10 Future Home Innovations ... That Weren't


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Domestic Robots
Robotic servants are mostly still the stuff of science fiction.
Robotic servants are mostly still the stuff of science fiction.
James Porto/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

It's impossible for me not to think about "The Jetsons" when I ponder homes of the future. Jane Jetson would often complain about the housework, while sitting in her chair, pushing buttons and watching their robot maid, Rosie, scurry around the apartment taking care of the chores. More than once I've thought to myself, "Where's my Rosie?" It was one of those things that was right around the corner, and yet never happened. You can buy a robot to vacuum, mop your floor or mow your lawn, and there are prototypes that fold laundry or iron clothes, but that's it. No cooking, no window-washing, no bathroom cleaning. Why not?

There are plenty of workhorse robots; car assembly lines are full of robots, and they're used to diffuse bombs and perform microsurgery. Robots in the home, though, are still mostly limited to entertainment purposes. An article by Bill Gates in Scientific American a few years ago mentions that one of the problems is a lack of standardization, both hardware and software. It's also really proving difficult to teach robots to do human-like things, such as telling the difference between a door and a window or understanding and responding accurately to speech.

Improvements in wireless technology and voice recognition, as well as decreasing costs of hardware, may mean that your robot maid will eventually take over the drudgery. In the meantime, you can check your e-mail on your refrigerator's WiFi-enabled LCD panel while you're cleaning the kitchen to help pass the time.

Author's Note: 10 Future Home Innovations … That Weren't

I remember seeing shorts and clips of various futuristic home models as a kid. They were set in the 1950s and full of sunny optimism. I knew then that a lot of the features would never come to pass, but they also showed things, like microwave ovens, that were sitting in my house at that very moment. I didn't realize then, though, that many of those shorts were supposed to be depicting the very time in which I was watching them. Crazy, huh? These days, I love watching those same films online. They're cute, quaint and sometimes outright laughable, but there's something fun about them, too. For every amazing new breakthrough, there are multiple missteps and failures, but it's all a learning process.

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