Robot help in the home will look more human, like the Telenoid pictured
In recent weeks, a handful of companies have trotted out robotic devices that do everything from chasing the family cat to painting.
"Everyone is looking for the next (Sony) Aibo," said technology analyst Rob Enderle, referring to the popular Japanese robot? discontinued in 2006. "The potential is in the billions for the right product."
Experts predict that within 10 years, general-purpose robots could be performing chores in the home.
US marketing company ABI Research predicts personal robot sales will pass $15 billion by 2015. Driving the growth will be cheap, powerful cameras and advanced sensors embedded in other electronic products.
''Everyone is looking for the next Sony Aibo.''
In the 1990s, research and investment was limited to large companies such as carmakers and energy companies who could produce goods in high volume.
But robots could find their biggest market in a domestic setting.
US firm Bossa Nova Robotics recently announced Ballbot, a platform for developers to create personal robots that interact with people. The company says this could lead to something like a robot maid modelled after The Jetsons Rosie for less than $5000.
"It opens up a whole slew of uses, such as tour guides and package delivery," co-founder Sarjoun Skaff said. There is a "groundswell" of robotic devices that "co-operate with people" he said.
Another company, Romotive, introduced its latest version of Romo, a $150 smartphone robot with wheels and camera that uses the iPhone as its brain and operates like a remote-controlled car. It is described by CEO Keller Rinaudo as "Skype on wheels". Romotive also announced $5 million in funding from venture-capital firm Sequoia Capital.
Romo customers apparently use it to chase the cat away from the bin and monitor their kids at home, Mr Rinaudo said.
IRobot last month snapped up Evolution Robotics for $US74 million to round out its product line of Roomba floor cleaners.
The automated contraptions seem to be everywhere. A conference on robotics in Silicon Valley this week has scheduled dancing bots and a pair of life-size humanoid robots as greeters.
Robots are increasingly becoming part of the American home, and may be fixtures within several years, said Manuela Veloso, an artificial intelligence and robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, a leading researcher in both fields. As consumers become more comfortable with robots, they will be accepted in everyday life, she says.
Experts predict that within 10 years, general-purpose robots — costing $25,000 to $30,000 per unit — could be performing chores in the home while consumers are at work or serve as butlers at cocktail parties.