Look At Domestic Robots Information Technology Essay

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Since the ancient times the idea of an easier and simpler life existed in the humans. In all these centuries they have discovered and developed many things that help them in their everyday life. One of these inventions is “Robotics”.

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The word “robot” was first introduced by the Czech writer Karel ÄŒapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), published in 1920. Later on, it was made famous by Isaac Asimov, in his book “I, Robot”. After that the meaning of the word has changed extensively. The great number of robots in everyday life has opened a new specter of changes for future applications and developments of robots. Even though there is a great progress in the field, there is always room for improvements.

Aristotle once said: “If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it… then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers or of slaves for the lords.”, meaning that if the humans had a mean in their disposal to help them, their life would be a lot better. Leonardo da Vinci is believed to be the first who created a robot. He developed a soldier who could move his head, arms and legs. After him many people invented devices that helped to improve their lives.

There are many types of robots but the most important ones are two: the service robots and the industrial robots. The service robot is “a robot which operates semi- or fully autonomously to perform services useful to the well-being of humans and equipment, excluding manufacturing operations.” [1] The industrial robot is “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications” [2] .

The technologies needed to build a robot are: teleoperators and numerical control. [3] “A teleoperator is a mechanical manipulator that is controlled by humans from a remote location.” [4] “Numerical control (NC) is a method of controlling machine tool axes by means of numbers that have been coded on punched paper tape or other media.” [5] The manipulator is controlled by a computer system, which is divided in two sections: arm-and-body and wrist with a gripper. In this way the robot can be taught by the computer system to perform some standard tasks.

In the last decades the life of humans has changed a lot. In today’s world there are many domestic robots, many of which we didn’t even image. Task (chore) robots can be divided in the following groups: vacuum cleaners, pool cleaners, washing machines, window washers and lawn mowers. As time passes new models come on the market, with new qualities, more tasks to perform. Moreover “anything that can be programmed to do a chore, doesn’t require our presence, and responds to environmental conditions” can be categorized as a simple type of robot. [6] The interactive robot is the simplest kind of domestic robot. Examples of this kind are coffee maker, washing machines, microwave etc. All these devices use the timer to notify the user when the process is finished, meaning when the food is cooked when the clothes are washed or when the coffee is ready. A more advanced version of domestic robots consists of support robots and house surveillance, helping people to monitor their homes. For all these reasons, it is not difficult to understand why many big companies such IBM, Microsoft, Sony invest in the development of robotics.

Many interactive robots such as automobiles, refrigerators, video records, washing machines, use a microprocessor so they can work as a computer controlling device. If the consumer wants something he pushes the corresponding button. So, the use of automated appliances is user-friendly. The automobile is the most widespread example of an automated object used in our everyday life; it uses microprocessors to “operate a variety of functions, including engine control (fuel-air ratio, for example), the clock, the radio, and cruise control.” [7] 

Trilobite 2.0 was the first vacuuming robot launched in 2001 by AB Electrolux. The designers of the Trilobite thought of everything when they designed it. They used a sonar system that detects obstacles like walls and stair cases. In 2003 another vacuuming robot was launched by a German company called Kaercher GmbH. They called the robot “Robocleaner RC3000”. The difference between the latter one and Trilobite is that RoboCleaner RC3000 uses random motion pattern to clean. RoboClenear is equipped with a sensor that monitors the pollution of the air and detects how dirty an area is. Moreover, whenever the battery of the robot is running low it returns to its charging position and in the mean time it also empties his dustbin.

The most popular tasks robots built until now are produced by an American company called iRobot Inc. The company is the producer of two other famous robots Scooba and Roomba. Scooba is a floor washing robot while Roomba is a vacuuming one. The real success of these products is not their high quality, but their price. Until now there have been three generations of Roomba. The first generation had three buttons for the size of the room, while their robotic technology consists on a spinning brush on the side and a rotating cylindrical brush at the bottom. The second generation came out in July 2004. It was much more sophisticated than the first one. It had “a larger dust bin, better software that calculates room size, fast charging in the home base (or wall hanger in the Discovery SE), and dirt detection.” [8] The Roombas of the second generation had the same functions, though some of them could have more accessories and all updated features after mid 2005. The third generation called 5xx was a whole new level. It was introduced for the first time in 2007 and it had “an infrared sensor to detect obstacles, a dock button, and improved mechanical components.” [9] . Scooba as said before is a floor cleaning robot. Even though we might think that it is different from Roomba actually they are not. They use the same navigation system and the same driver. The difference between them is the cleaning technology.

