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 Philips, LG (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.