Few people rate kitchen cleaning among life’s highlights. To combat our dislike for dirty dishes, a group of veteran Silicon Valley engineers started the Readybot Robot Challenge aimed at constructing a general-purpose mobile robot capable of cleaning the kitchen.
Ten years since it began, the Readybot Robot Challenge has now released a preview video of its kitchen-cleaning robot prototype. The hilarious amateur video is accompanied, by cheery music that could have featured in a 1960s laundry soap commercial. Reminiscent of R2D2 from Star Wars, the Readybot prototype is basically a white enamel box with wheels, two human-sized arms and retro chrome styling. “Like a dishwasher, but with arms,” joke the designers. The unit fits neatly in the same counter space as a dishwasher and after activation, rolls out, deploys several antenna-like cameras, and raises itself up to human height to begin work. Slowly but steadily, it picks up cups, bowls, and plates, dumps food, loads the dishwasher, scrapes and scrubs the countertop. When needed, it grabs one of several custom tools to scrub, sponge, or maneuver.
The goal of the project is to see how much of an average kitchen such a robot can clean. Readybot can currently perform 30-40% of common daily chores and the team believes that with additional programming, that can increase to 50% in another year and eventually 80%. According, to Team Leader, Tom Benson, “Really, most of this technology is already available, it’s just a question of how many people you can get writing software.” The prototype Readybot is designed primarily as a proof-of-concept for general public and trade fair demonstrations. The Readybot that will eventually be made for the consumer market is intended to be a general-purpose, moderate-dexterity robot built with commonly available components and software so it is capable of being mass-produced.
The Readybot project is a non-profit effort similar to the DARPA Grand Challenge robot car race in that it inspires breakthroughs in robotics applications. Part of the group’s motivation is the lack of new workers entering markets such as Japan and parts of Europe, due to falling birthrates. As a result, the group projects that over the next few decades tens of millions of robots will be needed, that are capable of performing menial and repetitive work, in order to keep these economies alive and competitive. The group says that despite government and academic efforts and resources into robot research, there is still no "general purpose" or mass-production robots available for household and commercial use... though we would argue that the growing array of robotic home help products and ideas to grace these pages in recent years suggests that the tide is definitely turning.
The Readybot Challenge team now plans on giving its new creation a paint job and testing it in different kitchens with different layouts as the project continues its path to market.