experts blame gender stereotypes for this trend: When robots are coded female, they’re often fulfilling traditionally feminine duties like caretaking. Another theory suggests that roboticists are hesitant to use men’s voices in AI because male robots have been negatively depicted in pop culture.
5. PEOPLE PREFER PERSONAL ROBOTS THEY CAN RELATE TO.
In order for service robots to gain traction in the home, designers need to start programming likeability into their products. In some cases this means building a robot that consumers can relate to, even if that means it doesn’t do its job perfectly every time. One study from earlier in 2016 found that humans perceived robots to be more efficient than they actually were when the bots apologized for their mistakes. Study participants even went so far as to feel sorry for the regretful robots, despite their lack of feelings.
6. BUT THEY DON’T LIKE ROBOTS THAT LOOK LIKE THEM.
One area where people don’t like their robots to be too relatable is in the looks department. This concept of the uncanny valley—the revulsion humans feel towards creations that look almost human— is a common source of uneasiness. According to one recent study, humans experience a threatened sense of identity when confronted with humanoid robots. This could mean that creators of these realistic bots—who may have developed their androids to perform social functions, such as teaching—face an uphill battle in their quests to incorporate humanlike robots into society.
7. THE HOME ROBOTS OF TOMORROW WILL KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
Like any good helper, the home robots of the future will be able to recognize whom they’re serving. Personal robots have already been developed with face recognition technology so they can address their owners by name. In addition to identifying human faces, robots are also being programmed to learn our individual preferences. This will allow them to better anticipate the needs of the people around them over time.
8. AMERICANS ARE SLOW TO EMBRACE THE TREND …
Many parts of the world are already living in a robot-friendly future. Japan, for example, is looking to personal robots to help care for their growing elderly population, while Korea is putting thousands of robot teaching assistants in kindergartens. Americans are much less eager to accept robots into their lives, with most of our robotics growth happening in the industrial sector.
9. … ALTHOUGH THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS ATTEMPTS TO ENCOURAGE THEM.
Just because you don’t see robots in the typical American household doesn’t mean there haven’t been many attempts to get them there. Personal robots have been designed and marketed to mix drinks, cook dinner, and even iron clothes.
10. HOME ROBOTS DO MORE THAN CHORES.
Some of today’s most popular personal robots aren’t cold, metallic androids built to answer doors and do dishes. They’re cuddly stuffed animals designed for companionship. Therapy robots come in the form of fuzzy otters, cats, and baby seals. Unlike other toy animals, these robots serve a serious purpose: They’re meant to stand in for real-life therapy pets and provide comfort to people dealing with cancer, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other health issues.
11. THEY’RE ABOUT TO GET A LOT MORE POPULAR.
Having a fleet of robot helpers to assist with chores may sound like science fiction to today’s homeowners, but that reality is closer than you may think. According to one 2015 report, one in 10 American households are expected to have robots by 2020.