Nothing says luxury like useless gadgets. Then again, it's hard to argue a robot able to bring you beer, clean your pool or scoop out the gutters isn't a luxury--especially considering the most advanced personal robot on this list will cost you $400,000. Don't worry, though, there are plenty of options for robot-lovers with less than $300 to spend.
Your Own Personal Avatar
Anybots' QB actually lets the user become the robot itself--in a manner of speaking. Equipped with speaker, microphone, camera and video screen, the $15,000 QB acts as a long-distance surrogate, controlled remotely by the user through a desktop browser. Perfect for the domestic exec who wants to oversee outsourced factory line production, or the lazy engineer who wants to stay in his pajamas for work.
Getting to Know Your Robot
In conjunction with the MIT Media Lab, Kailas Narendran and John McBean of Xitome Design built the MDS (Mobile Dexterous Social Robot). Part of what drives Narendran's research is studying the gestural components of human communication, and how our interaction with robots can teach us more about ourselves.
The iPhone of Robots?
Like the iPhone, it's not the hardware that makes Willow Garage's $400,000 PR2 interesting. It's the software. A team led by Keenan Wyrobek and Eric Berger has also built software, dubbed the Robot Operating System, and is encouraging developers to use it to create applications for their robots, such as folding towels, sorting mail and fetching beer.
The Neatnik Dog Owner's Best Friend
The Roomba has been around for years. First sold in 2002, the squat, circular vacuums bounced from wall to wall and navigated around furniture. What separates the robots from mere novelty items, however, is their staying power. iRobot has kept cranking out fresh iterations, and now has a whole line of Roombas built to vacuum up after pets. The $499 Roomba 572 pet series has 3 cleaning bins and an extra set of brushes, and can be programmed to sweep up as many as 7 times a week. Good robot.
A competitor to Anybots' QB, the Vgo is marketed at a lower price point--a third of QB's asking price, at $4,995. Vgo Communications' "active presence" offering has been marketed to the health care industry and to college professors who don't want to cancel class when they're out of town.
Get Out of the Gutter
If you've ever cleaned out your gutters, you know iRobot's $129 Looj is a true luxury. The two-inch high robot is built to scoot down gutters, blasting away leaves and debris with its flail-like, whirling tip, while brushing away sludge and dirt as it scoots down a gutter and back. That'll save you more than a few trips up and down the ladder. It might even save your neck.
Robot Pool Guy
While iRobot offers robots that will vacuum your house, wash your floors, clean your gutters and sweep up your shop, it's water-going pool robots are the most fun. The catch? The top-of-the-line model costs $999
The Ultimate Luxury: Not Getting Killed
These sturdy robots are a staple for law enforcement and military ages. These iRobots are meant for consumers, but offer a peek at what the high-end luxury robots of the future might offer. The robots can retrace their paths when they've moved too far from an operator, right themselves when knocked over, grip objects with their sophisticated arms and scout out-of-the-way locations with their onboard cameras. They offer the ultimate luxury: a robot you can send into harm's way instead of a buddy.
R2-D2, Behave Yourself!
No, it won't clean your gutters or detect bombs, but this novelty item from Hammacher Schlemmer will amuse. The $199 droid will obey 40 voice commands, play games and even follow you around the house. It will even act as a guard robot. Just be careful: This little droid can act up too (though demanding "behave yourself" will bring it around).
Roll Your Own Robot
Want to make your kid work for it? Get the kid a Mindstorms NXT. This toy has become a nerdy favorite. At the heart of the kit is a "microcomputer brick" that can be programmed with Lego's drag-and-drop software. The kit includes everything you need to get started--except, well, batteries. Lego also sells a wide range of accessories for builders who have managed to create a few basic robots and want to do more.