Household Cleaning Robots

Honda's Asimo humanoid robotiRobot has been steadily increasing their line of cleaning robots. They currently provide floor vacuuming (Roomba), moping (Scooba), pool cleaning (Verro), and gutter cleaning (Looj). These robots work well in limited domains, but not a one would help with cleaning the car. The flat environment of a room is no comparison for the complexity of a car’s interior. A robot like Honda’s Asimo seems like it would make for a better all around house cleaner. Instead of having a separate robot for each chore, it is more desirable to have a single robot that can vacuum, mop, clean the gutters, wash dishes, clean the car, mow the lawn, wash the windows, and so much more.

A cleaning robot would need to learn how to get around the house, building up a map that can be reused. The map would need to be dynamic to deal with furniture rearrangements, and other obstacles cropping up over time. If the intelligence is in the robot, no need to have smart vacuums and mops, just need the robot to understand how to use them. Since there are so many vacuum models, the robot would need to learn at least how to turn it on and off, and whether or not it had to watch out for the power cord. In an early model, I would be fine with it just stopping the vacuum when it gets clogged and leaving me to clean the vacuum, but of course over time it should be able to handle the hair balls in the rollers.

To handle chores like dusting and washing windows the robot would need to have a rough idea about what was fragile and what not, but the simple default would be to assume that most things just couldn’t handle much pressure. A gentle controlled touch would be required. To clean many areas, understanding of ladders and stairs is a must.

With a robot like the Roomba, you really don’t need to worry about it hurting pets and children, since it is too small to do any serious damage. However, a human sized robot would weigh quite a bit, and safety becomes a real concern. The robot would have to be aware of its environment and know how to avoid stepping on feet, tripping over the dog, or stepping on someone lying on the floor. But at the same time it would have to identify items that should be moved out of the way for vacuuming, and those that are best to vacuum around.

Life gets even more complicated with a robot gardener. The tools get more dangerous, and identifying plant versus weed becomes a challenge. A robot safely trimming a tree, or cutting it down seems much farther away than one able to clean the house and car. A manicured lawn may have to wait, but a clean house seems to be pretty close to doable.

Humanoid robots are not quite ready for the home, but looking at Asimo today gives the impression that the time is near. Once humanoid robots appear in the home, their capabilities are sure to improve quickly. Community driven efforts to add new skills would see to that. The initial models won’t be cheap, but the price will drop quickly. Early robots will be like buying a new luxury car in cost, but then drop down to the cost of a wide screen TV or refrigerator. Each year the robots will have more room for software, more sensors, and this will allow for more and more skills and areas of assistance. Before long, the menial tasks will be delegated to our robt helpers.
Today companies like Honda and Toyota are looking to place humanoid style robots in the home to help care for the elderly. But, it will not stop there. Once robots are in the home, they will appear in more and more homes. You’ll have your high end luxury models, and your economy models just like we do with cars today. For an interesting perspective on where this could lead, you should check out Marshall Brain’s article on Robotic Nation.

In later articles we will talk about likely changes that robots in the home will likely introduce.

What are you looking for in a household robot?

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