When will Service Robots be able to Assist Humans Day-to-Day?
Posted on Apr 16, 2014 8:00 AM. 3 min read time
Of course there are some robots already available for your home such as the floor sweeping robots: Roomba, Neato and bObsweep. Though they don't have any articulated parts, they do involve programming and remote control, so this is why they are considered robotic. Along the same lines are: window washing robots, barbeque grill cleaning bots, gutter cleaners, lawn mowers and so on... But the fact is that these household "robots" seems more like gadgets than real day-to-day home assistants.
Service Robots Open New Opportunities for People
However, there is an interesting field in service robotics that could improve the quality of life for people needing day-to-day assistance like the story of Robots for Humanity, R4H. In the area of providing services to those who have mobility impairment combined with upper body restrictions, there is an arm/hand combination available from Kinova Robotics called JACO, which if attached to a wheelchair can greatly increase a person's reach and dexterity. It uses a joystick and appears to be able to establish very fine tuned control. This type of product is really more along the lines of what we are searching for when we look for robots that could provide services for humans. Although these arms are under the direct control of the person and not autonomous. In any case, this is the beginning of the idea of creating an autonomous service robot that could do specific tasks for us, so that we could be free to do other more interesting things. This is the kind of robot manipulation we thought about when we thought about service robots 50 years ago.
There is also a team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) working to develop a day-to-day assistance robot for people with mobility impairment. This team led by John Wen has put together a program for the collaborative robot, Baxter, with certain controlling devices such as; Xbox or Wii remote controls and also a tool named Jamboxx (an electronic device that looks like a harmonica) with which you can control a robot. As you can see in the video, this team has put a Baxter Robot on a wheelchair and made it controllable with a device that requires little mobility from the end user.
I must admit that it is not everyone who can afford $20,000+ to have Baxter with them at home. However, the idea to have a robot arm like Kinova or a robot on wheels that is easy to control is a very good beginning to "the dream of an autonomous service robot", who would be able to wash your dishes, change your bed, microwave dinner and play cards with you at night.