Robot Butlers – from Science Fiction to Reality?
Whether we like it or not, most of us live busy lives. Balancing professional careers with raising kids and keeping up with house chores is usually a challenge for people who cannot afford to pay for in-house help. Money aside, even if we earn enough money to afford a live butler to make us breakfast, do our laundry, and clean the cat vomit from the hallway, the truth is that hiring and managing people comes with its own set of challenges. This is why many science fiction books and movies portray robotic butlers as a common part of our future, and a lot of companies are working hard today to make that happen. But how far has development advanced?
On this front, there is good news and not-so-good news. Financial considerations aside, the lack of human resources in some sectors, such as elderly care, home help, hospitality, and others means there are strong incentives as well as expectations for the robotic industry to come up with some kind of automated butler or even caregiver to service us. Nevertheless, we have yet to see a functional (and less expensive) machine that could perform services in these areas that can now only be provided by humans.
Is there any kind of robotic help available to us today?
To some extent, the answer to that question is yes. In 2022, we can already purchase various models of robots from stores to help in the house (or offices), some models being more functional or complex than others. We all know Roomba by now, but personal robots have already evolved to do more than clean the dust off your floors. They could be now personal assistants that will read stories to your kids, remind you to take your umbrella if it’s raining outside, and even fetch you a drink.
MILESTONE – 2026 – AI and robotics will take over a lot of domestic / household functions. The former chair of an IETF working group wrote: “Change will continue to be pretty gradual in the next 12 years. AI and robotics are making great strides but will not suddenly take over a lot of domestic / household functions. The areas that border on factory automation are the candidates for change – perhaps low-skill assembly and clothing fabrication jobs will be affected next.” Source
Moxie – promoted by the producer as a revolutionary companion for social-emotional learning social and included by The Times in the best inventions of 2020, is a cute-looking robot that does more than look pretty. Equipped with machine learning technology, the bot is designed to help promote social, emotional, and cognitive development in children through game-based learning and engaging content. The device can be purchased for personal use on the Embodied website, and the company has even announced it will enter into a partnership with the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and Golisano Children’s Hospital (GCH) to develop clinical applications for Moxie in pediatric care. Similar robots: Winky, Miko, Misa.
Emo – positioned as a desktop AI robotic pet, Emo could appeal both to adults and children. Thanks to its cutting-edge technology, Emo can embody many characters, explore the world autonomously, and interact with its owner by way of more than one thousand faces and movements. Aside from entertaining you with music, dance moves, and games, Emo will also perform some actions like waking you up, turning on the lights, taking pictures, or even answering your questions.
Vector – this home bot is a bit more advanced. Unlike Emo, which is confined to your desktop, Vector is more mobile and can move inside your house autonomously. Due to its embedded AI technology and other state-of-the-art robotics, it can scan the room, give a weather forecast, set a timer, take a picture, and so much more.
Lovot – Although created with one purpose in mind and lacking any life-useful functions like its counterparts, Lovot deserves a special mention. The little bot was designed to improve the atmosphere and sense of well-being in an office by creating “connections” and “bonds” in the workplace. True to its promise, Lovot doesn’t do anything but wander around and interact with people in an empathic and emotional way, but it does that really well. According to the Verge editors who had a chance to play with it at their offices, “Lovot is specifically designed to create emotional attachment, its only purpose to be loved, and it accomplished that goal the second I looked into its sweet eyes.”
Getting closer to more complex robotic help
Going further on the path of realizing the dream of offering us a true robotic butler, companies added more to their prototypes, like increased mobility, new functions, and enhanced environmental awareness so the new models that are starting to emerge on the market are truly starting to do more than entertain us.
