The Future of Robotics
The current state of robotics provides a reminder of the early days of Apple and Microsoft in the personal computer world. In those days, large computer companies like IBM had been around for years with a minimal impact to everyday life. The computers made at that time were very large and prohibitively expensive for the average consumer. There was then a movement among hobbyists, pushing the smaller, less expensive technology. Leaders emerged from the computer hobby to create companies with unprecedented success and impact to everyday life.
Will robotics follow the same path as the personal computer? There are some large established companies, like Honda, producing very sophisticated robots. These robots are advanced for the current time, but the cost of these robots exceed what most consumers can afford. There is also a growing hobby-level robot community, pushing the technology and increasing the demand for robotics. Small companies like Parallax, Pololu, VEX Robotics, and Spark Fun, among others, offer inexpensive hobby-level robot kits. These robot kits are very cool for those new to robotics, but mainly these kits teach users about sensors, simple robot navigation, and programming of a microcontroller.
To gain popularity, robots will need to do more. Personal computers enhanced the lives of users by improving their productivity, but also provided new entertainment, and new ways to communicate. Can robots improve the lives of their owners? The answer is certainly yes. Once robots add value to consumers' lives at a cost within a normal budget, people will likely open up their wallets and purchase them on a massive scale. The iRobot company has already experienced some success in the robot market, outside of robot hobbyists. This company produces an autonomous vacuum cleaner that is programmed to automatically clean the floor. Innovations and successes like the iRobot company continue to push robotics in the future.