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August 28, 2012

The Robotic Revolution Will Begin at Home

We have all seen depictions of robots in popular culture, ranging from the robotic apocalypse of The Matrix or The Terminator, to the sunnier prognostication of The Jetsons, which depicts a sweet, robotic maid by the name of Rosie. Which of these very different visions of the future is more likely? Well, according to Thomas Friedman of the Post-Bulletin, the robotic revolution will indeed begin at home, and soon our lives will be as filled with Rosie the Robots as it is with Plucky the PC.

Friedman recently visited Rethink Robotics, a Boston-based company that has a goal of providing cheap, easy-to-use and safe robots to the home. Just as mainframe computers transformed business decades ago and gave birth to the personal computer, the company sees a natural evolution from industrial robots to personal robots. The key to the revolution, according to the company, is an easy user interface.

Robotic Hand Image via Shutterstock

Just as it was a daunting task to program computers back in the days of punchcards, most people nowadays would be incapable of programming a high tech industrial robot. But Friedman was able to train a simple robot to use its arms to move objects from one spot to another thanks to a user-friendly screen interface. Enabling people to write apps to program robots to clean the house, walk to dog, cook breakfast or more will be the gateway to the robot revolution.

''Our robot is low-cost, easily programmable, not fixed and not dangerous," Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot and former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory told Friedman."We were in a small plastics company the other day, and the owner said he is using the robot for two hours to do one task and then rolling it over to do another. With our robots, you teach them about the specific task you want done, and when you are done with that, you program another one." 

It remains to be seen how soon the revolution will be upon us, and how the economy will react to such a major change, like the PC revolution of the past. But just so long as these ‘bots operate on Asimov’s three rules of robotics, which emphasize not harming humans and obeying orders, we’ll be looking a bright shiny Jetsons-style future and not a robo-pocalypse, which is just fine by me!

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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli

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