RoboWow: A Home Robot That Does Everything?

A robot that can vacuum your carpet, mow your lawn, and clean your pool is a beautiful dream, but not a realistic one

2 min read
RoboWow: A Home Robot That Does Everything?

Today is not April 1. I mention this because you should consider the following video in an April 1st context. That is to say, what you are about to see is not real.

The only robot that can vacuum your home, clean your pool and mow your lawn!

It's no secret that creating Robowow proved to be just a bit of a challenge. After all, it's not every day you create a robot that can do almost everything but make the coffee. 

From carpet challenges to pool-side shenanigans and minor mowing misdemeanors, we certainly had our work cut out for us! But, in true Robomow style, with a lot of perseverance and a little luck, we went ahead to create the most advanced, domesticated robot ever made.

Now, all that's left is for you to sit back and relax while Robowow... Does it all for you.

Obviously, the folks at Robomow who had this commercial made have a sense of humor.

But the question that it poses is real: what's the futureof robots in our homes, anyway? Like, having a single robot that can do a whole bunch of tasks sounds like a great idea, but is it practical?

Let's take a very simple example: a robot vacuum that can climb stairs. In the above video, the RoboWow deals with stairs by, um, hovering? But people have been working on ways of getting robots to climb stairs for a long, long time, because it seems like it's something a domestic robot really should know how to do: if you had a robot that could climb stairs, it could clean houses that are more than one floor, and that would be awesome.

Realistically, however, the solution to multiple floors is far simpler than climbing stairs: just get one robot per floor. It's not clever, but at present, it's probably the best (or at least, most efficient) way to do it. The same goes for robots that mow lawns, clean pools, and so forth: focused robots that can be optimized for single, relatively simple tasks are likely to be much better at what they do while also being much cheaper to buy.

The way to get a household robot that can accomplish multiple tasks is to give it the ability to use the same tools that a human uses. When a robot can use a vacuum or push a lawn mower, then you've got something that can complete a variety of tasks, but we're pretty far from a system like that. You're looking at perhaps a PR2 or a UBR-1, with a lot of fancy programming that doesn't exist yet.

I'd love to be able to tell you that we're close to something like a RoboWow, because I desperately want one. But for the near future, unitasking household robots are going to be the way to go.

[ RoboWow ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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