The Future of Robotics in the Smart Home

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Since the days of the Jetsons, the promise of home automation has been centered around the realization of practical robots. As we move forward into an explosion of connected possibilities and the rise of the robot era, what role will robotics play in the future of the smart home?

To truly improve our lives, a smart home must understand and map physical space to efficiently predict human behaviour in context and make our lives easier. Chris Jones, VP of Technology at iRobot, believes home robots can provide the link between our physical and digital lives, by mapping our environment and playing a key role in creating the scalable, connected home in which smart devices act together based on contextual information about the physical environment and human patterns. 

To learn more, I caught up with Chris ahead of his presentation 'Robots and the Future of Smart Home Innovation' at the RE•WORK Connected Home Summit in Boston on 12-13 May.

Tell us more about iRobot and your role as VP of Technology.
iRobot is the leader in developing practical robots for the home. With more than 15 million already in people’s homes, robots are helping people around the world do more in their daily lives – but there is still so much more that we can accomplish through the development of new technologies. Specifically, my focus at iRobot is centered around building the company’s technology strategy and leading our talented R&D team.

What are the main applications for robots in the smart home?
Robots are already performing several tasks within today’s home, none more evident to me than vacuuming. The Roomba 980, which was launched in September, is iRobot’s foray into the smart home. It is the first cloud-connected Roomba and the first Roomba that is able to build a map as it navigates the home to dramatically improve its task efficiency. Looking ahead, the smart home will see a growing number of robots, each playing an important role. In the course of a day, different robots will come to life at various times to carry out each’s intended job. Robots that help with chores will work to maintain a home both inside and out. They will continue to clean floors, they will maintain the yard, and they will help with other daily tasks. With the development of new technologies, they will also possess new features. Cleaning robots will be able to pay special attention to highly trafficked and commonly dirty areas, like under the kitchen table, around the dryer, and in areas where time was recently spent, like on the living room floor after a night working on the kids' art projects. Upon leaving for the day, a home monitoring robot will patrol the home, providing people with the peace of mind that the whole home is being monitored while away. Behind the scenes, these robots will work to provide people with a comfortable, efficient, secure and truly smart home.

What are the key technical challenges to integrating robotics into the home?
A very important and key challenge to successfully integrating robotics into the home is the development of practical robots that very reliably perform a valuable function at a price point that makes sense for the consumer. There are many exciting tasks in the home that robots can and will perform — every day we see many thought-provoking demos of robots performing all sorts of feats in the lab. The challenge is identifying a valuable task that is suitable for a robot, and then transforming that idea into a cost-effective and practical product that can be successfully used by non-roboticists in homes around the world.

What developments can we expect to see in home automation in the next 5 years?
Over the next five years, we will see an increasing number of smart, connected devices and sensors in the home. Many of them will wirelessly communicate and be battery powered, allowing for them to be conveniently placed anywhere within the home. The interaction people have with the smart home will be increasingly natural, such as through speech, and without the need for individual mobile apps to communicate with each and every device. By leveraging an array of connected devices and sensors, the home will learn usage patterns and preferences to progressively automate the control of devices. The key to this level of automation will be giving the smart home an understanding of its space. What is the layout of the home, and where is each room? Where are various smart devices located in the home? By bringing together several different types of sensors and devices, and then providing an understanding of their position and space within the home through maps, the smart home will allow for increasingly valuable functions that go well beyond individual device functionality. With mobility and mapping capabilities, robots are ideally suited to building and maintaining this spatial understanding of the home.

What advancements excite you most in this field?
I am most excited about the development of cost-effective self-navigating robots in the home. Navigation technologies that allow for robots to operate in indoor environments have been available for years, but it is only recently that we have seen the introduction of solutions that are cost-effective for consumer robot products and robust enough to reliably work in homes around the world. As the iRobot Roomba 980 shows, self-navigating robots can very efficiently perform directed tasks around the home through systematic navigation. The availability of cost-effective and robust solutions for self-navigating robots opens new opportunities for robots in the home that otherwise would not have been practical. Furthermore, a self-navigating robot builds a blueprint-like map of the home to support its navigation capability. The importance of the map is significant. Through spatial understanding and a diverse set of connected devices and sensors, it can enable smart home solutions that deliver increasing personalized value to the consumer. 

Chris Jones will be speaking at the RE•WORK Connected Home Summit in Boston, taking place alongside the Deep Learning Summit, on 12-13 May 2016. Other speakers include Blade Kotelly, VP of Design at Jibo; David Isbitski, Chief Evangelist of Alexa and Echo and Amazon; Rahul Bhattacharyya, Research Scientist at MIT; and Andreas Gal, Founder & CEO of Silk Labs. 

The Connected Home Summit is taking place alongside the Deep Learning Summit, for more information and to register please visit the event website here.

Mapping Connected Home Home Automation IoT Robotics Connected Devices Sensors Connected Home Summit


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