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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 04:31 GMT 05:31 UK


Robots' destiny of drudgery

Soon we will say goodbye to the chore of vacuuming

Domestic chores such as scrubbing the floor, emptying the dishwasher and setting the table are set to become a thing of the past - at least for the wealthy.

Clare Doole: "The robots will be activated by mobile phones and remote controls"
A new United Nations-sponsored report says home robots will become as commonplace as mobile phones and personal computers.

Sales of robots will boom over the next 10-15 years thanks to improving performance and falling prices, according to the report findings.

The annual survey, issued by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, forecast the spread of personal computers, Internet linkups and "digital knowledge" would smooth the transition of robots into wealthy homes.

[ image: An Electrolux prototype of a robotic vacuum cleaner]
An Electrolux prototype of a robotic vacuum cleaner
The advent of the domestic robots has long been a favourite vision of futurologists.

But until recently it has remained stuck in a 1950s-style "back to the future" vision, typified by the cartoon series The Jetsons.

However, the groundwork for automated homes is already in place, thanks to the increasing use of microchips in equipment such as domestic heating systems, fire and burglar alarms, ovens and refrigerators.

This computerisation will enable equipment to communicate either via wiring or infrared, according to the report, which has been co-authored by the International Federation of Robotics.

"We will be able to control them remotely, using mobile phones as terminals," said the report.

[ image: Industry, particularly car manufacturing, has led the field in robot use]
Industry, particularly car manufacturing, has led the field in robot use
"In this environment domestic robots will serve as an important link between the various types of computer controlled equipment and systems in our wired homes."

By 2002 alone, it estimates that 500,000 vacuuming robots, and 24,000 that perform other domestic services, could be installed worldwide.

It forecasts that sales of industrial robots would grow by 8% a year to 97,000 by 2002, with big potential in sectors like the postal industry.

Sales now on increase

Sales of industrial robots fell 16% last year, mainly because of the recession in Japan and South Korea, although they also dropped 13% in the United States.

However, the European robot market increased by 10% in 1998 and orders further afield are said to have rocketed in the first half of this year.

As with all technology, the more people buy, the cheaper it will become.

But the report points out domestic robots are only likely to be snapped up by the wealthy who put a high price on their leisure time.

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