On Wednesday, The San Francisco Chronicle published an article about Willow Garage, a Menlo Park research lab working to build robots to handle a wide range of domestic responsibilities. Known as PR2s, these buzzing butlers will operate on an open system, allowing, much as Apple did with app-builders for its iPhone and iPod platforms, other researchers to write and adapt software to serve a variety of specific needs — from newspaper-fetching to burger-flipping.
It's R2D2 in an apron, a personal sous-chef, diligent maid, and attentive waiter squeezed into one hulking white frame. While the prospect of owning a PR2 any time soon is unlikely (even the newer, one-armed, economy model PR2 SE clocks in at $200,000), we can dream, can't we? According to chief executive Steve Cousins, the price will drop — first from its current lofty house-like height to that of a car, and then hopefully to the equivalent of a household appliance. Read on for what we'd use our robot for around the house and kitchen.
5. Chopping onions. Our crying days will be over the instant our PR2 arrives, blade in hand, knife skills software thoroughly installed. As our little dude works — dicing, mincing, and shaving — we will drink a beer on the couch. This brings us to the next item on our list.
4. Fetching/pouring beer. Much as our first child will quickly learn how to open the fridge and grab dad a cold one, the PR2 will be well-trained in the simple science of selecting a chilled bottle, popping off the top, and ferrying it into the bedroom or living room, where the designated target of instant refreshment will be kicking back, reading or watching a program. The Willow Garage people are all over this one. Just check the embedded video.
3. Stirring. Man, we love risotto. The only problem is, stirring for 20 minutes straight puts a cramp in our post-work lounging (as well as our wrists). With the PR2, we'll roll in, saute for a few minutes, get the stock going, add the rice to the pan with the butter, hand our robot a bottle of wine and a wooden spoon, and get over to that couch with a cold beer.
2. Scrubbing pans. Washing dishes, obviously, is robot territory. Really we would prefer to leave any sort of cleaning to our PR2. However, the worst dish-washing involves large, heavy roasting pans that are covered in that kind of thick, black, lava-like layer of burnt crust that requires heavy-duty, back-into-it scrubbing. The robot can soak, the robot can scrub. We'll be in bed, foamer on a coaster.
1. Hangover Nurse. We're starting to think this robot-owning experience is just going to make us drink more. If that's the case, we'll graduate up to the hard stuff before long, and eventually, we'll take things too far and end up with a crushing hangover. When that happens, the PR2 will hum over to our deathbed with a tray held aloft: two Aleve, a bottle of Gatorade, a tall icy glass of sparkling water, lightly buttered toast, a dill pickle (our personal remedy), and a cool compress for our aching face.