In 2006 Bill Gates asked us to imagine being present at the birth of a new industry where we would have a robot in every home (Scientific American 1986). Gates believed that the robotic revolution—culminating in consumer-centric robot products—was well within our reach and could happen fairly quickly if the right community could be mobilized. He believes by 2030 the home robot industry will be one of the biggest in the world. Consumer research indicates that people would be more willing to pay for a home robot than a car (of course depending on what the robot can do).
Today that work continues not only by the Robotics Team at Microsoft but at a variety of institutions such as MIT and Carnegie Mellon. There are a significant number of business and academic robot development projects underway around the world aimed at topics ranging from helping people to lose weight, with a robot that sits on the kitchen counter, to geriatric robots that increase interaction and improve health through small soft plush robots.
Before the idea of a robot in every home seems too much like science fiction, let’s remember what we have learned from the microchip industry. The cramming of more transistors onto a microchip (Moore’s Law) accelerated significantly more than anyone could have imagined back in the 1960’s. Just as computers have rearranged our lives, machine interaction through robots can be expected to do the same. As a sign that the technology is entering the landscape of commercial opportunity, terms like “bit flips” (refers to processing speed) will enter the innovator’s vocabulary.
A core competency of the innovator must be foresight–the ability to see out along the horizon and understand the implications of emerging science and emerging trends on markets. If Bill Gates is right and by 2020 there will be a significant market in home robots, then every industry should consider how this will impinge on its business to either generate new dollars or take dollars away.
You can start now by brainstorming the ways your market could leverage a home robot to improve quality or increase value for your customer. Focus on the everyday tasks that people would want to hand over to a robot or interactions they would enjoy with a robot for advice or companionship. Behavior change is an area that robots can assist with for both adults and children. If you can generate meaningful ideas for your business then you need to allocate resources to track this technology and understand its market potential.
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Donna Sturgess is the President and Co-founder of Buyology Inc and former Global Head of Innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Her latest book is Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive