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Robots advance, consumers stall

More robots are in the marketplace but a 'Frankenstein complex' prevents their wide acceptance, among other things.

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I Do Floors: The Scooba, designed by iRobot, washes and dries tile and hardwood floors automatically.

Joanne Ciccarello - Staff

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Fifty-one years after the first commercial robot went to work, the United States is approaching a tipping point: Within a decade, observers say, the average American household will include one or two simple robots. And though they may not look like the ones imagined in science fiction, these robots – some available now – will play pervasive roles in the lives of regular consumers, says Lee Gutkind, author of "Almost Human: Making Robots Think."

Especially after the past decade's technological breakthroughs and continuing research, robots are primed to enter the consumer marketplace. "There are still a number of hard problems to be solved, but we've solved some of the fundamental problems," says Paolo Pirjanian, chief scientist at Evolution Robotics Inc., in Pasadena, Calif.

But as roboticists prepare to unleash their creations, they're confronted with a hurdle perhaps more daunting than the technical ones they've already cleared: consumer readiness – which includes such factors as skepticism, unrealistic expectations, confusion about what makes a robot, and a "Frankenstein complex," or the fear of robots.

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