Robots That Suck; 21st-Century Robotics; Exclusive Online Issues; by George Musser; 2 Page(s)
For generations, tinkerers have been pointing out how much their projects will lighten the load of housework. For generations, spouses and parents have failed to be impressed by these claims. When I built my first robot seven years ago, people kept asking, "So what does it do?" I explained that it would eventually vacuum the floor. I should have just been honest: "Not much, but it sure is cool, isn't it?" All these years later I still have trouble getting my creations to do the most basic things, like move in a straight line. My professions of usefulness don't carry much weight around the house anymore.
At least I am not alone. Seldom in the history of technology has an industry been so eagerly anticipated, and so slow to emerge, as the consumer robot industry. Back in the early 1980s, when computers were turning from hobbyist playthings into mass-market appliances, it looked as though robots would soon follow. Heathkit's famous Hero I robot kit came out in 1982, not long after the original IBM PC. Entrepreneur magazine predicted a $2-billion home robot market by 1990. Today the original PC is a museum piece, and Hero I is still the state of the art.