Roboticists from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) say their R1 robot is an affordable domestic helper able to perform simple service tasks around the home. Matthew Stock reports.
A robot to help out around the house has long been on the horizon. A team from the Italian Institute of Technology believes R1 will finally deliver this. While still a prototype, R1 is smart and dexterous enough to perfom basic tasks, and can lift weights up to 1-and-a-half kilograms. It also has an accelerometer and a gyroscope to help it navigate around the home. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GIORGIO METTA, VICE-SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR AT ITALIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "This is a service robot, so it's been designed for assistance, for personal assistance. So it has to be able to manipulate objects, at least to grasp them and move them around. So you'd be able to ask for something like a glass of water and the robot should be able to grasp it and bring it to you." Sales of robots as human helpers have so far been minimal. British disability advisor Barry Sawyer believes this could partly be down to the age-group they're aimed at. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BARRY SAWYER, BDS COMMUNICATIONS, ADVISOR ON DISABILITY COMMUNICATIONS, SAYING: "Because the technology is quite new at the moment, and lots of disabled people tend to be older. So perhaps there's some resistance to disabled people actually having a robot because it's quite a new concept." The child-sized iCub robot was built by the team here as a reserach tool. It's currently in use in labs in Europe, the U.S., Korea and Japan. But it costs a quarter of a million euros. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GIORGIO METTA, VICE-SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR AT ITALIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "This one (the R1) is ten times cheaper to start with. So we envisage at the beginning business applications, so these could be robots for a shopping mall, for a hospital, for an airport...When we eventually manage to hit the consumer market this will be at the price of maybe 4-5 thousand (euros), so reasonably affordable." The service robot market is expected to increase markedly in the coming years. The team here in Genoa is one of a number around the world working on helper robots. With the help of private investors, they're looking to start large scale production of R1 later this year.