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1 in 10 Americans to have robots in home by 2020

SoftBank's human-like robot named Pepper poses for pictures in its role as a PR manager of Tottori prefecture at the prefecture specialty store in Tokyo, July 1, 2015.
Yuya Shino | Reuters
SoftBank's human-like robot named Pepper poses for pictures in its role as a PR manager of Tottori prefecture at the prefecture specialty store in Tokyo, July 1, 2015.

Warnings that robots will eventually wipe out humans may seem like no more than science fiction, but the machines are increasingly encroaching on the jobs humans used to do, with many Americans expected to own one in 4 years' time.

One in ten American households will own a consumer robot by 2020, according to Juniper Research, up from 1 in 25 this year.

Juniper made it clear that the robot might not necessarily be a humanoid but more suited to performing a particular task. The research firm defined its version of a robot as an "autonomous, mobile electromechanical machine, capable of being programmed and re-programmed, that is used in the home or has non-commercial applications. It should be able to perceive its environment to some extent and react to it".

Far from cooking us food or driving us around, robots will have a less exciting purpose to start with. Juniper said that robots will "usher in a new era of housekeeping". The research firm pointed to Roomba, a disk shaped robot vacuum cleaner and Droplet Robotics' Sprinkler, which helps water the yard.

Companies have however been experimenting with humanoid robots that interact with people. SoftBank's Pepper is one of the most popular examples of late, but Juniper noted that the technology is not up to scratch.

"The performance of more complex robots, such as SoftBank's Pepper, while improving, are heavily limited by present-day technology. Thus, in order to meet consumer expectations, smarter, more contextually aware robots are required," the company said.

Robotics is likely to be a big industry and could be worth $153 billion by 2020, according to research by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. But their march comes amid warnings from the likes of Tesla boss Elon Musk to author Stephen Hawking who caution against the risks they pose.