What is a Personal Robot?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Personal robots are electronic devices that are used to manage everyday tasks, under the direction of the human owner. The earliest commercial models of the personal robot were released in the latter part of the 20th century, and were geared mostly toward providing assistance to the elderly and the infirm. Advances in technology since the beginning of the 21st century have broadened the range of capabilities of the personal domestic robot, expanding their appeal to the general public. While still extremely costly, those same advances have helped to reduce the overall cost of today’s models somewhat, making them affordable for more people.

A teach pendant may be used to control robots.
A teach pendant may be used to control robots.

A personal robot today is capable of functioning as an artificial servant around the house. Most models currently on the market are controlled using computer software that provides commands via a wireless connection. This approach effectively allows the computer to function as the brain for the device. By using the software, it is possible to program the robot for a series of specific tasks, such as collecting a newspaper from the front lawn, opening the door to let a pet in or out, or any number of mundane tasks that can be broken down into specific steps.

It is the use of computer technology that allows the owner to steer and direct the robot in real time that makes the device truly functional. The wireless link between the personal robot and the home computer make it possible to use computer vision to guide the robot through the home and to the object that is to be retrieved, or to the door that is to be opened or shut. Some models today are equipped with voice command capability, a feature that allows the owner to use short commands to control the movements of the arms and legs of the device, as well as redirect the forward or backward motion of the robot. This is an improvement over the models developed in the latter part of the 20th century, which relied on contained programming within the personal robot, and thus limited the range of function that the device could manage.

While the personal robot of today is much more efficient and functional than in times past, the process of enhancing the device is ongoing. The idea is to eventually create a truly humanoid robot that can successfully manage more complex tasks, such as cooking a meal, carrying a dinner tray loaded with food, handling the wash, and any number of other household tasks that are somewhat more complex. By replicating more of the tasks involved in the day to day management of the home, a personal robot with the capability to manage the majority of these tasks would increase the quality of home care for the ill and infirm. This would include providing communication capability that would allow the robot to seek immediate help in the event that the human host experienced a heart attack or other sudden health emergency.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - It's going to make for interesting conversations, that's for sure. I've read several articles where they discuss how to make robots more personable, and how people get very attached to even simple little robots, like those automatic vacuums.

I agree that community is important and current robotic models probably don't engender it, but I can definitely imagine a future when they might do so. A dog is considered a good way to bring a family together and they are as unknowable to us as a robot. Maybe one day families will bond over maintaining the family robot or will buy robots in order to be more social, rather than less social.


@clintflint - My favorite example of a personal robot is the one they used for kids who can't make it to school because of long-term illness or disability. The robot has a camera and screen attached so that the child can attend classes "in person" without leaving their bed.

I like that because it's an example of robotics bringing people together and increasing community, rather than the opposite. I hate to think of elderly people being neglected by their children because they think the attentions of robots are enough.


Apparently one of the big drivers of robotic technology is the understanding that Japan in particular is going to need robots to deal with their elderly in a few decades, if not sooner. They have a very top-heavy population, where a low birth-rate and low immigration rates have led to there being fewer young people than older people. When those older people start needing care they won't have anyone to turn to for care because there simply won't be enough people available to work.

So they are developing personal robots in order to fill this need before it becomes critical.

I've already seen videos of robots that can carry patients without human supervision and that have been designed to create a positive emotional response in people. Considering that Japan isn't the only place to have this problem looming, I'm sure we're going to have an explosion of very functional personal robots very soon.

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