More robots are in the marketplace but a 'Frankenstein complex' prevents their wide acceptance, among other things
Fifty-one years after the first commercial robot went to work, the
United States is approaching a tipping point: Within a decade,
observers say, the average American household will include one or two
simple robots. And though they may not look like the ones imagined in
science fiction, these robots – some available now – will play
pervasive roles in the lives of regular consumers, says Lee Gutkind,
author of "Almost Human: Making Robots Think."
Especially after the past decade's technological
breakthroughs and continuing research, robots are primed to enter the
consumer marketplace. "There are still a number of hard problems to be
solved, but we've solved some of the fundamental problems," says Paolo
Pirjanian, chief scientist at Evolution Robotics Inc., in Pasadena,
"If you look at Japan, the robot is a friend there," explains Louis
Ross, speaking about people's perceptions of robots. "In the US, a
robot kills someone," says Mr. Ross, president of Virtus Advanced
Sensors, a company that makes inertial sensors for robots in Pittsburgh.
"Children play with [robots] and, as they get older, they won't be as threatened," says Ross.
"So far, our perception has been shaped by science-fiction movies. And
the public's expectation of what the robots can and should do far
exceeds the technical ability of today's robots," says Sarjoun Skaff,
cofounder of robotic toy company Bossa Nova Concepts in Pittsburgh.
These perceptions create the type of people who distrust a machine like
"By giving children the experience of operating robots that may not be
as skilled as science-fiction robots, we calibrate their expectation of
what robotics is and this will lead to robotics being more accepted by
the public," says Mr. Skaff.
"The people who are creating robots ... should literally be sitting and
chatting with the people whom their product will one day affect on a
one-to-one basis," says Gutkind. "It is kind of unfair for robotics to
become pervasive without giving the community the opportunity to choose
how they want to interact with robots and how they don't want interact
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