Moreover, IRobot Inc. thought of new models of Roomba called (Dirt Dog and Model 401). These models are really simple to use and they are also cheap to buy. Dirt Dog has a larger dust bin and sweeping brushes but it lacks the vacuum motor. This model is designed for large environments like home garage and home shop. Model 401 is similar to Dirt Dog but it has a “standard” size dust bin. They are similar in fast charger and extended- life batteries.

. The downside of this robot is however that its performance is not up to the level of every other cleaning robot. This household device is slower and does not clean as efficiently as its competitors.

One of the companies that competes with IRobot’s is The Sharper Image Inc. This company launched in the market a vacuum robot called eVac. The only difference between Roomba and eVac, is the eye-catching design of eVac. They both have the same technology with some minor differences. The first difference is that eVac has a touch sensor, when it hits something it backs up and turns. Another difference is that eVac does not have the technology behind the virtual walls like Roomba has. The Sharper Image Inc. “included remote control and a traffic cone” [10] in eVac.

On the market there are many types of customers, so to satisfy all of them Black & Decker Inc. thought of a cheap robot. It is called Zoombot. Although it costs less than the others, Zoombot has more or less the same technology. The problem of Zoombot is its cleaning is not too efficient.

The wide spread of domestic robots made companies produce new models, which were more expensive and much more sophisticated. Ottoro is one of them. It was launched on the market in 2003 by a South Korean company called Hanool Robotics. It is today’s most expensive cleaning Robot. “Ottoro identifies its own position and objects in any places in the house. The cleaning zone is set according to the map of house and completes the zone in order without missing any spots” [11] . It also detects the clean or cleaned areas so it does not clean the same area twice. Another feature of Ottoro is its suction spout. It helps Ottoro to reach spaces that other robots cannot reach.

LG, another South Korean company, released on the market a cleaning robot called RoboKingV- R400. It is not as stylish as Ottoro but it is well created. Its system is based on odometers. Furthermore its positioning system uses a 32 bit gyro sensor. “Roboking’s effective operation under the control of 22 sensors attached on 32bit Microprocessor, moves in 4 smart patterns such as Gyro-Matrix, Variable-Matrix, and Spiral, Random, depending on the structure and space of the area. Especially, Gyro-Matrix controlled by Gyro sensor does what vacuum cleaner ROBOT has to do. This allows the LG Roboking to drive around the house without getting stuck on furniture.” [12] 

Nowadays people do not have enough time to take care of everything, especially the outdoors tasks. It is not a surprise that the popularity of the outdoor operating robots has increased a lot these years.

The most popular ones are the pool cleaning robots. These robots are seen as necessary gadeget rather than luxury tools. Aqua Products is an American company that produced one of the most popular pool cleaning robots called Aquabot. It has two powerful motors “that share the load and provide a longer service life than other cleaners.” [13] Aquabot can be put in the pool without any installation. It moves in two different patterns. The first pattern is a rectangular movement, using the walls of pool as a navigation tool. The second pattern is based on a zigzag movement- when Aquabot touches the walls, it starts moving towards the center of the pool. It also has brushes that clean the sides and the bottom of the pool. “Aquabot, its power Supply and Floating Cable are ETL Listed to UL Standard 1081. No other robotic cleaner is this safe.” [14] Dolphin Diagnostic is a pool cleaner robot manufactured by Maytronics, an Israeli company. It uses the same system as Aquabot. It can create the most efficient cleaning pattern by itself. The distinguishing feature of this robot is that it can determine if it left the pool or not. It does that by using an air sensor. If the sensor turns on it will go back into the pool. Another benefit is that Dolphin Diagnostic is able to conduct a self diagnostic analysis, which makes it easier for technicians to receive information about its operations. [15] Tigershark is another pool cleaning robot, produced by Aquavac Company. It uses the same system as the previous examples. Tigershark has ASCL (adaptive seek control logic) microprocessor. The processor can determine the size of the pool and it programs a motion pattern in order to clean of the spots of the pool.

