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You Know You Want One: Personal Robots Are Coming, But Not Ready For You Yet

Publication Date: 
June 18, 2012
National Public Radio - All Tech Considered
Melissa Block

Director of Privacy and Robotics at the Center for Internet and Society M. Ryan Calo spoke with Melissa Block of NPR's All Tech Considered on the potential use of personal robots in the future.

Meet Jake. At 500 pounds, he stands 4 feet 4 four inches tall, with a spine that stretches another foot. He has white urethane skin, a flat head sporting an array of camera lenses, and a laser scanner in his throat.

And he may be coming to a home near you.

Jake is a PR2, which stands for "personal robot," and the brainchild of Willow Garage, a robotics company in Menlo Park, Calif. Founded in 2006, the company is considered one of the most exciting, influential players in the world of personal robotics.


"It's a real boon to the entire robotics industry to have this common language," says Ryan Calo, who follows the robotics industry at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.


"Robots [in factories and warehouses] are very, very good at doing the same thing over and over again very fast and very accurately," Calo explains. But upon entering a person's home, a robot would have to negotiate a range of variables. "Think about how different your friends' houses are," Calo says. "Some of your friends have a lot of clutter. Some of your friends have a very modern, sparse house."

There's also the "neighbor test." Sooner or later, Calo predicts, your neighbor will see a big box with a robot inside delivered to your doorstep.

"And your neighbor goes, 'Why did you spend all that money on a robot?' You got to be able to answer your neighbor and say, 'Well, I need it to walk my dog,' or 'I need it to wash the windows.'"

Once you pass this neighborly skepticism, Calo says, robots will become the next mobile phone that everyone wants because of their potential practical applications.