The Future of Robots in the Home

By Andre Gwilliam

Where do we stand, where are we headed and what potential hurdles will the industry face in the coming years?

While the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution is well under way, the impact of robotics in domestic life is still very much in its infancy. Still, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has reported that the United States' service robot industry, covering both domestic and industrial use, was worth $5.2 billion at the end of 2017, with that figure expected to nearly double by the end of 2020.

These are promising signs, and most would assume the universal introduction of robots into the home is only as far away as the relevant technological developments dictate. There are, however, some concerns about the technology, now and in the future, that could potentially limit the expected influx. So, where do we currently stand with robotics in the home? Where are we headed? And what potential hurdles face the industry across the next few years?

The Current Offering
The potential of robotics in domestic use covers three primary areas: the running of the home, security and entertainment. We can already see prime examples of IoT influence in all three sectors, including a few items that are now very much considered everyday tools. When it comes to cleaning the home, the immediate name that springs to mind is the Roomba vacuum. Surprisingly, the Roomba has been around since 2002, albeit in a much less sophisticated form back then.

The latest model, the 980, can identify room size and obstacles, then remember the most efficient routes around the house. Its manufacturer, iRobot, now face competition from the likes of Sharp and Bosch, as the vacuum robot develops to becoming a staple in the home. Freeing up chore time for humans increases product demand across the markets, so all marketing-leading brands are taking advantage of this.

Security applications such as the Ring video doorbell, Google's Nest Cam and Buddyguard's Flare app are enabling home security to reach beyond CCTV surveillance. The Flare app, in particular, offers significant future potential, utilizing artificial intelligence to recognize faces and alert the homeowner to any suspicious activity.

Where entertainment is concerned, Amazon's Alexa leads the charge in the ever-growing home assistant market. Of course, the home assistant has a more overarching purpose than playing a few tunes or answering the occasional question, and can effectively run the show in a fully IoT-integrated home.

What's to Come?
Most homeowners would identify the removal of household chores as their number-one priority for the domestic robotics industry, and there's plenty to come on that front. The continued development of the cleaning robot (the Roomba is already in its sixth generation) is expected, with Dyson investing heavily in automation R&D. Outdoors, Honda is working on its Ai-Miimo lawnmower concept.

Security applications will look to build on the current AI-powered security technology hitting the market now, with American brand Deep Sentinel talking of Minority Report-esque, AI-driven systems that will "predict and disrupt crimes before they occur." While this is mere speculation now, a technology that can combine neural networks, computer vision and deep learning would revolutionize home security and add an extra layer to current home insurance solutions.

Entertainment-wise, the novelty of today's robot toys is likely to wear off quickly as the technology becomes more familiar. Indeed, Anki, the Californian developer of the Wall-E like toy Vector, has just closed its doors for the final time. The home assistant, meanwhile, already has a vast range of capabilities, but offers the potential to carry out complete management of the home as associated smart technology finds its way into houses worldwide.

Essentially, the potential impact is exponential, and a complete IoT-integrated robotics takeover of the household could be closer than we think.

A Spanner in the Works?
While the idea of robots being a future everyday home essential seems inevitable rather than speculative, there are a few question marks remaining against when that will happen—or, in some cases, if it will happen at all.

One primary concern is the expense of such technology, particularly with non-essential robotics coming through that fall more into the category of novelty than practical devices. Naturally, new innovations cost significantly more in their infancy, and there is definitely a "value for money" question hanging over the current robotics market.

How useful are today's devices? Does the service they provide give enough bang for its buck? Furthermore, how quickly will a newly purchased device become outdated? The exponential nature of growth in the industry means such questions are, for at the least the time being, valid ones that may hamper widespread commercial interest.

Another significant issue is the trust factor. Again, it's only natural to be wary of things with which we're unfamiliar, and the idea of a home robot influx may sit a little uncomfortably with some. Child safety and hacking risk are just two areas of potential worry, and even if some trust issues are borne simply out of watching too much science fiction, the industry must overcome them—no matter how justified they may be. If homeowners are to assume another level of home insurance protection and security on top of standard cover, how complex will this project become?

With all that being said, time is very much a healer, and most would think that the robotics industry can overcome most of these issues relatively quickly. As time goes on, the technology will become better understood, easier to produce and generally more familiar in the commercial market. That means prices will fall and trust issues will subside as home robotics become standard issue.

Thus, the future is looking bright for the industry.

Andre Gwilliam is a freelance writer working toward a future aim of running his own writers company. He writes across a variety of subjects that are close to the heart of the U.K. economy, including property, investments, business logistics and market trends. He has been writing for the past three years, having graduated with a degree in English literature and creative writing. Andre is open to collaborations to benefit his growing portfolio.