Robots Move Off the Toy Shelf to Homes, Hospitals

Robots have slowly, but surely, become more prevalent in everyday life than many people realize. From cleaning to mimicking human limbs, robots are making life better and simpler for everyone from stay-at-home moms to hospital patients.

Household chores have gone from daunting to “set it and forget it.” One of the first consumer products considered a robot was iRobot’s Roomba vacuum, launched in 2002. The close-to-the-ground robot combines sweeping and vacuuming and can be programmed to clean automatically at certain times. Other cleaning robots – and cleaning robot parodies -- have appeared since the launch of the Roomba, including Winbot, a machine that cleans windows, unveiled at CES 2013.

Tele-presence robots like VGo are connecting people from remote distances, changing the face, literally, of healthcare, education and business. Situations where people would normally be physically present in a location are transformed into a “face” on the video screen of the robot. Using 4G LTE networks to carry the video consistently and reliably over wide distances, these remote-controlled robots allow students who would otherwise not be able to attend school to interact with classmates and teachers without leaving home. VGo was one of the early participants in the Verizon Innovation Program, where they were able to collaborate to quickly embed 4G LTE technology into the product. Using VGo, wounded veterans can connect with loved ones, and others, to share their stories of service and recovery.  

Wearable robotics – the kind that might help people walk again – is the next big advance in the field. MIT professor Hugh Herr is one of the pioneers, working to create robotic prosthetics that act as real limbs, and Argo Medical Technologies has developed a robotic suit designed to help paraplegics walk.