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Surveillance and Companion Robots -- Maybe not a Christmas present just yet

I have been searching the web for robots that could be useful to seniors -- today. Yeah, I know that's a tall order. So much research, so few commercial products, and I really don't want to count the companion toy dogs. And while vacuum cleaners and floor washers are interesting and available through Target, they're not quite what I had in mind for helping seniors stay safely in their homes. And the research programs, funded by every company (including Toyota, Sony, etc., etc. and its mother, don't seem to have commercial product near ready. 

I was hoping to check out iRobot ConnectR, a cute thing dubbed a 'virtual visiting robot', promised in 2008, but apparently not available yet.

iRobot ConnectRSeems to be for the young and the flexible -- since to communicate through it, all the pictures I've seen show folks sitting on the floor.

So I looked around for what is on the market. My thinking: with more frail seniors staying in the homes they can't sell, there ought to be some useful robots out there that techie adult children could configure and use. Maybe it could keep an eye on various parts of the house when no one's home. or as this description notes: "patrol a pre-programmed path and check for intruders."  

WowWee RovioIt's a Hong Kong-made product, that costs $299.99 in quantities of one and can be found in an online robot shop (and community). Under a category of 'surveillance and companion' robots, it's called the WowWee Rovio Mobile Webcam, which frankly, from my admittedly novice knowledge, actually could be useful. A patrol path could include the back door, but also could take a look at the refrigerator or kitchen table or door area.  Can't say the thing is unobtrusive, though. This is a pretty interesting-looking concept but not necessarily ready for mom or dad's apartment -- frankly I would find it terrifying to have it revved up remotely by one of my relatives. Please call first.

For those trying to imagine the next new robot thing, there's the uBOT-5 from a research program at the University of Massachussetts. I won't paste the picture in -- just too scary. If you're familiar with a really-useful robot available now that could enable boomers or their parents to feel safer about the home environment, please let me know.