These machines have a built-in screen and camera and are essentially mobile video-chatting terminals that can be controlled from thousands of miles away. Soon, Mr. Cousins said, these gadgets will be given more functional bodies, including arms, so they can interact in a physical space.
“Today’s telepresence robots let you be somewhere,” he said. “When you add arms to these things, they will let you act somewhere, too.” He added, “I think these robots are going to be huge as they let people warp space and time, letting them be somewhere that they’re not, without the cost and time of a flight.”
Robert S. Bauer, an executive director at Willow Garage, pointed out that computers were once seen as exotic machines. In the early 1970s, he said, Xerox Parc developed a series of sophisticated computers that cost several hundred thousand dollars. But these innovative machines paved the way for today’s personal computers. “Now, 40 years later, everyone has a PC and smartphone in their home and office,” Dr. Bauer said. “The same is happening now with robots.”
He predicted that the first wave of robots would most likely become “the body for people with physical disabilities.” Wounded warriors, quadriplegics and people with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative nerve disability, will be able to interact with the physical world by controlling a robot, he said.