The Robots Invade CES

i guess this was the year of the robots at the Consumer Electronics convention in Las Vegas. I watched video of the convention and did not miss going at all. For many years as an industry analyst I spent several days in Las Vegas every January exhaustingly prowling the huge convention center as well as many nearby hotel convention centers that serve as auxiliary sites.

Each year seems to have a pervading theme. I remember the year of wireless local area networks as well as the year of huge digital flat screen TVs. What is interesting is that there are always very few jewels among the products that will never take off. One of my jobs was to try to forecast which products would be successful.

Having said that, I can’t help but note the disappointing reviews coming from Las Vegas on the current state of affairs when it comes to home robots. I could have written those reviews without ever setting foot in the door. Why? Let’s review what happened several years ago when shows like the CES spotlighted personal computers. That’s when PCs were in the very early stage of development. What could you really do with an Apple 2, an Atari 400, a Vic 20 or anyone of a half dozen brand products that no longer exist? I remember the stock answer to the question of what kinds of good uses a PC could have. One answer (directed at female reporters) was that women could type in their recipes and then retrieve them in the kitchen. Of course, if you dripped anything on the PC, you would have wasted a couple of thousand dollars.

The truth is that it always takes far longer for technology, particularly home technology, and even more particularly home robot technology to take off and mature because people ¬†expect consumer products to function as intuitively and as smoothly as a toaster or a blender. The problem right now is that artificial intelligence has not yet developed the sophistication to make a home robot respond intuitively to a home owner’s commands. That’s not to say they won’t reach that level within the next few years. My recent research revealed to me that there are products still in development that offer a lot of hope that before too very long the question won’t be, “Why do I need a robot in the home?” but “How can I get by with only one robot in the home?”

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