What's in store for the future of household robots?

29th July 2022
Kiera Sowery

Gaining traction due to COVID-19, the demand for household robotics has accelerated, with many consumers wanting to save time and effort. Expected to be valued at $21.9bn by 2027, the market is booming.

This article originally appeared in the July'22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

The market is predominantly being driven by huge investments from companies in R&D. Electronic Specifier’s Kiera Sowery discusses what’s in store for the future of household robots with reference to Gary, an all-in-one service robot from Unlimited Robotics and manufacturing giant, Dyson’s plans for the end of the decade.

Household robots, also deemed as domestic robots, are autonomous service robots primarily used to carry out mundane tasks in a home, including cleaning floors and mowing lawns. Alternatively, they can be used for education and entertainment, specifically elderly assistance. Sales are expected to increase by 46% per year, with over 55 million units forecast to be sold in 2022, according to the International Federation of Robotic Report 2019.

Gary, the service robot

Unlimited Robotics is on a mission to provide an alternative for boring, repetitive tasks and to simplify the process of hardware development. The team of software developers, mechanical and electrical engineers, and AI, ML and computer vision experts have built service robot, Gary. Gary is a 140cm tall robot with ‘unlimited applications’, capable of mapping its environment and communicating, whilst autonomously moving around. Unlimited Robotics has designed Gary so its user can utilise an internal app market, meaning the relevant applications can be installed to get the correct services. Applications include taking out the laundry, hoovering, ironing, and scheduling activities.

Currently, there is a waiting list to secure Gary, with delivery expected during October-November 2022.

The future is robotics

With £2m spent weekly on R&D, Dyson has always invested heavily in the future. At the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Philadelphia, Dyson shared a rare glimpse into what it has been working on at Hullavington Airfield, Wiltshire – a London laboratory close to the Dyson Robotics Lab at Imperial College. Plans are in place to accelerate the development of an autonomous device capable of household chores, with the work being led by Dyson’s Chief Engineer, Jake Dyson, son of Sir James Dyson.

Dyson’s aim is to improve people’s daily lives by developing robots that can perform household chores and save people time.

A video reveals glimpses of what Dyson is working on, showing the robot in a household setting, with robot arms picking up plates, bottles of laundry detergent and a soft toy, however the commercial devices that this might lead to are not yet demonstrated. New research in manipulation, robot learning, visual perception, and compliant control, demonstrate what might be possible of its household robots. The video also shows the deployment of advanced robots for mapping environments, allowing it to understand the structure of the household as safety and compliance is paramount with this use case.

Everything is top secret! However, this video is Dyson’s attempt at generating excitement with the hope to accelerate its recruitment of 700 more engineers over the next five years. Dyson is half-way through its largest engineering recruitment drive, with 1,000 engineers, scientists and coders joining this year. Dyson is supercharging its robotics ambitions, recruiting another 250 experts across computer vision, machine learning, sensors, and mechatronics divisions.

The plan is to create the UK’s largest, most advanced robotics centre at Hullavington Airfield where it will work on new types of domestic robots, with hopes to bring this latest technology into homes by the end of the decade. 

Until now, Dyson’s robots have been floor-based vacuum cleaners, with the first designed 20 years ago, the DC06. Now, the Dyson 360 Heurist robot vacuum exists, based on an intelligent 360° SLAM vision system allowing it to position itself in a room. Sensors take distance measurements every 20 milliseconds as it travels.

This new era of household robots is extremely exciting. Several companies are heavily investing in R&D due to the increasing demand for autonomous robots in the daily lives of the urban population. The industry is expected to play a crucial role in the overall smart home ecosystem, accelerated by increasingly connected devices easily controlled and monitored through smartphones and advancements in AI and cognitive learning. Due to this ease of use and technology such as voice recognition, consumer confidence in smart devices is growing.

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