floors, and even prepare food to
be saved in the fridge or freezer
to be retrieved by the ‘food and
medicine dispensing robot’ when
requested by the owner.
It’s a balanced home economy
where two different talents
perform all the needed tasks at
the lowest cost. In this case, it’s
that food and medicine dispensing
robot that can be designed and
re-programmed to be more than a
pill pusher and food retriever.
Let Neato and Roomba
continue buzzing around our
floors as their relatively low
cost and fairly low maintenance
requirements make them useful
for those who abhor vacuuming.
So, what about other tasks that can
be especially hard for the elderly or
There have long been emergency
pendants that such people can wear
around their necks to summon help
through a subscription service. The
“Help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up”
scenarios shown in print and TV ads
are one solution to obtain assistance
when one has fallen or requires other
Many people long for immediate
assistance; not only for emergencies,
but for aid in daily living.
Wealthier folks can afford in-home
professionals who are always present.
Food preparation, nursing assistance,
house cleaning, maintenance, and
personal protection are some of the
job categories available to the more
Some people might be able to
afford only a once-a-week maid service
for a couple of hours at a time.
These are the persons who will
greatly benefit from an in-home
personal assistant robot.
Basic house cleaning, food
purchase, prep and storage,
The robot can call a relative
or medical personnel should the
resident’s needs fall outside its
A Home Robot with
There have been literally hundreds
of home robots that can carry objects
from one location to another. The
robot may have a tray atop its head
where a person in another room can
place a can of soda on it and send it to
someone in another room. Or, maybe
the robot can be remotely controlled
to go back and forth to the kitchen to
have someone take a can out of the
fridge and place it on the tray.
Better still, the robot may make
use of SLAM navigation or use a
LiDAR to find its way to and from
the kitchen after a request has
However, none of these
scenarios really use the robot’s
intelligence to go to a kitchen
where no person is present, open
the fridge, select the requested
product using a vision system
or bar-code scanner, grasp the
can with one arm/gripper, close
the door with another arm/
gripper, and return to the person
requesting the beverage.
The greatest limitation that I
personally see in the development
of a viable robotic personal
assistant is the inability of present
robot designs to grasp and manipulate
objects in a manner that will be useful
to a human.
Parallel jaw grippers seem to be
the typical configuration for a home
robot’s ‘end effector’ as they can
grasp many shapes of objects. With
the addition of a rotating wrist axis,
objects can be maneuvered to pour a
liquid or present a grasped object to a
human in a more useful way.
We humans are quite proud of our
four fingers with an opposable thumb
that allows us to grasp and manipulate
items, but most researchers end up
with prototype hands with each of
the five digits just curling inward, each
powered by a small servo.
If you take a moment now to
observe your own hand, that thumb
of yours moves in several directions,
depending on what you intend to do.
The four fingers also move in
two or more directions. Just observe
someone doing Spock’s Vulcan
greeting, as in Figure 12.
The Technology is
Still in the Future,
but the Near Future
Robot technology is making
leaps and bounds in capabilities
and — best of all — affordability.
Most experimenters are operating Figure 13. nVidia Jetson development kit.
Figure 12. Spock performing the Vulcan salute.
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