Robot Technology On the Rise


Robot Technology On the Rise

At home and at the office, robots will be keeping watch and helping out.

The next generation of robots is fast approaching the doorsteps of many homes and businesses, ready to perform a variety of chores, thanks to rapid advances in microprocessors, software, miniaturized cameras, materials and Wi-Fi.

In the works are automatons that can watch for home intruders when you’re away -- and let out a shrill yell while calling police if they spot any – and patrol industrial sites with cameras and microphones to allow executives to tour a plant without being there. Also in development are robots that can be used by pharmaceutical firms to rapidly test new compounds and enhance quality control and by food processors to check prepared foods and ingredients for bacterial contamination.

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Also coming soon: Machines that will assist the infirm and remind you to take your medications. Plus ones that do windows and mop floors -- joining the current crop of home helpers that mow lawns and vacuum up dust bunnies.

Among the manufacturers of sophisticated home robots are Robosoft, MobileRobots, ReadyBot and Floorbotics. By mid-decade, sales of domestic robots will reach the $5 billion level, about five times the mark hit last year. The bulk of current domestic robot sales is made up of robotic vacuum cleaners.


Leading makers of business and industrial robots are ABB, Adept Technology, Dexmart and Fanuc Robotics. As recessionary fears abate, sales of industrial robots will pick up. Though sales this year will remain well below $1 billion -- their peak in 2007 before demand by automakers and manufacturers tanked -- they’ll likely grow to $3 billion a year by 2015.

Helping to spark the growth of industrial robots? The green tech industry, which plans to use them to produce solar cells, wind turbines and advanced auto batteries needed for plug-in vehicles.

Of course, the military continues to be the largest user of robotics -- by far. Its purchases of robots and drones for battlefield and security purposes will likely tally $10 million this year and double that by mid-decade.

But as computer directed robots proliferate in homes, businesses and elsewhere, the possibility of them running amok will also increase. As M. Ryan Calo, a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, asks, what if someone hacks a robot’s software remotely and, say, reprograms it to open the door to crooks instead of calling the police?


To guard against such mishaps -- and keep trial lawyers at bay -- manufacturers will strive to build in anti-hacking safeguards as well as rigorous safety systems to keep robots from inadvertently injuring people in the course of performing their tasks.

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