Robots to Get Boss Upgrades

By Mark Baard
02:00 AM Mar. 15, 2004 PT

If you want to glimpse the future of robotics, look no further than Roomba, Segway and PackBot.

The machines that can best navigate our homes and city streets will be the chassis for tomorrow’s home, service and mobile robots, said roboticists this week at the Emerging Robotic Technologies and Applications Conference in Cambridge, Massachussets.

In fact, a modified PackBot, the mobile robot that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan use to explore caves remotely, is already taking roadside bombs out of harm’s way in Iraq.

Conference attendees discussed the $6 billion market for personal and service bots that the meeting’s organizers predict by 2005. The next generation of robots, the organizers said, will not only save soldiers’ lives, but entertain young people and feed, medicate and comfort the elderly.

The conference drew an A-list crowd of inventors, including Segway inventor Dean Kamen, iRobot co-founder Rodney Brooks and Todd Jochem, who in 1996 drove across America with a computer that did most of the driving.