Gary Marcus explains why we haven’t seen full-featured Rosie-type robots around the house yet:
The two biggest challenges to making general-purposes robots are, as they always have been, hardware and software. Neither challenge is insuperable, but both are harder than one might think. On the hardware side, there are now lots of robots that can do incredibly cool things. One robot runs faster than the fastest human, another dances Gangnam style. Still another, PR2, folds towels and fetches beer. The catch is that, at the moment, each new robot is like a proof of concept. The ones that are fast and physically powerful, like AlphaDog, a quadruped robot, and the headless but amazing PETMAN, are, for now, still dependent on hydraulic actuators powered by industrial-strength pumps and gasoline engines; they work fine in a laboratory-test environment, but you wouldn’t want one roaming around your home. Others, like Baxter and PR2, are capable of fairly sophisticated movements, but at speeds that are still too slow to be practical around the home. It might take five minutes just for PR2 to grab you a beer.
How much longer it might take:
In virtually every robot that’s ever been built, the key challenge is generalization, and moving things from the laboratory to the real world. It’s one thing to get a robot to fold a colorful towel in an empty room; it’s another to get it to succeed in a busy apartment with visual distractions that the machine can’t quite parse. Likewise, the demo of a robot running at cheetah speed is amazing, but it’s conducted on the flat, level ground of a treadmill, not in the uneven territory of the real world. “Film and fiction have raised everyone’s expectations about what robots may be able to do,” Tandy Trower of Hoaloha Robotics and formerly of Microsoft Robotics, said. “I don’t believe we are anywhere near affordable, safe, manipulation on a mobile robot that can generalize such features into consumer operations for at least ten to twenty years.” The iRobot founder Rodney Brooks’s predictions were remarkably similar.