LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Robots are doing far more than just being cheesy sidekicks in B sci-fi movies. They are doing real-world work, and while some are made purely for fun, others are seriously improving the lives of those who use them.
The latter is particularly true for robots coming out of the Quality of Life Technology Center in Pittsburgh, displayed at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, the center works on projects to help the elderly or people with disabilities.
One of its projects is the Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PERMA), which
gives people in wheelchairs an extra set of really long arms.
"They can reach above their head to get some things in their kitchen or they can pick up a TV remote," says Hongwu Wang of Carnegie Mellon University.
The same center is also working on a robot kit called Romibo, which will help therapists find new ways to engage with patients like children with autism.
"The therapist works with the child with a robot as a kind of play therapy. It's kind of a toy which is very expressive and it's all intended to engage the child, to bring the child out of whatever state they're in, to emotionally communicate with them," says Garth Zeglin of Origami Robotics.
Even the folks who are arguably most responsible for making people comfortable with robots in the home are thinking of health care. Developers at iRobot are coupling technology from its Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner with an iPad to create a virtual doctor.
"We would tell it to go to point A or point B, to get there and then it would navigate its way through obstacles and people to get there," says Maurice Leacock of iRobot. "So one of the applications, for example, is in a health care environment in a hospital. You could have a doctor remotely diagnose patients as well as provide them with counsel and medication."
There are also still plenty of robots designed purely for human entertainment, ranging from dancing robots to racing robots.
Finally, people who feel they are terrible artists can meet the most demoralizing robot set to hit the market. Tosy's SketRobo can be hooked up to a computer, fed a photo and then it turns the photo into a sketch. Developers say this robot will eventually be able to take someone's picture and then transform it into a sketch.