Other robots than can perform domestic chores are the window-cleaning robots. The downside of this product is their cost of production. There are several problems related to this product. One of them is gravity. Another problem is the surface on which they operate, since window is really fragile. Moreover people use more pool cleaning robots than window robots, which also explains their meek success. For all these reasons these robots are not highly commercialized. Racoon is an exmpale of window cleaning robot. It is developed by Procter & Gamble together with Fraunhofer IPA. It was introduced in 2002. After Racoon another window cleaning robot was produced, called QUIRL. Like Racoon, QUIRL relies on vacuum cups to hold to the windows. The difference between the two devices is that QUIRL is smaller and lighter. “QUIRL races around the window without any wheels to drive it. The direction and the speed of its path can be controlled by varying the turning motion of the suction paths, causing the robot to execute linear or rotational movements.” [16] Nevertheless, QUIRL is not yet commercialized. [17] 

All cleaning robots have the same problems. They have 3D range cameras used as sensor. The problem with the 3D cameras is that they are really expensive, summing the price of the products. Two German companies came up with a new idea of positioning and navigating the robot, called smart floor. Smart floor contains RFID transponders and it is easy to install. It can be put below all types of floor materials. Robots that have the RFID as a navigation system can operate on this kind of surface. The first cleaning robot which used this kind of navigation system is called Robo40. NorthStar project presented by Evolution Robotics is a solution to the same problem. The device uses these models “much like old sailors used the stars in the sky”. [18] The solution that both projects provided was just for small space, it could not cover large spaces.

As the world today is using more technology and less labour it is hard for us to restrain our imagination from thinking the possible effects on our life. Maybe a couple of years from now everything will be computerized. In the supermarkets the customers will be welcomed by a robot similar to Robovie-II. There will be robots driving cars, serving food in restaurants and maybe who knows they could even teach our children in school, even though not everyone is e enthusiastic about all these changes. According to some studies made in South Korea, students were pleased when a robot taught them English. The children “like the robots because they never get angry or make sarcastic remarks-unlike their human counterparts”. [19] However, the future still remains a mystery. For Bill Gates this huge expansion of robotics industry is the same with that of computer business decades ago. As the processing power rises every day and the cost of producing hardware decreases, the growth of robotics industry will speed up. This offers the basis for a “future in which robotic devices will become a nearly ubiquitous part of our day-to-day lives.” [20] Nevertheless, “an affordable, open platform that allows robot developers to readily integrate hardware and software into their designs” must be established, allowing the further development of the industry. [21] 

The rehabilitation robotics technology is now focusing more in systems that are efficient for handicap people, helping them to conduct a normal life. The advantages of these robots are stability and flexibility. The perfect examples of such devices are the robots Handy1 and Manus.

Manus is the leader of these kinds of robots in today’s market. The disabled people use Manus to do tasks like drinking, pouring drinks, eating, washing, etc.

Another type of robot that helps the disabled people is the mobile manipulator. An example of this kind of robot is Kares II. It is more efficient and has more advantages than the static robots. Kares’s main task is to do domestic work. In the last few years, EU developed a project called MATS. The goal of this project was to increase the number and quality of the existing human skills in robots.

Over these years, we have witnessed the greatest developments of technology, even though there is more to come. If we think of the time that we needed to reach this level of production and efficiency, makes us raise the question if our generation is going to see the beginning and the development of a new industry. Half a century ago we could not even image our lives like they are today. Although, now human beings have passed to a whole new level, that of searching new things.

