Domestic robots: IT's take-over time!

22nd February 2015
Domestic robots: IT's take-over time!
First Indian 3-D printed humanoid robot 'Manav, unveiled at the IIT Bombay TechFest, in January 2015 ( Photo: IIT B)

Domestic robots are already replacing the 'bai' or maid  in  many homes. Soon they'll be talking to you, putting your baby to sleep.
By Anand Parthasarathy

Bangalor, February 23 2014
At Techfest, the annual technology show of IIT Bombay, arguably the biggest draw was Manav, the Man,  60 cms tall, weighing 2 kg, and claiming the title of India's first 3-D printed humanoid robot. Manav walked, talked and danced when commanded. He was created  at   the A-SET Training and Research Institute New Delhi by a team of students,  led by  Diwakar Vaish,  Head of Robotics and Research.  You can soon buy him for around Rs 1.5 lakhs and since he runs on Open Source code, you can programme him to do your bidding.  But can he do useful things?  That might be some years away.
The most popular humanoid  tool is actually a kids' robot in kit form, the  Lego Mindstorm  whose latest version  the EV3 includes motors, sensors, over 550 LEGO Technic elements, and a remote control – to create robots that walk, talk, move. It comes pre installed with the popular LabView programme from National Instruments. .  It is available in India  for  around Rs 35,000.
But humanoid robots of practical use may be a few years away. Thousands of institutions around the world are working with humanoids to see if they can be trained to the level of intelligence of a human.  Subramanian Ramamoorthy is a Reader in the School of Informatics at The University of Edinburgh. his work is focussed on building robustly autonomous robotic systems, capable of acting intelligently in human-robot interactions. "We  hope to create robots that make decisions in an uncertain world..... one day we will interact with such robots as you would with pets", says Dr Ramamoorthy.   Every year at the biggest robotics event of the world,  a team of humanoids trained by Ramamoorthy's  lab, plays football --  but  he thinks it will he 2050 before the team can take on the real World up champions.( read the Daily Mail story here)
That is not to say practical robots are all in the future: Domestic robots are widely available in India -- the home cleaning robots are popular with young families and apartment dwellers. The maid or 'Bai'  may be a threatened species as a machine takes over the 'jadoo-pocha' chore.  Milagrow's  four models ranging from Rs 12,000 to Rs 22,000  seem to be the most popular, with models from  PhilipsLG (Hom Bot) and Metal Mate (Mint)  are also available online. This month Panasonic launched  its first home  cleaner robot in Japan, the Rulo, which could also reach India.
The top-of-the-line Milagrow Red Hawk which looks very similar to  the Roomba, a  popular make  in the US,  from iRobot Corp., works like a vacuum cleaner and also comes with  a wet wash mode.  You can set up an infra red  lakshman rekha  to prevent it entering  some areas  and when the battery runs down, it will scamper to a corner and plug itself into a recharge socket. Other domestic robots in India   are tailored for cleaning the lawn, the pool and large glass  windows. Abroad,  home robots  like RockaRoo  rocks the baby's cradle,   Droplets waters your floors, Literobot cleans up your pets' poop and Gril Bot  cleans the oily grill of  a barbeque.  ( New York Times report  on these models, here) Inevitably all these will come to India, costing around Rs  30000- Rs 50,000.  Dyson,the biggest UK brand is racing to bridge the gap between domestic and humanoid robots.
Meanwhile, the hospitality industry may be the first to embrace robots in hotels and restaurants.   Botlr -- the world's first robotic butler - debuted  in the Aloft chain of US hotels. developed by  a California company, Savioke, Botlr  is just a metre tall and  has a load capacity of  50 kg and 2 cubic feet. If you order  room service food,  Botlr will glide up the elevator , down the corridor and   phone you when he is outside your door. ( See our story )
In Kunshan, China, a restaurant hastrained robots to  fry, steam dumplings and serve food to customers.
Today it is a novelty. Tomorrow -- who knows, robotic waiters may be the rage, especially if they don't ask for tips.