Want a glass of water? Help getting out of your chair? See if your child arrived at school? We often hear "there's an app for that." Soon, it could be "there's a robot for that."
A few machines being shown at the Paris technology conference "Futur en Seine" this week could change the way humans do everything from carrying out daily chores to responding to emergencies.
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Meet SAMI, an avatar robot created by the Centre de Robotique Integrée d'Ile de France (CRIIF). While SAMI is no iRobot in terms of cosmetics, the way it's controlled makes it a powerful prototype for human-like robots.
SAMI can be controlled in one of two ways. The first, and more developed system, is by Kinect 2 sensor. Whatever movements the person makes, the sensor registers and the robot copies in real time.
SAMI can also be controlled by thoughts. With an EEG headset, the operator can tell SAMI to move its arms right or left and various other movements just by thinking it. Engineers are working on developing the thought-driven system.
The robot has major implications for emergency response.
"Some workers have very difficult working conditions, both physically and in the environment, that can be very hostile—nuclear maintenance, asbestos, chemical industries, etc. The robot Avatar will allow the operator to work while being in a secure environment," said Flavien Legrand, project manager for robotics at CRIIF.
But SAMI isn't the only one getting technologists thinking about the future. At the conference was "Mother," a smiling, 1 pound "smart-connected device." True to its name, the gadget oversees a number of tasks simultaneously.
Equipped with four remote sensors or "cookies," Mother receives information from each one to track tasks and remind you to do certain things.
For example, you might have one sensor attached to your medicine bottle. The sensor knows when you move or tip the medicine bottle to dispense your medication, and it will register that you took your medication as well as the time. If you forget, Mother will alert you.
Other sensors can be attached to yourself to track your exercise habits, your dental hygiene, or even to monitor activity in the house.
"[Robots] can make our lives easier in many ways: Taking care of boring automated chores, taking care of things that we are not good at as humans (for instance optimizing the way we consume energy), act as reminders for important life matters, help us to improve our behavior so that we are more healthy etc.," said Rafi Haladjian, founder and CEO of Sen.se, the company behind Mother.
And then there's Buddy, the wide-eyed, mobile robot its developers want you to "adopt." Buddy can entertain your children, keep an eye on your home, keep you company, and help older people "keep their independence," according to its website.
Buddy's developers at Blue Frog Robotics didn't respond to a request for comment, but the robot will be hitting the market as early as late June, the website said.
With robots increasingly managing personal tasks like taking care of our children or monitoring our medication intake, how serious are the risks that something could go badly wrong?
Haladjian said that just as we shouldn't ignore the potential risks with using robots, we shouldn't be terrified of them either.
"It would be naive to say that the coming-of-age of smart devices and robots will happen with no major accident. But like what happened with all previous technological advancements (from trains, cars, electric power, the Internet, computers) problems get solved along the way," he said.