Personal robot market expected to balloon to $15B by 2015

People will spend as much on a multitasking robot as on a new car, researcher predicts

The personal robot may not just be for vacuuming much longer.

A report from ABI Research is predicting that by the year 2015, people will probably be willing to spend as much for a multitasking humanoid robot as they would for a new car. Within seven years, the personal robot market will likely balloon to $15 billion, said Philip Solis, an analyst at the New York-based research firm.

As the price of robots increases, so will consumers' expectations, Solis said.

Today, most personal robots, like iRobot Corp.'s Roomba vacuum cleaner, perform a single function or task. "IRobot currently dominates this market and is increasingly targeting areas outside the U.S. and expanding its product line," said Solis in a statement. "Its disciplined approach to keeping products relatively simple and practical has enabled the company to lead the market for task robots."

And while that has made a big splash, future robots are likely to offer a menu of functions such as entertaining users, performing household chores and even helping with personal care. Companies, and even some governments, already are looking at new ways to use robots for such tasks, Solis said.

For example, in October, Nissan Motor Co. showed off its in-car Robot Agent at the Tokyo Motor Show. The robot, which sits in the dashboard of the company's Pivo 2 concept car, uses built-in cameras to analyze the driver's facial queues to pick up on whether he's feeling tired or stressed. The robot, speaking in English or Japanese, will be able to nod, shake its head and even blink as it tries to talk the driver out of a bad mood or offer the suggestion that he pull over and take a break.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government hopes to build two robot theme parks as part of an effort to boost that country's robotics industry. The parks, estimated to cost 1.48 trillion won ($1.6 billion U.S.), will be developed as meccas for the country's robot industry. Each is slated to include amusement park areas, exhibition halls and stadiums where robots can compete in various events.

And if theme parks and robots talking someone out of potential road rage wasn't enough, an artificial intelligence researcher predicts that robots will become so humanlike in the near future that people will be marrying robots by the year 2050.

According to David Levy, a British artificial intelligence researcher whose book Love and Sex With Robots was released in November, robots will advance to the point where they can carry on intelligent conversations, respond to human emotions and even display their own emotions. The jerky movements and artificial-sounding voices generally associated with robots will become a thing of the past, he claims, and these humanlike machines will become aides, friends and even spouses.

"Over the long term, expectations of what robots should be able to do will rise," said Solis in the ABI Research report. "The increasing cost of more complex servos and sensors will be balanced by the increasing value consumers place on robots, and a growing willingness by consumers to spend more on robots that can make their lives easier or more fun."

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