The chances of having an obedient robot do unwelcome or dangerous jobs have increased tremendously, with orders for industrial robots rising to a record 18 per cent in the first half of this year, a new report co-sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) says.
In the home, by the end of 2003, about 610,000 autonomous vacuum cleaners and lawn-mowers were in operation, the report says. Between 2004 and 2007, more than 4 million new units could be added, it adds.
The survey, called World Robotics 2004 and produced by the ECE and the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), says the prices of the robots in proportion to human labour costs has fallen from 100 in 1990 to 15 for "radically improved robots" in Germany and to 12 of similarly high quality in North America.
The report was produced for a conference at the UN complex in Geneva today called "A Robot in Every Home?" accompanied by a robot exhibition on the lawn there.
"Falling or stable robot prices, increasing labour costs and continuously improved technology are major driving forces which speak for continued massive robot investment in industry," says Jan Karlsson, who is responsible for the annual survey.
Right now Japan uses about 320 robots of all sorts per 10,000 employees, while Germany uses 148 industrial robots per 10,000 robots, Italy 116, Sweden 99 and between 50 and 80 each in the United States, Finland, France, Spain, Austria, Denmark and Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
In the car industry, there is one robot per 10 workers in Japan, Italy and Germany, it says.
Among the service robots, "medical robots, underwater robots, surveillance robots, demolition robots and many other types of robots for carrying out a multitude of tasks are doing very well," the report says.
In the long run, service robots will be everyday tools for mankind, the ECE and IFR say. "They will not only clean our floors, mow our lawns and guard our homes but they will also assist old and handicapped people with sophisticated interactive equipment, carry out surgery, inspect pipes and sites that are hazardous to people, fight fire and bombs and be used in many other applications."