Danger, we'll robot soon!

Recent scientific breakthroughs have brought us closer to the day when we can each own a smart-alecky mechanical maid like the one on the "Jetsons."

Several companies have demonstrated new robots lately, ranging from Honda's "Asimo" humanoid to little droids that ferry medications through hospital corridors. Each new model raises the question: When, oh when, will we have our very own domestic robots to cook our food and wash our socks?

It may be a while. Researchers say they've still got a few kinks to iron out, such as giving robots proper vision and a refined sense of touch. (There's a fine line between a friendly handshake and a bone-crushing claw.)

We aging Baby Boomers are expected to once again drive the market. As we get older, we'll need "carebots" to give us medical attention and household 'bots to clean up our spills, or so the experts predict.

(Some of us are thinking: That's why we had children. To clean up after us when we're senile. But hahaha on that. The little ingrates will be busy pursuing their own lives, leaving us desperately trying to scrape together enough pennies to pay for our Depends.)

Many of us already are dependent on machines. Laptops, Palm Pilots and cell phones don't just make modern life possible. In many ways, they run our hectic lives. If you don't believe it, think back to the last time your computer crashed. How was your mood the rest of that day?

Do we really need walking, talking, artificially intelligent machines in our lives, simply to do little chores? Do we need more machines managing our lives? Isn't this situation fraught with peril?

(Example: Anyone who has seen the Will Smith action movie, "I, Robot," can tell you that advances in robotics pose the very real danger of producing greater numbers of mediocre action movies.)

But the robots are coming, whether we're ready or not.

Already, you can pay a mere $200 for a robotic vacuum cleaner called Roomba. The machine -- which looks like a bathroom scale on wheels -- will run around your home, bumping blindly into walls and furniture, vacuuming every square inch of carpet, until it is, in an unfortunate misunderstanding, killed by your dog.

Also available are robot lawn mowers which operate much the same way. You input the parameters of your lawn, and the machine takes off on its own, mowing like crazy. We all know how fallible such human programming can be:

"Look out, it's headed for the swimming pool!" Splash.

Robotics experts are looking for new market niches, and I'd like to suggest a robotic coffee cup that will follow me from room to room. Currently, I misplace my coffee cup an estimated 23 times per day. I thought about attaching it to my dog, since he follows me from room to room anyway, but he tends to drop to a sleeping posture without warning, which could result in undue spillage. I need a coffee cup delivery robot. Or, cut out the cup altogether and design a coffee urn that will follow me and squirt java directly into my mouth. That's what I'd call a "carebot."

Another marketing suggestion for us machine-dependent Baby Boomers: Design a robot whose sole responsibility is finding the TV remote.

We'd pay big money for that.

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