The future of homes may be seeing more integration of robotics according to Colin Angle, CEO and co-founder of Roomba creator iRobot. In an interview with The Verge, Angle said he thinks the future of smart homes should be an “inside-out robot,” with sensors for heating and lighting. The Roomba could provide insight as it moves around the house and feeds data into a home operating system.
Although the Roomba is on his list of inventions, people are still demanding more. During the winter, Angle said people request a robot that shovels snow, and in the fall, they want something that picks up leaves.
“Robots offer the hope that we can wave a magic technology wand and the drudgery of our lives will be relieved, and it’s one of the reasons robots are so fun,” said Angle. “This is one of the few industries where we really offer a better way [of living], and although nothing is ever quick enough or fast enough or good enough, we do have some real successes to lend credibility to that offer.”
These successes include technologies integrated into the home, like Alexa and other connected devices, but Angle believes there are more possibilities.
“The smart home is one of these great promises that hasn’t quite lived up [to expectations] in terms of experience, I think,” said Angle. “We’ve seen a great proliferation of different elements, and the world is experimenting with how to fit them together, but we’ve learned that these elements by themselves aren’t necessarily enough to succeed. Very quickly, the amount of complexity you can manage in your home is overwhelmed by the number of connected devices, [so] we’re at this awkward stage where we have many of the parts but we don’t have a system that works.”
He believes this is where robotics can come in and “clean up” the situation.
“We should be designing smart homes like we design robots — with sensors, inputs, and outputs that can do physical things, like controlling lighting, heating, opening up blinds, and so on,” said Angle. “For that, we also need spatial context. We need to know where rooms are, what’s in them, and tie all that together into an understanding of the whole home.”
A vacuuming robot has the potential to map out a person’s house and relay that information to the connected device, which creates an alliance. The home then becomes an inside-out robot that works on the homeowner’s behalf. Angle sees more possibility than just robotic households.
“Ultimately, iRobot sees ourselves extending beyond just maintenance of the home, into helping people live in their home longer,” said Angle. “I think elder care and extending independent living is going to be the first really large-scale application of consumer robotics. It requires the companies doing it have a deep history and commitment to privacy and trust. We’re investing in this long-term play, and maybe that means there are short-term opportunities we’ll miss as a result, but that’s fine.”
As people become more and more accustomed to robots, they continue to give personalities and names to them. Angle believes this growing relationship and alliance with robots will make the future of robotics interesting.
“It’s going to become more complicated and more interesting when our conversations with robots become more complex, when you can really interact and be entertained,” said Angle. “These skills, if you embed them in a mobile robot, will dramatically amplify the types of relationship that between someone and their smart speaker, say. I don’t think people will indulge in it to the exclusion of other types of interaction and human contact, but it’s sad but true that there’s a very huge and lonely population in many countries and a lot of social isolation. There’s a need to find some way to scratch that human itch, and it isn’t going away.”