Sharing our space with robots may seem like science fiction to many. Popular works over the years have, after all, featured robots that keep our houses clean, cook our meals or serve as playmates for children. Until recently, these ideas have remained in the realm of imagination. Today, however, talented developers are making these ideas a reality.
Take for example iRobot’s Roomba series, including the recent 800-series iterations. Designed as a small, mobile disk, the Roomba is capable of navigating and cleaning a floor on its own before automatically returning to its base station to charge. With similar devices now being used for carpet cleaning, kitchen floor mopping and even vacuuming swimming pools, it is clear that these cleaning robots are on their way to becoming a significant fixture in homes and offices.
When Amazon announced that it was testing the use of drones as a home delivery system, the tech world quickly took notice. While it may seem difficult to imagine, Amazon envisions a fleet of specialized drones that can pick up packages as quickly as 30 minutes after an order is placed and fly them directly to a customer’s doorstep. The technology is a few years away, but assuming Amazon can obtain FAA approval, it appears that its plan will eventually reach fruition.
Other companies are now taking a cue from Amazon and exploring drone delivery systems. UPS, for example, has announced its own plans to evaluate the feasibility of commercial drones and is currently testing different types of drone-delivery systems. While UPS has not indicated that its drones will deliver packages straight to a person’s doorstep as with Amazon, it may explore using drones to streamline delivery to regional warehouses or distribution centers. This more limited use of drones may actually be obtainable before Amazon launches its vast network of home-delivery drones, positioning UPS to be first-to-market for drone deliveries.
Some developers are turning their attention toward the recreational market, using drones to provide entertainment for home consumers. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), developers showcased a wealth of new drone products. The Ozobot, for example, is a small, spherical robot that is designed to trace paths on screens and other surfaces. A user may, for example, design a track that pits two Ozobots together in a race. By placing the surface down and positioning the Ozobots on the drawn lines, users can create interesting paths that the robots will be able to follow on their own.
Parrot, a high tech consumer solutions provider, and Yuneec, an aviation technology company, have been exploring robotics both on the ground and in the air for years. For Parrot, the CES presentation focused on two new types of toys. The first, called the Jumping Sumo, rolls around the ground on its own and is capable of jumping onto chairs and tables. Parrot’s second toy, the MiniDrone, is a flying drone that can navigate the narrow corridors of today’s homes and apartments. While these two devices are, at this point, intended primarily to entertain, it is not difficult to imagine a future where they could serve as robot pets, sharing our space with actions entirely their own.
At Yuneec’s end, viewers were introduced to the E-Go Cruiser: a battery-powered skateboard that is controlled with a handheld remote control or smartphone app. The E-Go Cruiser is capable of travelling up to 12mph and holds a battery charge for 18 miles. Yuneec also showcased its Flying Eyes aerial photography drone. Designed for professional photographers, the Flying Eyes is impressively agile and capable of operating for up to 60 minutes at a time. Controlled with a handheld flight simulator with a screen to control the drone’s cameras, the Flying Eyes allows photographers to capture previously unattainable aerial shots without ever leaving the ground.
These examples only touch the surface of the world of robotics. As technologies improve and as people become more comfortable with the fun and convenience an automated home or business robot can provide, developers will surely continue to innovate. A fascinating and emerging field, robotics is an industry for which we can anticipate impressive growth in the years to come.