For decades, we’ve been promised that home robots are just around the corner. We can finally have our butlers that can do all sorts of chores around the house without getting tired or needing food.
Well, we are still waiting. Our hopes have been dashed time and again by news of a new home robot only for it to turn out to be a dud or too limited to be of any use.
Even worse, most attempted home robots have been too expensive.
But there’s hope. We’ve seen a lot of improvement in consumer robotics in the last few years; robots with facial expressions, robots that can talk naturally, robots that can handle multiple tasks, and so on.
My personal favorite is a new robot designed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. It’s called Blue.
An Actually Helpful Home Robot
Despite significant improvements in robotics and AI, promising home robots as Jibo and Kuri have still failed and their makers going out of business.
But Blue is different in that it is actually helpful.
It can handle a wide range of different tasks from folding clothes to making coffee, it adapts easily to an unstructured home environment, and it feels like an actual helper rather than a gadget you have to tolerate just because you paid a lot of money for it.
Here’s a video to give you an idea of what Blue can do.
A Wide Range of Chores
The most impressive thing about Blue is how versatile it is.
Handling different kinds of tasks is a huge challenge for home robots. That’s why single-task robots like Roomba and Amazon Echo have been the most successful.
The roboticists behind Blue describe it as a General Purpose Robot.
Some of the activities it will be able to do according to the researchers include unloading the dishwasher, decluttering the floor, opening doors, making the bed, folding laundry, and cleaning surfaces.
Blue consists of two robotic arms with highly flexible joints. It’s not clear whether the robot will be wheeled or not. But the chances are that it will be able to move around.
The robot manipulates objects like towels and a cup of coffee using a pair of claws at the end of each arm.
The claws can exert just the right amount of force to pull a door open or place a flower in a vase.
The video shows its ability to pick something as big as a cup to something as small as a screw.
If the robot turns out to be as versatile as the makers claim, maybe finally we can have the home robot we have been waiting for.
The researchers relied a lot on artificial intelligence to design a robot that can handle a wide variety of chores and adapt to a home environment, which is chaotic compared to a highly controlled factory production line.
Once the robot is in your home, it will keep getting smarter as it learns from its environment and collects new data.
When Will it Hit the Market?
This is always a big question for home robot makers. Most promising home robots never make it to the market.
But the team at Berkeley say Blue will be for sale by 2020. They even have a tentative price tag – $5,000.
That may seem like a lot. But compared to some multi-functional home robots that cost tens of thousands of dollars, it is a bargain.
They are hoping that at this price point, people will consider buying one.
They’ve already started shipping the robot to early testers. Fill out this form if you want to get early access to the beta version of the Blue robot arm.
What to Expect from Blue
For one, it will be slow. The video above plays at a 5X speed. So in real life, the robot arm is really slow.
The final consumer version will most likely be faster but don’t expect it to have the speed and skill of a human.
This robot may be limited; at starting, it will probably handle only a certain amount of chores. But it will likely improve with time to handle more tasks.
Potential limitations aside, this is the most promising home robot we’ve seen in a while.
If it succeeds, it will join a variety of home robots that are already filling our homes.