I’ve been dreaming of robots since, well, since before I can remember. They’ve been scary minions of bad guys in horror films. They’ve been adorable sidekicks in sci-fi. Most recently, they’ve become real-world assistants that you can buy right now. They’re vacuums, security devices and assistants. They have even become pets.
So where are we at? What can robots really do for you at this point in tech’s rapidly advancing, exponential development cycle? How far could one go in filling his home with robots? You may be surprised.
First, we must define the term “robot.” According to dictionaries and Wikipedia, a robot is a machine programmable by a computer that is capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. An external control device can guide them, or the control may be onboard. We’ll leave the definition at that rather than get into the depths of autonomy and swarm capabilities, because all I care about is what can they do for you today.
These are the robots you can you buy right now and have them roaming your home (or yard) by the weekend.
THEY CAN CLEAN YOUR FLOORS
By now you’ve probably seen robot vacuums. In fact, they’ve been around for more than a decade, and that means they’re ready for prime time. The iRobot Roomba (starting around $375) has been through multiple iterations, and it’s a good bet if you’re looking to get some basic cleaning done. This robot will vacuum your floors, won’t fall down stairs, won’t kill your pets and will return to a charging station before burning out. Since the Roomba’s introduction, dozens of other companies have introduced domestic robot cleaners, including Dyson, Samsung and Bissell. Expect to spend at least $300 for one that actual does the job, and isn’t just a gimmick.
THEY CAN DRIVE YOU AROUND
At this year’s CES convention in Las Vegas, upstart electric vehicle company Faraday showed its FF 91 car parking itself in a crowded, active parking lot. No one was in the car. Audi, BMW, Ford, Tesla and just about every other car manufacturer is working on something similar. We’ve already seen cars that will drive themselves from companies as diverse as Google. You can buy a Tesla that drives itself today. Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Chrysler, Honda, and Mercedes (among others) already have cars for sale that stop themselves, some under $30,000. The robot cars are officially among us.
THEY CAN MOW YOUR LAWN
If getting up early on the weekend to mow the lawn isn’t your thing, you’re in luck: Robotic lawn mowers are quickly becoming a thing. In fact, the category is so big, since 2005 more robotic lawnmowers are under development than their manned cousins. The Automower from Husqarvan starts at $1,995 and goes up to $3,499 based on the working area you’re looking for. Other robotic mowers can be had for less from Landroid and Polaris, starting around $1,000.
THEY CAN MAKE (AND BRING YOU) A BEER
Robotic engineers are focused on the things that really matter, so that’s why the beer space is heavy with activity. If you’re looking to make beer, you could look into the PicoBrew Pico, a $800 internet-connected device that brews beer right into its own keg, manages brew temperatures and takes the guess work out of home brewing. It takes about a week, and produces what reviewers say is excellent beer. If you’re looking for something more on the service side, Asahi’s Beerbot robot ($800, japantrendshop.com will store and refrigerate six cans of beer, speak to you (male or female - your choice), and most importantly, pour and serve you a cool beer.
THEY CAN BE YOUR PETS
Once there was Sony Aibo, the robotic dog that Sony released as “entertainment robots” in 1999. The product line went through several iterations until 2006, when the company discontinued the not-so-profitable robot. But don’t fret: There are several robotic pets still available. Wowwee’s Chip will fetch a ball, follow you around your home and will self-charge in its own “SmartBed.” ($159, wowwee.com) If cats are more your thing, the Hasbro Cat Interactive Companion sports realistic fur, vibratory purring, movement and touch sensors to simulate a really kitty. ($99, joyforall.hasbro.com)
THEY CAN MONITOR YOUR HOME
Want to monitor your home while you’re not there? Sure, you could get a PIPER or Nest system that records video and detects motion in your home while you’re away. But you could also get something like the iPatrol Riley ($199, ipatrol.net), a Wi-Fi connected, roaming security robot with night vision that allows you to roam your home via smartphone from anywhere in the world as long as you have a connection and smartphone. Creepy? Maybe. But if you’re not sure if you locked the doors, this device could only feed your extreme OCD. It also includes a microphone if you want to talk to the pets, kids, or spouse when away.
THEY CAN CLEAN YOUR POOL, OR YOUR GRILL…
We could keep going, but we won’t because the list of assistant robots that are available now is almost endless. But we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t at least mention a few more categories that may be of use to you, the lazy robot-master. Have a pool? You can get a robotic pool cleaner. Live in a glass house? You can get a robotic window cleaner. Into grilling? You could even get a robot grill cleaner, and we wouldn’t judge you. And yes, the sex robots are coming (heh), but that’s a column for another day.