But Can It Wash the Dishes?

It might not be up to par with The Jetsons – not quite, anyway – but robotic technology is moving into the forefront of innovations designed to make life easier and more fun. Indeed, several new robots have been announced recently that make Rosie, the Jetsons’ mechanical maid, look positively mainstream.

Cye, for example, is a compact, personal robot produced by Pittsburgh-based Probotics Inc. that can retrieve your mail and vacuum floors. Measuring 16 by 10 by 5 inches and weighing nine pounds, Cye runs on rechargeable batteries and is controlled via a wireless radio link with a PC. Users operate the robot using Map-N-Zap, a graphical user interface that can be loaded onto any PC with a speed of at least 133MHz. To make Cye move, users simply drag its icon onscreen; it moves about three feet per second. Using Map-N-Zap, users can map out a path for Cye and program it to operate according to a schedule – delivering mail at 10 a.m., say, and bringing dirty dinner dishes from the dining room to the kitchen at 7:30 p.m. According to Probotics, it takes roughly 15 minutes to charge the robot, load the Map-N-Zap software onto the PC and start communicating with Cye.

Cye was first released in May in limited quantities for US$695. The robot is available in yellow, orange and black; optional accessories, priced at US$89 each, include a wagon attachment and a vacuum attachment that can be hooked up to an upright vacuum cleaner. Henry Thorne, CEO of Probotics and inventor of the technology used in Cye, says that by mid-August the company had shipped some 151 robots, mostly to wealthy patrons “who love tinkering and high-tech gadgets.” Future innovations, Thorne says, will include a cordless vacuum attachment and voice-recognition capabilities.

Cye comes with several user tutorials, including “CyeServe: Have Cye bring food and drink to your friends” and “CyeGuide: Have Cye meet visitors and lead them to your office.” For more information on Cye, visit http://www.personalrobots.com.

A robot better suited, perhaps, to purely entertainment purposes is Aibo, a robotic pet released in May by Sony Corp. Aibo, a US$2,500 dog-shaped robot complete with floppy ears that double as microphones and eyes backed by colour cameras, includes artificial intelligence software that allows it to respond in a doggie way to human commands. At a press conference introducing Aibo last spring, the proto-pup did not perform quite as snappily as your average show dog, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. (It apparently failed at first to play with a ball offered by a Sony executive.) To its credit, however, Aibo does get up after being knocked over and can detect edges, so it won’t walk off a table.

That’s more than some of us can say.

For more information about Aibo, visit http://www.world.sony.com/robot.

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