On the home front, domesticated robots are finally finding gainful employment. The $ 5-billion-a-year global robotics industry has been dominated until now by industrial automatons that perform repetitive, high-precision factory tasks. According to a new report by the UN, however, the industry will more than triple in size by 2010 as a result of a population explosion among “service robots"--machines that mow lawns, vacuum floors, wander the house to keep a glassy eye on the house and kids, and serve as companions or assistants for disabled or elderly people.
Science fiction? Hardly. Consider this: iRobot, besides having sent a small squadron of robots to Iraq to help detect and disable roadside bombs, has sold more than a million Frisbee-shaped Roomba robotic floor vacuums in a little more than a year, at $ 150 to $ 280 each. Robotic lawn mowers, including a solar-powered one from Sweden’s Electrolux, patiently chew the grass and alarm the pets on tens of thousands of lawns while their owners sip mint juleps on the hammock. Less glamorously but perhaps more lucratively, RedZone in Homestead, Pa., thinks there will be a $ 4 billion-a-year business just from sending submersible robots down to inspect and repair an estimated one million miles of America’s aging sewer pipes. And perhaps you noticed that the hot toy this holiday season was the WowWee Robosapien, a knee-high robot with attitude. More than two million sold at about $ 100 each. Wowee indeed.
Copyright 2005 Time Inc.
Copyright © 2002 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.