David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics in Richardson, Texas, is in the process of developing lifelike, conversational character robots that target the entertainment, consumer/household and medical markets. "We're trying to make them into actual friends that can tutor and hold your attention much longer than any toy possibly could," says Hanson.
The potential applications for advanced robots are tremendous. Hanson believes robots will eventually fill the roles of home gadgets and sees other uses that include teaching, entertainment, promotions and advertising. It's a field ripe for innovation. Not every robot of the future will look like a human. Many robots will follow in the footsteps (or wheel tracks) of service robots like iRobot's vacuuming Roomba. "To some extent, service robots are becoming much more effective, particularly in targeted domains like consumer robots," says Hanson, 37. iRobot recently expanded its line of consumer robots to include the ConnectR, a VoIP-enabled robot with one-way video and two-way audio capabilities that can help you keep an eye on your home or office and even interact with employees while you're away.
Even companies like Google and Microsoft are getting in on robotics. Google is offering a $30 million bounty to the first private firm to land a robot rover on the moon. Bill Gates has invested in the ANTY Project, which is working on a furry robot designed to comfort young hospital patients. And Microsoft has released its Robotics Studio toolkit for creating robotics applications. "Microsoft's move into robotics will probably encourage development in that area," says Hanson. "You'll start seeing waves of new applications coming out, most of them specialized and serving useful, narrow purposes." Robotics is a complex but quickly evolving area that gives growing businesses a lot to look forward to. Says Hanson, "As computers get faster, the robots get smarter."