Smart Robots
Author: William Halal and Ann Wang
Latest Update: Mar 10th, 2011
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Simple versions of mass-produced robots are being used for routine tasks, and more intelligent versions are rapidly being developed that walk and climb stairs, speak with humans, and perform complex tasks. As computer power, artificial intelligence, and other enabling technologies mature, smart robots are expected to create a new era of affordable and convenient robotic helpers. The Japanese and S. Koreans, who lead the field, are even now gearing up to sell millions of robots to serve important roles in industrial work, home services, healthcare, military, and leisure activities.  TechCast estimates that robot use is likely to take off about 2020.
Selected Adoption & Forecast Data
Hans Moravec, a leading authority at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, thinks robots will learn and make choices by 2020 and be bigger than the auto market by 2025. (Scientific American 3/23/09)
Toyota plans to make robots central to their business by 2020. South Korea plans to introduce robots in homes between 2015 to 2020 (BBC NEWS 7/3/07).
ABI Research predicts that by the year 2015, people will pay as much for a multi-tasking robot as they will for a car, and estimates the global market will be about $15B.  (Computerworld 12/31/2007 ) 

The Japanese government estimates an increase in the robotics industry from $5 B in '06 to $70 B in '25. ( 3/3/08)
NextGen Research forecasts worldwide demand for all-purpose robots will reach $15 billion by 2015, or roughly 5 million robots per year (CNET News 5/27/09).
The World Robotics Report estimates the current world robot population at 8.6 M, with 7.3 M service robots and 1.3 M industrial robots. (IEEE spectrum 4/14/10)

Event Being Forecast: Intelligent robots that sense their environment, make decisions, and learn are used in 30% of households and organizations.
Forecast Data Analysis
    Mean Std Dev N (# Experts)
Most Likely Year 2024 8 72
Market Size (1-10) 4.7 1.8
Confidence (%) 65 13.3
Frequency Distributions
 Most Likely Year Market Size (1-10) Confidence (%)