Our laziness is unquestionable. Even though, in this world, where everything is computerized, where inventions are made every day the last thing that we needed to disperse was the labor force. It is very hard to find any industry that hasn’t adopted the robotic technology nowadays. In a world where all the industry is based on the new technologies, new start-up companies that produce new gadgets, new toys “projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when–or even if–this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world.” [22] The best example of these is Smart House; it is made of elements such as network of sensors and actuators. [23] The technology of this house contains environment control, health monitoring, fall detector, video monitoring, motion detectors, body temperature and many other devices. A more innovative Smart House would be one that has a keyless system. The doors will be unlocked with fingerprint scanners. Based on the information of the person that opens the doors a robot dog called AIBO would welcome the person. AIBO is produced by SONY. Furthermore, other functions in the house such as turning lights and air conditioner on, opening the curtains would be controlled remotely.

From an experiment conducted by the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA), the possibility of integrating robotic system in a house resulted successful. This house was designed mainly for elderly people and it was equipped with heartbeat sensors. In case the person living in the house had a low or irregular heartbeat, the system would send a text message to his familiars. These kinds of devices are really important in cases when the elderly live alone. A distinguishing feature of this house is that it adapts the habits of the person living in it. Another house like this was built by the University of Florida. They called it Gator Tech. As the houses mentioned before, Gator Tech addresses the needs of aged people. It has smart devices like smart mail box, smart doors, driving stimulator, and smart blind, smart bed, smart refrigerator etc. The smart refrigerator can monitor the food; the consumption and it can detect expired food. It has an integrated preparation meal advisor and also can create a shopping list.

The “Smart House” is not used only for aged people; it is also used for the disabled or mentally ill like schizophrenic people. The usage of such house would help them have a normal life. As we know, the “Smart House” is equipped with sensor. “Data transmitted by sensors can be analyzed for the immediate purpose of detecting critical situations or for the longer-term purpose of understanding the pathology in question.” [24] The house can help the person prevent dangerous situations; it can remind the owner to take his or her pills. The devices should also be user-friendly in cases when the person has bad memory or poor management skills. One of the symptoms of schizophrenia is the distortion of the reality. In the case the person already believes that in his house there are hidden microphones or video cameras. The most challenging thing here is to create a balance “to improve outside cognitive support without aggravating or inducing delusions.” [25] 

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Even though, the “Smart House” helps the elderly and disabled people to have an independent and happy life, it also raises many ethical questions. These ethical questions concern all the co-builders of the society. It questions the dignity and the privacy of the people who will use this technology. Another question is: who will be responsible for that person since he or she is no longer under medical care, lives in a neighborhood and in apartment that she or he can leave and return to? What will be the measures of support in case of an accident or emergency? Furthermore, will these people create dependence since most of the tasks in the house will be done by the devices? [26] 

As all this questions concern us in just one technological development, what is going to happen when every project comes to life? Many people said that the ethical rules should be imposed before any positive effect of technology sweeps away. Another development that raises ethical questions is a robot that works as a babysitter. This can have many advantages, but can a robot react in case of emergencies as a human being. This kind of robot was developed for the first time by South Korean and Japanese companies. The child minding robot offers other “facilities for video-game playing, conducting verbal quiz games, speech recognition, face recognition, and conversation.” [27] Beside all this, we don’t know the psychological effect that all this could have on a child who is left for hours with no human contact. Because people cannot conduct experiments on infants, research is conducted in monkeys. The result of the search showed that “severe social dysfunction occurs in infant animals allowed to develop attachments only to inanimate surrogates.” [28] 

It is shown that the use of robotics in our life has its benefits. On the other hand, an excessive interaction with the robots can lead the persons to a social isolation. Another problem is the robotic pets. The most vulnerable are the small children who are the main target of the manufacturers. They misperceive the relationship with the robot.

It looks like all these concerns about the use of robots in our life are still unnoticed by the public. Due to their high price, robots are used only domestically. Since the costs of production are decreasing, this trend is going to change a lot; people will start to buy all kinds of robots.

Despite all the problems and concerns that the usage of robotics rises there is no ethical code to tell us who to react in certain case. There is no Convention on the Rights of Children and there is no ethical code on “Nanny”. Society should discuss and decide the limits of the robots in our life before “before the industry and busy parents make the decision themselves.” [29] 

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