As Rethink Robotics' Rodney Brooks has noted, despite all the amazing technological advancements of the last few decades, we still don't have a robot that can put a hand inside a pocket and take out a key. There are no Roseys from The Jetsons among us--not even a mechanical companion half as lovable as the space-helmeted "health aid" that starred in last year's Sundance Film Festival favorite Robot & Frank.
Bossa Nova Robotics, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff, is close to releasing a pilot bot called mObi that CEO Martin Hitch describes as "the foundation of the home robot"--but a consumer model wouldn't hit until at least 2015. Still, there are people working on robots for the rest of us. According to Andra Keay of the professional association Silicon Valley Robotics, many companies are looking at the consumer end of the spectrum in the lifestyle and education sectors. Four things you can play with now:
Autom, from Intuitive Automata, is an adorable-looking social robot that hangs out on the kitchen countertop and chats with weight-conscious users about activity levels and diet.
At $200, plus a $7 monthly subscription, she's more expensive than an app but has a personality that makes her potentially more motivating--and guilt-inducing for those who slip off their programs.
Romotive has developed Romo, a $150 mobile robotic base that employs an iPhone interface activated with the Romo app. Together, the devices form a bot whose speed and movement can be remotely controlled to facilitate interactive video-chat sessions, play with pets--even play hide-and-seek with young kids. It also incorporates technology that responds to facial movements. Co-founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo says he wants users to program their own behaviors and seed a distribution platform for robotic personalities.
RobotAppStore, the Google Play of robotics, sells apps that will get a Roomba vacuum dancing to music or enable a Nao (a small, programmable humanoid robot) to catch a ball. Founder and CEO Elad Inbar has approved approximately 650 apps for use with a dozen commercial robots. The site has 10,000 active registered users.
RobotsLab, the educational division of RobotAppStore, launched a $3,500 math and science education box in February, coming soon to progressive schools near you. It was designed in partnership with teachers and professors, and comes with four devices--robotic ball, mobile robot, quadcopter and robotic arm--plus a tablet and 50 lesson plans.