PROS: Trends Driving this Event CONS: Obstacles Opposing this Event
GOVERNMENT SUPPORT The governments of Japan and S. Korean and the US Military are leading the advance of robotics. A Korean government official said "Our goal is to put a robot in every home." Here are some developments:
The Japanese government plans to install one million industrial robots by 2025.  Robot density in Japan is almost 10 times the world average, more than triple that of the US and nearly six times more than Europe.  The Japan Robot Association estimates the current (2008) domestic market of robots is currently at about $6.7 billion which will be worth $67 billion in 2025 ( 1/1/10).
•  The
US Military is spending $831 million on robots in 2009, which is anticipated to reach $9.7 billion by 2016 (WinterGreen Research 2/1/10).
The South Korean Government plans to deploy robotic teachers in 500 preschools by 2011, and 8,000 preschools and kindergartens by 2013 ( 2/24/10). 
• Researchers at Gordon University are developing robots that evolve more sophisticated "brains" by trial and error. The robot brain is a neural network that adds links/neurons as needed to handle more complex tasks. (NewScientist 2/4/09) 
A Japanese robot, "Repliee," has rubber skin, flutters its eyelids, breathes, and has natural movements. (Arlington Institute 7/28/05)
• Koreans introduced Ever-1, a female robot with silicon skin that feels human, a face that interprets emotions and responds in kind, and the ability to conduct simple conversations. (Digital Chosun)
• The "Care-O-Bot" is an all-purpose home robot that reads its enviroment in 3 dimensions, has an arm with 7 degrees of freedom and a hand with 3 fingers, can interact with gestures, and recognizes new objects. (Science Daily 7/14/08)  
• Researchers at MIT have developed "Mind Reader, a system for analyzing facial patterns into basic emotions of fear, happiness, anger, etc. for simulating emotional interaction with robots. (Christian Science Monitor 12/18/06)
• The idea of "embodiment theory" is gaining rapidly in which a robot's body learns from its experiences ( 06/09/2010).
• Self-asembling robots reorganize their modules into different shapes to suit conditions and work around failures. (Discover Jan 09) 
The biggest American robot maker, iRobot, is making shape-shifting robots that traverse rough terrain and navigate through small openings during military missions. (CNET 10/14/09)
• Nitta Corp. is developing a five-fingered robot hand, (EE times) and researchers at Johns Hopkins U. use brain signals to control fingers on a robotic hand. (TechnologyReview 7/25/07) The Fluidhand is a five fingered robotic hand powered by hydraulics rather than electric motors. Each finger can move independently, sensors pick up signals to adjust its grip, and it has a more natrural feel. A user typed on a keyboard with the hand and said he doesn't "feel handicapped anymore." (TechnologyReview 5/19/08)
• MIT is developing a robotic suit, or exoskeleton, that gives the wearer unusual strength. (Technology Review 9/26/07)
• USC is developing a robotic building machine that lays concrete walls as programmed, eventually constructing entire buildings. (NY Times)
• An "EcoBot" has been developed that powers itself by catching houseflies for energy. (CNN)
•  Household  Twendy-One, a helper robot, is the result of 10 years of research by Japan’s Waseda University and more than 20 companies. It is intended to be a practical model for release by 2015 – two years before the goal set by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (Gizmag 11/3/2010). The Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has developed housemaid robot Mahru-Z that can recognise people; turn on microwave ovens, washing machines and toasters; and pick up sandwiches, cups and other objects (CNET, 1/20/10).
• Exoskeletons Raytheon demonstrated its second generation exoskeleton, the XOS 2, a robotic suit guided by the human; it is lighter, faster and stronger, yet uses half the power. The HULC is a hydraulic-powered exoskeleton that provides users with the ability to carry loads of up to 200 lbs for extended periods of time, and has a flexible design that allows deep squats and crawling. Exoskeletons are being used now by the military, for the mobility-impaired and industrial work in Japan, Korea and Isreal, and may soon provide superhuman strength, speed and endurance (Gizmag 9/29/10).
• Industry Although 1.3 million dumb robots now work in factories, new equipment is expected to have intelligent agents within. For instance, R2 will help GM build more sophisticated and safer cars, and Toyota is introducing smart robots to do complex tasks such as finishing work. Toyota expects to replace all production workers with robots, reducing costs to match China. (MSNBC 2/4/10; 1/6/05) 
Military The U.S. now has 7,000 unmanned aircraft and at least 10,000 ground vehicles, and robot soldiers are coming. 30% of all military vehicles will soon be unmanned. (Physorg, 8/23/09; DoD Unmanned Systems Roadmap, 2007-2032)  P. W. Singer calls this "the most important development since the atomic bomb. (Singer, Wired for War, Penguin Press 2009)   A new gun-toting sentry robot, SGR-A1, is being developed by Samsung for the S. Korean government for use in the border zone. The robot uses a low-light camera and pattern recognition to distinguish humans from animals or other objects to fire its machine gun (IEEE Spectrum 03/2007).
Health Care This field is gearing up to have robots care for millions of patients, take temperatures, and draw blood. Robots will play a personal role as companions for the elderly, providing comfort, reminding them to take medications, and altering authorities if needed. Robot makers see huge needs because of aging societies and the shortage of caregivers. Today, there are 5 workers for every senior citizen. By 2020, the ratio will decrease to 3 to 1. In Japan, it will be 2 to 1. A Sony executive envisions “A robot for every member of the family.” (
Toys A wave of intelligent toys is entering the market with robotic features, like Aibo, the robot dog. Playmate Corp. is introducing "Amazing Amanda," a doll that talks and interacts in a child-like manner. Parrot Corp. is bringing out the AR.Drone, a Wi-Fi helicopter with dual cameras and augmented-reality video streaming that can be controlled by iPhone or iPod Touch; it has open API to develop more games and other applications (Gizmag 1/6/10).
Entertainment  A S. Korean performing robot, EveR-3, was developed by the Korean Institute of Industrial Technology, and starred in various dramas that attracted a full house. It can express a total of 16 facial expressions without ever forgetting lines (Physorg, 2/10/10). A new walking, talking robot, HRP-4C from Japan, has a female face that can smile and has trimmed down to 43 kilograms to make a debut at a fashion show (AP 3/17/09).
Farming Denmark has developed a robot that locates and destroys weeds, eliminating the use of herbicides. MIT has developed a gardener robot that can water plants and use an arm to pick fruit (Gizmag 03/26/09). Vision Robotics designed a robot, Snippy, to prune 400 acres of grapevines per season, at around half the cost of manual labor( 8/25/09). Farmers associations in California are investing $ millions to develop a robotic fruit picker (Wired 6/21/07). 
Hazardous Work  Robots are now being used to fight fires, handle explosives, work in tunnels, find and repair leaks in deep-sea oil wells, and to secure caves in Iraq and Afganistan (PBS 4/23/09. NASA, the U.S. Navy and university researchers demonstrated the first robotic underwater vehicle powered entirely by temperature differences in the ocean (Technewsdaily 4/5/10).
Space  NASA and GM have built the first space android (robot) called Robonaut2 (R2) that will assist astronauts. (MSNBC 2/4/10). Japan anounced plans to build a $2.2 billion Moon Base operated by robots by 2020 (CNET 5/27/10).
ROBOTS ARE POPULAR Commercial robots like the floor vacuum, Roomba, are surging in popularity. The Roomba has sold 2 million machines, and is featured among the top 20 items on Amazon's home and garden section, and the No. 1 item among housewares. Familes almost always name their Roomba. The Roomba was the hit of a Saturday Night Live broadcast, and was described as follows in the Washington Post: "Women all over America are cooing over their Roombas. They swoon when it hides under the couch and plays peekaboo. When it retires to its nest and settles in for a nap, it's power button pulsing like a beating heart, they swear they can hear it breathe. It's robot love."
HIGHLY SOPHISTICATED TECHNOLOGIES REQUIRED Smart robots require acute sensory devices, speech recognition, navigation, and Artificial Intelligence systems (AI) that are as yet beyond the state-of-the-art. For instance, the famous robot, ASIMO, took a nosedive down a flight of stairs, which was greeted with hoots and soon found its way on YouTube. (Toronto Star 12/26/06)
HUMAN-MACHINE COMMUNICATION IS COMPLEX To maintain natural give-and-take communication with people, robots have to understand and produce a complex of accurate facial cues, but human emotions are difficult to mimic.
POSSIBLE THREATS Some people are concerned about the danger poised by robots against human beings, and they can create unemployment. One author thinks humanoid robots will replace jobs in areas such as fast-food service, housecleaning and retail (Marshal Brain, "Robotic Nation," Wired 25/10/08). 
MORAL AND ETHICAL DILEMMAS Robots can pose unprecedented ethical dilemmas. If a war robot kills innocent people due to a software glitch, who will be the responsible- the software developer or the faulty robot? As P. W. Singer says "The bigger issue, though, is when it comes to robots and ethics, we shouldn’t be talking about the ethics of the machine itself, because it’s a machine." ( 5/18/2009)
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Public Comments
(Edited and displayed in 1-2 days)
Rupam Shrivastava (3/10/2010 3:52:52 PM)
The progression here would be like computers from labs in the 1950 to homes in 1990s - around 40 years. Robots are in the labs right now. Although technology is advancing much more rapidly now than in the 50s, but there is the big question of acceptability and safety of robots in the home. Just as with computers, we need the ability to 'pull the plug' on robots.
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