Robomop: How Close Are We to a World without Chores? Dyson, the Firm Best Known for Its Bagless Vacuum Cleaners, Now Hopes to Be a Market Leader in Robot Domestics. Darren Devine Asks How Close Are We to the Promised Land of Computerised Cleaners Making Housework a Thing of the Past?

Article excerpt

IT'S a vision pedalled by science fiction writers for decades. A moment far into the future when an army of happy robot slaves would free us from daily chores.

Vacuuming firm Dyson indicated they believe the moment - or something like it - is fast approaching. Inventor Sir James Dyson has said "previously unthinkable technologies" may be possible if robots could see what was happening around them.

The entrepreneur, 66, famous for inventing the bagless Dyson vacuum, said "mastering this will make our lives easier".

Dyson is investing PS5m into a joint robotics lab with Imperial College London for research focusing on vision systems.

It is hoped this will lead to new robotic capabilities - creating a generation of robots that understand the world around them and can intelligently interact.

Sir James said: "My generation believed the world would be overrun by robots by the year 2014. We now have the mechanical and electronic capabilities, but robots still lack understanding - seeing and thinking in the way we do.

"Mastering this will make our lives easier and lead to previously unthinkable technologies."

Dyson has been researching robotics for the past 15 years, and since 2005 it has been working with Imperial College and Professor Andrew Davison to develop machines that use vision to navigate surroundings.

Robotic vacuum cleaners are one area of study, alongside research into other types of domestic robots.

Professor Davison said: "A truly intelligent domestic robot needs to complete complex everyday tasks while adapting to a constantly changing environment.

"We will research and develop systems that allow machines to both understand and perceive their surroundings - using vision to achieve it."

Psychologist Tom Stewart, the founder of technology firm System Concepts, said robots that look and act like humans are a "long way away".

Mr Stewart believes huge effort has been wasted by scientists creating robots that walk no better than a toddler, instead of spending time on developing machines to perform useful tasks like carpet cleaning or mowing the lawn. …