Remember Rosie, the Jetson’s robot maid? Just like the flying cars and the device that Jane Jetson used to prepare meals without effort, robot maids never materialized in real life. Or at least not yet. George Jetson’s birth date was July 31, 2022, so there’s still a little time.
Still, robot housekeepers are probably not currently far enough advanced to be ready soon. Why not?
One of the main reasons that robots can’t clean a house is that they can’t walk very well. The Roomba and similar robot vacuum cleaners can travel around quite well on their wheels. They’re based on technology used to sweep for landmines, and they do a pretty good job of making their way all over a home.
Some robovacs now come with magnetic tape that you can add to spaces where you’ll know they get stuck, but if you don’t like the look of that (or you have an older robot vacuum cleaner) you just have to rescue them repeatedly when they wedge themselves under the coffee table or approach a spot they perceive as a cliff. Actual cliffs in the form of stairs are impossible for them to navigate.
They’re noisy and can’t adjust to cables and cords, they have been known to track animal messes all over the house, and they run out of juice in the middle of the job fairly frequently. These characteristics come up in military robotic competitions, too.
Videos of robots confidently dancing or doing parkour are showing robots carefully programmed to make a video, plus human video direction and editing skills. They don’t give an accurate picture of how well robots can really navigate.
Robots can assemble hundreds of paper cups an hour, with very few mistakes. But they can’t fold laundry. They can’t load a dishwasher or put away groceries. They just don’t have the ability to handle things with irregular shapes, things that move when you try to manipulate them (like clothes), or things that show up in different positions in different places.
Housekeeping involves a lot of manual dexterity.
Robot mops can mop a floor, but they can’t sanitize that floor. For one thing, a disinfectant is likely to destroy the robomop’s innards, and will definitely void your warranty. But beyond that, sanitizing involves clearing away debris and then spreading a disinfectant and leaving it to dry on the surface. A robot just can’t do that.
Robotic wind washers are not as common as robot vacuums and mops, but they exist. You attach them to the window. They map out your window with sensors and follow a grid pattern much as a robotic does, cleaning the window as they go.
You then must move them to the next window. Once the robot window washer has done all the windows, it must be disassembled and returned to its container. It requires a lot of supervision from a human. In fact, it might be just as fast to wash the window yourself. If you are physically frail, the robot window washer could be a help. Otherwise, not so much.
Robots are also no good at responding to changing situations. Millions of dollars have been spent developing robots that can sort fruit as well as the average five year old human, and it hasn’t happened yet. How can sorting fruit be an example of a changing situation? Well, each strawberry is a slightly different shape and size from the others, and they are dumped on a conveyor belt or growing on a vine, so they are all at slightly different angles from the robot. That’s is enough of a change to defeat a robot.
A robot can’t deal with objects on a coffee table, drawers and cupboards, or a stain on a counter top.
What’s more, once you get beyond vacuuming a bare floor or washing a single window, your robot cannot learn new tasks or even adapt its knowledge to a new situation. The window cleaning robot won’t scrub your shower.
Hiring a human is a more cost-effective solution to your house cleaning needs.