By Mark G. McLaughlin
When most people think of a robot, they envision a humanoid machine walking, talking, serving – or shooting at them. Most robots, however, look nothing like those imagined by science fiction writers, but are in fact just benign little devices that do not resemble humans or any other living beings. Many have been around for decades, doing the repetitive, dull and often dangerous tasks once done by people in factories, or in rescue and exploration operations. A lot of people have robots in their homes, even if they do not realize it. Others, of course, have embraced robotic technologies, and for good reasons. Here are just five ways that robots are making life a little easier
Personal Assistants: Siri, Alexa, Watson et al
Siri, Alexa, Watson and other personal assistants may not clank about like Robbie the Robot from “Lost in Space,” but they are robots nonetheless. They are disembodied creatures of artificial intelligence who guide us to our driving destinations, answer questions, take messages, turn on the lights and even place orders for groceries, meals, books, knickknacks – and other robots. They may not walk the walk but they certainly talk the talk – and with accents, tones and mannerisms of our choosing.
Everybody ought to have a maid
In the 1960s, cartoon characters George and Jane Jetson had the clunky apron-wearing Rosie the Robot to do their housework. While the iRobot Roomba can’t cook a meal, do laundry or wash the dishes, it can vacuum the carpets, while its brother Braava can mop floors. Their cousin Miraa, of course, has been cleaning swimming pools for years, and the new Grillbot that, well, cleans barbecue grills. (There is also a bot that will clean and change cat litter.) Most people have grown up with other household robots, but just did not know it. A washing machine, programmable coffee maker and automatic dishwasher are, in effect, robots, as they fit the Merriam Webster Dictionary’s basic definition of a robot as “a device that automatically performs complicated, often repetitive tasks.”
Lawn care made easy
While automatic sprinkler systems are in effect very simple robots, there are now far more sophisticated, intelligent robotic devices that can not only water the lawn but also keep it trimmed. Droplet the watering robot not only waters on schedule, but can also be set to monitor the lawn and garden to determine if the plants need more or less water. Robomow does exactly what its name implies – it mows the lawn (although you have to set up guide wires so that it knows where and where not to mow).
Doing the dull, repetitive, mind-numbing jobs
From placing bottle caps on beer bottles and filling cereal boxes to riveting frames on cars and hauling coal out of mines, robots do a lot of the dull, repetitive, mind-numbing jobs that people used to do – and loathed doing. While some may argue that such robots have put people out of work, they have in fact opened up jobs in new industries, including those that design, make, sell and service these robots.
Going where no man or woman should have to go
Robots save lives – especially the lives of the people who used to inspect and defuse bombs, explore deep underwater caverns (and other planets), or risk their lives searching for survivors in disasters. Robots are now sent to find people who have been buried under avalanches, are trapped in buildings that have collapsed or are on fire, or which are filled with thick smoke or dangerous fumes. Robots also now do tasks that were considered highly dangerous, such as industrial welding, sewer scrapping, boiler cleaning and many other jobs that were not just dirty but dangerous.