The Future of Interactive Devices – A Lesson for Robotics? (Video)
Don't worry about a 7" iPad or Android tablet devices, by 2014 they'll be old hat:
One important prerequisite of technology adoption is that it facilitate the user in achieving whatever they want or need to get done. Engineers and robot designers, love to come up with solutions that are technically elegant but fail to gain general market acceptance. Then they wonder why the public doesn't appreciate their work, and sometimes they even go so far as to consider the users "stupid", though they tend to keep those opinions to themselves.
The future solutions shown in the video ignore current technical and design limitations, and may prove to be impractical or may take much longer than anyone could imagine. Nevertheless, they cut right to the core to focus on what the users want to get done. That's it, pure and simple. The question isn't whether or not customers would pay for any of the solutions presented in the video - it's how much they would be willing to pay.
The big question, indeed the biggest challenge, facing robot developers today is figuring out what their prospective customers really want enough to pay hard earned cash. We know they will open their wallets and pull out their credit cards to buy a robot that washes their clothes (yes, washing machines are robots even if they don't move around the floor by themselves) or one that vacuums the floor. Beyond those existing applications, what would customers want enough to actually pay enough for it to make the development, manufacturing, and deployment a viable business proposition? The answer isn't clear.
In the early 90's, Scott McNealy, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, was fond of ripping up our otherwise well thought out engineering and marketing plans by pointing out that "Customers vote with their dollars." Unless we could prove that our plan would compel customers to vote with their dollars, Scott would quickly consign it to the closest waste bin.
Robotics development today is rife with future plans - robots that will take care of the elderly, robots that will transform medical care, robots that will drive us anywhere we like, robots that will autonomously construct homes, robots that will do things that we haven't yet begun to imagine.
All of those things, and more, may indeed be technically possible in the future. But unless they fill the basic human needs of the people that have to pay the bills, they don't have a chance of materializing. It's been decades since man proved that it was technically possible to walk on the moon. But, we haven't been back since, and given the current economic mood we're not likely to return there in the immediate future.
We're huge supporters of robotic technology, and really believe that it is one of the keys to mankind continuing to survive and thrive on this planet, and perhaps in the universe beyond the bounds of the planet. But to justify investment in robot technology, we have to grapple with real, pragmatic, down to earth requirements. Until we do, robotics investment will continue to follow it's somewhat random, Brownian movement path, very much at risk and dependent totally on the ups and downs of short term economic winds.
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