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Was there a robot in your stocking?

From the very affordable Robomop (Amazon, £30) to Attacknid, the shooting spider, and a robotic golf club carrier, the CaddyTrek, whatever your interest or inclination, there was a robot for everybody this Christmas. 

And if those are a little basic, how about Hexy, a six-legged, crablike creature which can navigate its own environment . On sale for under £300. And if Arcbiotics, the company that produces him, have their way, there will be a veritable tsunami of robotic gadgets next year. The company’s ambition is to become the Ikea of robotics.

By using free software and moulding the plastic parts locally in Massachusetts, rather than China, Arcbiotics has been able to lower its prices to the extent that Jo Public can now afford his own slice of Things to Come

Since the 1960s, robots have slowly assumed major roles in industry, the remote detonation of explosives, search and rescue, and academic research. But lack of affordability and practicality has meant that they’ve been out of reach for the average consumer.

A lot of people believe that's now going to change with the mass production of smartphones and game consoles, which has driven down the size and price of robotic components like accelerometers, gyroscopes and sensors.

Although, we’re still some years away from useful personal robots making pervasive appearances in our homes, Willow Garage, a Californian robotics firm, are selling a two-armed, 5-foot-4 inch rolling robot called the PR2. A video on their website demonstrates it obligingly fetching a cold beer. Tempting but the price tag is more than the average house.  

Somewhat more affordable are robot lawnmowers. The Automower, made by Husqvarna, a Swedish company, uses GPS and can recogniae and return to narrow, hard-to-reach parts of lawns and gardens, ensuring that no areas are missed. However, it’s still relatively expensive at €1,500, a similar price to the CaddyTrek, although both are apparently selling well.

But it’s the vacum cleaner market, where consumer robotics has really taken off, led by iRobot, a firm founded by three former employees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

For quite a few of us though, that may sou d a little dull so what about your own personal AR Drone 2.0 quadricopter? A flying, smartphone-controlled helicopter, equipped with two onboard video cameras to stream and store video of its flights, can get up to no end of mischief. The device, made by French firm, Parrot, costs €300 and more than 250,000 units have sold in the last two years. 

 
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