Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, author, and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a WRAL TechWire contributor. Bryan takes a serious and entertaining look at the infinite possibilities of the planet and humanity. He is also the author of The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threat. This column is a duplicate. Marshall will return after the holiday.
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Raleigh – Let’s sit back for a moment and ponder this question: “What is the greatest consumer product of all time?”
- Is it a car?
- Is it TV?
- Is it a smartphone?
- Is it air conditioner?
Would make a great box for a washing machine. In fact, Hans Rosling has a great TED talk about the importance of washing machines to modern life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sqnptxlCcw
This is the next question to ponder: If we wanted to imagine the next great invention in consumer goods, what would it be? If we look to the future, what is the next big thing that everyone wants to buy?
I’m here to tell you: it’s going to be a humanoid robot in a maid costume. It’s going to be an affordable, general-purpose cleaning robot for the home.
We call it the CleanTron 5000.
What does CleanTron 5000 do?
Just imagine what the CleanTron 5000 Universal Cleaning Robot will be able to do.
The first thing to do is to wash the dishes. Once you’ve made a dirty dish, either put it on the table and walk away (like you would in a sit-down restaurant), or put it in the sink (as many of us have gotten into the habit of doing it). The CleanTron 5000 detects dirty dishes and places them in the dishwasher or collects them for a batch of hand washing. When the dishes are clean and dry, the CleanTron 5000 automatically puts them away. The CleanTron 5000 also keeps items such as tables, countertops and doorknobs clean and germ-free.
Next is to clean the bathroom. Have you ever been on a cruise ship where your housekeeper cleans and resets the bathroom twice a day? Toilets, sinks and showers were always spotless. The CleanTron 5000 can do the same for you at home. Do you have to wash your towels every time you use them? The CleanTron 5000 has a setting. Or do you prefer to wash less towels to save water and energy? CleanTron 5000 will be happy to accommodate your preferences.
The CleanTron 5000 can make your bed every morning when you wake up. You either get clean sheets every day, or (like towels) you may want to change them once or twice a week to save water and energy. You can adjust your settings at any time in the CleanTron 5000 app.
Of course, the CleanTron 5000 can handle all your laundry too. You leave your dirty clothes on the floor or throw them in the laundry basket. The CleanTron 5000 collects dirty laundry, washes, folds or hangs it, and puts it away.
Another problem the CleanTron 5000 solves is clutter. Who wants to take the time to put something away when you have something to use? The CleanTron 5000 solves this problem by putting everything back in place every day. The best part is that the CleanTron 5000 has a complete inventory of every item in your home. If you can’t remember where you put something, the CleanTron 5000 can find it for you.
Then there are various other cleaning tasks. The CleanTron 5000 can take out the trash once or twice a day. The CleanTron 5000 can sweep and vacuum all your floors while you’re away. Mop floors in kitchens and bathrooms on any schedule you like. The CleanTron 5000 can handle all dust collection around the house. It also keeps furniture clean, vacuums under sofas, between cushions, and fluffs pillows. Your furniture will always look new in the showroom.
In other words, 100% of the time, your home will look like it could have been photographed in a modern home magazine.
Additional features of the CleanTron 5000
The features above are standard features of the CleanTron 5000. But what if you need additional functionality? Add-on modules allow you to extend its functionality.
Chef mode enables the CleanTron 5000 to cook all meals to your perfect specifications. It’s like having a world famous chef at your beck and call. Tell your CleanTron 5000 what meal or snack you want. It pulls ingredients from pantry and refrigerator, chops and preps them, seasons and cooks them expertly, and serves them like a waiter in a fine-dining restaurant. The CleanTron 5000 can also order everything you need using your favorite shopping app, so you never have to go to the grocery store again.
The Yard Care Attachment enables your CleanTron 5000 to handle all normal lawn and garden tasks. It mows grass, trims edges, trims shrubs, removes weeds from lawns and garden beds, applies mulch, and sweeps driveways and sidewalks. Your yard will be the envy of the neighborhood.
Adding a houseplant module allows the CleanTron 5000 to professionally care for all your different houseplants. They will be professionally watered, fertilized and cared for.
Car Detail Attachments let the CleanTron 5000 keep your car as clean as your home.
