It was grey-blue, a bit shiny and about the size of a small doll. Robbie the Robot was my brother’s Christmas present. I loved it at first sight. It made noises and when you wound it up, it would ‘walk’ – more like a ‘jerky slide’, really.
Since that day, half a century ago, I’ve loved robots and have dreamed of having at least one in my life. So this year, I’ve backed a Kickstarter project and bought two robots for Christmas. I’ve (ostensibly) bought one for my husband and the other for myself. He might get to use one :).
Asimo the humanoid robot created by Honda who has been my desk buddy for years, watch the small wind up version walk in slo mo.
They don’t clean house
When I tell friends about my robots, they all immediately ask: “What can they do, can they clean the house?”
Well, no – they don’t clean house. But you can buy a Dyson robotic vacuum cleaner, which does a pretty good job vacuuming the floors. If that’s what you care about and are prepared to spend an anticipated $3,000 when they are on sale in Australia and New Zealand, the Dyson gets floors clean.
What my robots can do is recognise faces, understand natural speech, they can record and play back sound, they can avoid obstacles, they can learn a floor plan, and they can develop a path of travel.
The second thing my friends ask is: “How big are they?”
They are small – about the size of a basketball or a small dog. No, they don’t look human. They don’t have a ‘head’ as such but a flat surface. I can say to it (supposedly, we’ll find out for sure in May 2017 if this is the case): “Take this to Graeme in the study”.
What do you call them?
My robots (no we haven’t named them yet) will then locomote to the study and – recognising Graeme’s face – ‘stand’ in front of him while he takes the beer I’ve sent him. If Graeme sends back a message, my robot will record it and play it back to me when it returns.
The fourth question my friends ask (as above, the third being: “Do they have names?”), is “what did they cost”. They cost me $450 for the two – delivered to Sydney. That’s converted from US$ and is an ‘early backer’ price. They will retail around $500 each – if they ever get that far and the project goes well.
The fifth question I get asked is: “Can they pick things up?” No, they can’t but they can carry to and from a path of travel. “Take this to Mum”, is something they can achieve (they have to learn that ‘Mum’ is sometimes called ‘Maureen’ and they can learn what ‘Mum’ and ‘Maureen’ look like and that they are the same person).
Fetch and carry
“Get me a glass of water” – involving getting a glass out of the cupboard, turning on a tap, filling the glass with water and taking it to a person – is not something they can do. For that level of robotic sophistication, you have to have a robot from Boston Dynamics – the maker of my very favourite robot of all Big Dog (and Small Dog or as they call it Spot Mini).
And just like for people with disabilities, we are having to make reasonable adjustments for our robots. We will be installing at least one ramp at our apartment so it can go in and out of the door to the balcony (I’m sure Graeme will want a beer on the balcony over Christmas).
We will also have to ensure that the path of travel is clear – no present wrapping or ribbons lying around. We will also have to speak clearly and distinctly, so the robots can understand us (think Siri on steroids).
I’m dreaming of a Christmas with robots. What would you like on your robot Christmas list?
My top 10 robots
|1||Big Dog||All terrain robot, heavy haulage||$10 million|
|2||SpotMini||Washes dishes||Not known but has cost at least $3 million so far|
|3||Dyson robotic vacuum cleaner||Vacuums floors||Likely to be around $2000-$3000 in Australia|
|4||iRobot Looj||Gutter cleaner||$209 online|
|5||Polaris||Pool cleaner||About $800|
|6||Litter-Robot||Self-cleaning cat litter box||$895 in Australia|
|7||e-Vigilante||Replaces internal security guards||Around $8 an hour (lease), so I’m guessing ‘super expensive’|
|8||Hobot 188||Window cleaner||$350|
|9||Tech Line L60 B||Robotic lawn mower||$1800|
|10||Braava Jet||Floor washer||$350|