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Dyson wants affordable household robots for all

Sir James Dyson will be investing £5 million into a robotics laboratory with a view to create adaptive, affordable household robots.

Sir James Dyson will be investing £5 million into a robotics laboratory with a view to create adaptive, affordable household robots.

Sir James Dyson. (Credit: Dyson)

Robotic vacuum cleaners are far from perfect. They can self-navigate around spaces, but some require infrared barriers to keep them from going where they oughtn't, and unexpected obstacles can cause problems. It's no surprise, then, that perfectionist inventor Sir James Dyson, pioneer of the cyclone household vacuum cleaner, has not included a robotic version in his stable of products.

But it may not be far off — along with other household robots from the company. Sir Dyson, who has been working with Professor Andrew Davison from the Imperial College London on robotics since 2005, has revealed that this week, he will announce a £5 million investment in a robotics laboratory at the university.

Professor Davison will head up the laboratory, which will employ around 15 scientists. An additional £3 million will be match-funded from additional sources to fund five years of operation.

The team will be tasked with improving robotic vision. Sir Dyson, who declined to release Dyson's robotic vacuum cleaner, the DC06, to the consumer market in 2001 because it was too heavy and complicated, believes that the ability to accurately map its surroundings is the first step in designing a truly autonomous robot.

"Almost anything where you need a human to do it, you could replace that with a robot in the brave new world," Sir Dyson told the Sunday Times. "The key is being able to behave as a human does. Vision is key to it."

Professor Davison specialises in precisely this: simultaneous location and mapping. Once a robot is able to understand its surroundings, it will be able to move around efficiently to perform its tasks.

"Vision is key to creating a robot that can see and think in the way that humans do," Professor Davison told The Guardian. "Combining Dyson expertise in motors, electronics and artificial intelligence we hope to create a new generation of intelligent domestic robots."

Dyson is placing itself to compete against Japanese robotic companies, which have for some time been working to create a robotic household assistant, and internet giant Google, which has been buying up robotics companies for the past year or so. Google has not revealed its plans for those companies, but has stated that it would not be entering any new military contracts after the purchase of Boston Dynamics, which seems to point to consumer development.