What if you want a new look? The Upholstery module lets the CleanTron 5000 paint your walls, buy better art, and even upgrade your furniture. Simply set your budget in the app, configure your preferences, and the CleanTron 5000 will keep you updated with the latest trends.
When will the CleanTron 5000 be available?
Think about all the time you’re currently wasting keeping your home clean. Between doing the dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning, going to the bathroom, and straightening clothes, a lot of time can go into each week, especially if you have kids in the house. When the CleanTron 5000 does all the cooking and cleaning, we’re talking about saving you 10 or 20 hours a week of your life. When the CleanTron 5000 takes care of the cleaning, the job is done more thoroughly. Imagine a home that is 100% spotless 100% of the time.
If the CleanTron 5000 worked as described here and was available at any reasonable price, it’s easy to imagine most American households buying one almost immediately. The CleanTron 5000 seems like a complete no-brainer. How else could you take back so much of your life?
Think of how many family disputes could be eliminated by this one invention. No more arguing about whose turn it is to clean the toilet, do the laundry or cook tonight. The CleanTron 5000 does it all, so you and your partner can relax and enjoy life.
The only question that remains is, “When?” When will this wonderful invention show up at Walmart or Costco?
The technology isn’t quite there yet, but we’re getting closer to it every day. These 7 videos can help you see the progress being made:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF4DML7FIWk – This video shows how agile a humanoid robot can be in walking, running and jumping.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKCVol2iWcc – This video shows where robotic chef technology is headed.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cgxsv1riJhI – This video shows you how computer vision has progressed.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guDIwspRGJ8 – This video shows a robotic hand gaining strength.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jc6iQZN-uA – This video shows a robot learning to fold clothes.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwSbzNHGflM – This video demonstrates the dexterity of a robotic hand.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OHILYjsW7c – This video shows how far robotic facial expressions have come.
What we can imagine is a fusion of all these different capabilities, and the necessary algorithms to accomplish different common cleaning tasks. Getting robots to do tasks like loading and unloading dishwashers or washing machines is “difficult” today. But technology is advancing so fast that we can imagine CleanTron 5000 products being around in five to ten years.
CleanTron 5000 Side Effects
An interesting issue to consider when considering the CleanTron 5000 is side effects. What impact would we see in the economy if, say, half or more of American households owned such a robot?
One effect is to free up new blocks of time for other activities. Once the CleanTron 5000 completes all cleaning tasks, it seems to create at least ten hours of free time per week. How will millions of people spend this free time?
If the CleanTron 5000 took care of all the cooking, we might expect a drop in the incidence of foodborne illness. According to this article: “CDC estimates that 48 million people in the United States get sick each year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illness.”
Will people use personal robot chefs to cook healthier or less healthy meals? Hard to say. But if people use robot chefs to prepare healthier meals, obesity rates could drop, leading to better health outcomes for millions of people.
If robot chefs could prepare restaurant-quality meals at home for only the cost of the ingredients, we might expect people to use delivery services and restaurants much less frequently. The difference in cost alone can make homemade meals the preferred choice. As a result, restaurant traffic could drop significantly. Currently, the restaurant industry employs approximately 12 million people. A dramatic reduction in restaurant visits could eliminate half the jobs. Then restaurants can also replace employees with robots. Maybe 10 million people lost their jobs in the process?
A general-purpose humanoid robot platform may also be good for other jobs. For example, in any retail store, these robots can easily handle tasks like restocking shelves and cleaning floors. Cleaning and housekeeping jobs (such as in hotels and nursing homes) will disappear when robots start doing all the work. As a result, the economy could lose millions of additional jobs in the process.
If the emergence of CleanTron 5000 capabilities coincides with the realization of true self-driving car and self-driving truck technology, it is conceivable that as many as 20 million jobs in the US economy could be lost in a relatively short period of time. The economy currently employs about 160 million people, so this could represent a loss of 12% of jobs.
In the end, people who still have jobs are likely to be happier. This is probably the best part of the CleanTron 5000 revolution. As noted in the top video about washing machines, few people enjoy wasting time on boring, repetitive and pointless cleaning tasks. Creating joy by eliminating these cleaning chores may be the best outcome.