Rise of the Machines: can home robots really make our lives easier?

T3 undertakes the ultimate Man vs Tech in a quest to find out

Just a few years ago, the idea of home robots that could help with your chores and entertain you in your home was ludicrous – it was the pure fantasy of Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons. But today, home automation is one of the biggest areas of tech – as are robots that can give you answers, do your chores, provide entertainment and very much not kill you in your sleep. So it’s now up to me to laden my house with AI, seeing if the latest in home robotics, from gigantic humanoids to voice controllers, can make my life easier, increase my knowledge and bring me a bit of fun along the way. hey, I might even make a new robotic friend (maybe I’ll call him Johnny Six). All within a day. Let’s call it ‘A day in the life of Rob and his Rob-Bots’.

Google it

Let’s start with something small – but something that offers a wide-range of entertainment and knowledge: Google Home. Whilst I wouldn’t exactly class this as a robot, it is a very smart personal assistant that can provide answers for everything. It’s triggered by the familiar ‘OK Google’ command (so bear that in mind if you have an Android phone). So I start by asking “OK Google, tell me the news”. As more Trump controversy is read out I quiet it by desperately yelling “OK Google, Stop”, before asking it to play Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips as I devour my cornflakes. Luckily, now being unemployed, I don’t have much in my calendar today – something Google Home tells me in what seems like a rather glib way (alright Google, don’t rub it in).

But I can’t just sit in my pants waiting for Judge Rinder, there’s stuff to be done in the house today. Namely some vacuuming. I hate vacuuming. With a passion. But the crumb level is looking worse than sweepings at the Hobnob factory so it’s time to clean up. Nestled away in the corner of my room is the Neato Botvac Connected, and thanks to Alexa support I don’t even need to drag my lazy arse off the sofa – just lift my feet up when it scoots past. I do have to enable the ‘Skill’ in the Alexa app on my iPhone, but that literally takes minutes. So I mute the TV for a bit and say “Alexa, ask Neato to start cleaning”. The familiar blue ring lights up on my Echo and the Neato Bot starts. I can pause it and return it to its base by similar commands – something I do when I’ve had enough of the noise and an interesting storyline crops up on Jeremy Kyle (I can’t believe he’s not the real dad!). I can also ask Alexa to make me coffee, thanks to the Smarter coffee machine.

Man's best friend

To be fair, though, this unemployment lark is a tad dull. I need some companionship. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a real dog (I’d have to vacuum more, for a start). The next best thing is CHiP, an app-controlled robot dog that is, trust us, a lot better than it sounds. With the smart band on as well this little iPooch will follow you around and recognise you – and come to you when you call it. It’ll even play with a smart ball. The sensor on CHiP’s head enables you to pet it and it reacts accordingly.

As much fun as CHiP is, I’d better leave the house at least once today. Once again I fire up my phone, open up the Ninebot app and summon my Ninebot miniPRO from across the room. Using the app, I can control it completely remotely, as well as measure my riding distance. The ultimate in laziness, I ride it to my front door, out into the corridor, into the lift, out again, into the supermarket, down the pasty isle, Apple Pay at the checkout, back out, through the doors, into the lift, in the front door, over to the sofa, and dismount. It took more effort for me to write that sentence than go down the shops. It takes a little getting used to the Ninebot miniPRO, and it’s not strictly legal to ride it on the streets of the UK, but that pasty had my name on it.

All this sitting and Ninebotting around is gonna get me even fatter than I already am. But exercising alone ain’t no fun, is it? I have another little buddy I can call on to help me out with this – the Ubtech Alpha 1s. Now, I have to be honest, I’ve never exercised… with a robot before. Again to the iPhone, starting an exercise routine that the Alpha rips through as I’m sweating. It even does one-armed push-ups to reinforce how weedy and unfit I am. The robot will also read stories and dance around – so I put on a silly dance routine. Who looks like the idiot now, Metal Mickey?

It’s evening now, and the new T3 team are paying me a visit to see how I’m getting on with my new robot friends. And boy do I have a surprise for them! I crack open a bottle of the finest Cava (they won’t know the difference, trust me) and some mini poppadoms. The doorbell goes and I have a surprise for them. Their faces turn to a blend of sheer joy with utter terror as out comes Pepper. This £17k humanoid robot doesn’t do chores or anything, but it’s cracking company. It recognises emotions, and you can pretty much have a full conversation with it – it gesticulating with unbelievable fluidity. The team all have a chat and even a little dance with Pepper.

As the team leave and I ask Google to play Short Circuit on Netflix on my smart TV, I think about how these robots will make a difference to my life on a daily basis. With a flux of new ones appearing such as Kuri, Buddy and more, it’s an incredibly exciting time. Whilst I could do with a few more chore-focused machines, I’ve made a friend in Pepper and my days sitting around the house with no one to talk to are almost over. Until he runs out of batteries, I guess.

Thanks very much to GWS Robotics for bringing its Pepper robot around to Rob’s pad for the evening. GWS Robotics are specialist developers of custom applications for the SoftBank Pepper robot. Find out more about its services on its official website.