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Intelligent Machines

Toyota’s Home Helper Is a Glimpse of Our Robot-Assisted Future

A machine that can fetch a drink of water and open doors has made one paralyzed man’s life a little easier.

Romulo Camargo is a U.S. Army veteran who was paralyzed below the neck during an ambush in Afghanistan. Unable to perform everyday tasks for himself, he’s recently received a little help from a robot.

As The Verge notes, Toyota’s Human Support Robot has already been tested in hospitals in Japan, where the company plans to build and sell machines to help care for an aging population. But Camargo is the first person in North America to have one of the firm’s devices roam about his private home, which is a challenging environment for a robot tasked with handling everyday objects.

The robot itself is beckoned by Camargo, who taps a stylus held in his mouth on the screen of a tablet. Then the robot will, say, bring him a bottle of water and raise it so that he can drink from it. “Those are the most important tasks I do throughout the day, and the robot will do it for me,” says Camargo. “You know, that’s something huge.”

It’s still a fairly limited device: it has to use QR tags to identify objects in the relatively cluttered environment of a home, and the number of tasks it can perform makes for a rather short list, as you can see in the video above. But it does hint at the possibilities that will be provided to elderly and disabled people by robots in the future, and it demonstrates that the state of the art has advanced significantly.

The personal robotics industry is set to grow swiftly in the coming years. It is estimated that it will be worth as much as $34 billion by 2022, growing almost 40 percent per year until then. That big an opportunity has industrial-robot makers like Kuka eyeing the market.

But beyond the financial incentive, such advances promise to change the lives of many people. Camargo sums it up neatly: “This is, you know, a big game-changer for everybody that has a disability.”

(Read more: The Verge, “Industrial-Robot Firm Kuka Looks to Automate the Home,” “Personal Robots: Artificial Friends with Limited Benefits,” “Meet Toyota's Robotic Nurses”)

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