Two household helper robots with very different pedigress.
Wakamaru from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is a waist-high bot with a canary
yellow exterior and limpid eyes.It can recognize 10,000 Japanese words identify
eight family members by face or voice, remind you to make an appointment or
take your meds and, if somebody breaks into your house, send photograps of the
intruder to your mobile phone.
Roomba, by contrast, looks more like an appliance than a
robotic friend. The Frisbee-like disc’s sole purpose is to vacuum, which it
does automatically, thanks to sensors that adjust the settings to suit
different floor types, avoid drop-offs like stairs and navigate between table
legs and household pets. Starting price:
$130. Massachusetts firm iRobot Corp. Has sold more than 3 million of the
Wakamaru and Roomba represent radically different aproaches
to the next big thing in robotics: the use of robot assistants in the office,
hospital and home. The japanese, who have long been fascinated by the robots as
android, concentrating on making machines that look and act like human beings.
U.S firms, on the other hand, have eschewed the flashier android approach and
instead are emphasizing products that, like Roomba, are narrowly targeted to
specific tasks like mowing lawns, clealing pools and taking patient’s fital
So far, the success of Roomba sugests that the U.S firms
have the upper hand. But the race is only beginning and the stakes are
potetially huge. The market for personal and service robots is about $3 billion
now but is expected to reach $15 billion by 2015, according to the Japanese
Robotics Association and market analysts like ABI research. In 20 years or so,
experts predict, sales of industrial robots, now about $4.6 billion a year.