THE dream: a robot servant to pick up around the house, do laundry, cook dinner and perhaps even go on errands. The reality: cadres of little devices, buzzing like bees as they clean dirt and debris from every imaginable two-dimensional surface.
It’s 2014 and home robots don’t look a bit like Rosie, the all-purpose mechanical maid on “The Jetsons.” Even so, the appeal of outsourcing some of the most hated household chores to a machine has given rise to an array of tiny servants.
There are robots to wash windows, scour patio grills, scrub floors and mow the lawn. One cleans pools and another, aptly named RoboSnail, moves over the glass or acrylic surfaces of aquariums, polishing as it goes.
Consumer robotics is now a $1.6 billion industry, with task-oriented robots accounting for roughly half of that, according to ABI Research. Analysts say sales could triple to $6.5 billion by 2017.
A new generation of robots may be building more consumer interest.
Take Grillbot, the brainchild of Ethan Woods, once a Manhattan real estate salesman. Made of heat-resistant plastic, the Grillbot has three independent motors and three rotary brass or stainless steel brushes that spin as it roams in a repetitive, random pattern over a grill surface.
The bot comes in four colors and takes no more than 30 minutes to clean any type of grill surface, Mr. Woods said. Just put it on the grate and close the lid. It also has a sensor that will set off an alarm if the grill gets too hot — more than 250 degrees. It sells for $120 at grillbots.com.
Glass surfaces are also getting more attention. RoboSnail, for instance, is a rectangular bot from AquaGenesis International that wipes slime off aquarium walls. The device costs about $250 at pet and aquarium stores.
RoboSnail can be programmed to stop short of the gravel at the bottom of an aquarium so it doesn’t pick up anything that can scratch the glass. But it will not turn corners. That means you have to physically move it from side to side.
Similar bots have been created to clean windows. WinBot and Windoro use sensors, detergent sprays and microfiber pads to move around window surfaces. While both can be used on most windows, they’re aimed at consumers with large expanses of glass that are hard to reach.
Windoro retails for around $585 while WinBot’s two models run from $350 to $400. The cheaper of the two is for use only on windows with frames. Both bots, as well as replacement pads and other supplies, can be found online through Amazon and eBay.
The pioneers of the wandering floor bots were Electrolux, with its Trilobite, and the well-known Roomba, by iRobot, which was first released in 2002, and updated most recently last fall. Roomba has sold 10 million units. When the first Roomba rolled off the assembly line in 2002, the idea was so new that consumers argued that it wasn’t a robot at all, said Colin Angle, chief executive and co-founder of iRobot. After all, where were the face, arms and legs?
In the years since the introduction of the first vacuum robots, consumers have taken to the idea. Now Neato Robotics also sells a robot vacuum as does LG with its Hom-Bot.
Several new types of cleaners have recently been introduced by iRobot. The Scooba, for instance, is a type of floor scrubber based on the design of professional-grade cleaners. There are separate tanks inside for dirty and clean water, and sensors help it navigate. It sells for $279.
The company also offered Braava, a floor mopper, in 2013. An update of the Mint, which was a product of Evolution Robotics before it was acquired by iRobot, the Braava uses disposable or microfiber cloths to sweep and mop hard floor surfaces. It sells for around $200.
Mirra, a pool-cleaning bot, was introduced last year. It travels around in-ground pools on wheels, cleaning up algae and dirt without the use of hoses or booster pumps. It attaches to power through a floating cord, runs on 24 volts independent of a pool’s filtration system and can climb up the sides of the pool to the water’s edge. Mirra’s starting price is $1,299.
Most bots do only one task because once you start adding functions, the robot becomes too heavy and expensive, said Philip Solis, an analyst at ABI Research who follows the consumer robotic industry.
But he sees that changing as technology improves.
“I think we’re going to see an evolution from single-task robots to multiple-task robots to robots that can be more like a personal assistant,” Mr. Solis said, adding that he envisioned this happening over the next 10 to 20 years.
These household servants could answer the door, pick up packages and maybe even let in the cable repairman, he said.
Consumers may catch a glimpse of that kind of technology later this year with the introduction of Budgee, a robot on wheels with a cute oval face, blank eyes and basket that follows you through a store and can carry as much as 50 pounds of purchases for that epic shopping trip. It is expected to cost about $1,400.
Rosie may be getting a step closer.