MILESTONE – 2025 – Robots will read books to people while commuting, clean houses, or serve as a digital concierge. Chris Donley, director of advanced networks and applications for CableLabs, said: “In this timeframe, I see robotics as primarily addressing convenience – allowing me to read a book while I commute to work, cleaning my house, or serving as a digital concierge. In this timeframe, robotics will primarily address things I would otherwise do myself, rather than pay other people to perform.” Source
Nommi, your personal machine chef – Granted, this robotic kitchen will not serve you breakfast in bed on a tray decorated with a rose and a smile, but it will cook delicious meals every day without you having to lift too many fingers.
Nommi is a fully integrated cooking system that can automatically produce and dispense a large variety of bowl-based meals, and it does not even require a reservation. The robotic kitchen can cook meals in three minutes from start to finish and can be customized to work with a variety of recipes and brands. The machine is battery-powered and self-charging and offers virtually limitless menu options and personalized services. Consumers can select multiple bases and toppings to put together their meals in combinations according to their tastes or preferences at any particular moment.
Each machine has a capacity of 330 bowls before needing to be refilled. The devices allow for multiple bowls to be prepared at the same time and are able to self-clean after making each meal. The best part? You don’t have to own a restaurant to buy a Nommi. According to the company website, you can simply configure one to fit in your home and just go for it.
BellaBot – this may not be a robot butler yet, but it comes pretty close to a correspondence courier or a waiter. Already used by several restaurants around the world, the fun-looking bot can serve food and deliver dishes, napkins, and other items. The robot uses AI technology to find its way to the designated destination in any busy environment and even displays menus and takes orders with multimodal interaction.
Samsung Bot Handy – Showcased and introduced at CES in 2021, this innovative machine most resembles what many of us imagine when we think of a robot butler. The Bot Handy is mobile, recognizes and picks up objects in the house, and can perform a variety of household tasks, like sorting tableware after a meal or tidying up messy rooms. The company has not announced an official store launch or a price for its bot yet.
How about the multi-purpose humanoid, autonomous robot butler?
We may still be far away from having such a machine in our homes, but two recent attempts have fueled hopes and raised expectations by setting a milestone for the availability of household robots.
MILESTONE – In 2040, robots will handle 90% of your household responsibilities. They’ll do most of the cleaning and cooking tasks in your home. You won’t have to cook for yourself, dust anything, or scrub a toilet ever again. Instead of home tasks, you can concentrate on your work or hobby or spend more time with your kids or pets instead of slaving over a hot stove. Source
Optimus bot – Tesla’s recent launch of their robot Optimus left experts neither impressed nor underwhelmed.
The human-shaped robot is a biped that can provide support in everyday life, is less expensive than a car, and can perform a series of activities, both in a household and in factories.
While the stage demo and the recent launch have shown some impressive work from Tesla’s engineering, the limited functionality presented suggests that many more years of development will be required until we can actually buy a helpful robot butler from the store.
At the demo, the robot demonstrated the ability to lift things slowly and perform various activities such as watering flowers, but it was unclear how the robot would move in an unfamiliar environment, how large its performance array would be, how easy it would be to program it, and even how reliable the robot would be in terms of working around people. No launch date or price has been announced yet.
Beomni robot – Arguably a more impressive attempt than Tesla’s, but failing at the autonomy part, BEOMNI 1.0 is promoted as the world’s first fully functional general-purpose robotic system. Beomni is meant to enable remote work at a high level of fidelity to be done from around the globe. With a humanoid build that includes hands with opposable thumbs, BEOMNI operators can make the robot perform tasks that require fine motor skills, ranging from picking up a pinch of salt to lifting weights up to 35 lbs. per arm. The highly mobile BEOMNI, which today simply serves as an avatar for the user, has the potential to evolve over time into a fully autonomous machine.
It may take another five, ten, or twenty years – nobody knows for sure when we will be able to buy a household help from the store; but considering the current trajectory of the technology, we might not have to wait too long for this vision to become reality.
If you enjoyed this article, we invite you to discover our upcoming Supertrends Platform, conceived to give you access to trends and innovation impacting your areas of interest directly from one place.