I found myself referencing a cartoon from the 1960s at the world's biggest tech conference in 2018. I hadn't even watched an episode of "The Jetsons" in years, but the whimsical future imagined by that classic Hanna-Barbera show remains a handy benchmark for our present-day inventions.
In particular, a robot called reminded me of the show's Rosie the Robot. Rosie was a home helper that could clean up, take care of the kids, and hold a conversation. In addition to sentient, helpful robots, "The Jetsons" also features flying cars, meals you can make at the push of a button, even machines to help you brush your teeth.
Almost everything in "The Jetsons" was automated, saving the human characters from lots of menial tasks. Perhaps that's why the show has persisted as a frame of reference, especially for the smart home and robots. The tech in "The Jetsons" was all created for entertainment, but the ideals behind that tech ring true to the purpose of a lot of inventions we saw at CES some 50-odd years after "The Jetsons" first aired. Now that CES is behind us, how close are we to that show's idealized version of the future?
Computers that can do it all -- we've got them
Like I said, I hadn't actually watched "The Jetsons" in a long time when I was on the floor at CES, so I rewatched the pilot and marveled at a few of the ideas on display. For starters, Jane Jetson calls her mom, not on a telephone but on a TV screen, so they can chat via video. Not only that, characters communicate using their watches. George Jetson is also able to search and find his favorite newspaper using a small computer, then he can just pull it up onto a separate screen.
Given that you're likely reading this article on your computer, your tablet, your phone or even your watch, none of those concepts should sound unattainable.
Automated everything -- we're pretty close
Before Rosie comes along in the first episode, Jane Jetson plays the part of the dutiful homemaker by cooking and cleaning up after the family. Each of her tasks involves pushing a series of buttons. She has to push separate buttons to do the washing, ironing and vacuuming. The main kitchen appliance has two large columns of buttons that she pushes to create a variety of instant meals.
The idea of automated chores drives a lot of modern smart-home tech. However, the buttons-for-everything idea from "The Jetsons" has been replaced with a current trend of voice controls for everything. Thanks to Amazon's Apple's , you can utter a command to turn on the lights, lock the doors, change the temperature and even start the robot vacuum. Scratch that one off your "Jetsons" wish list., , and
At CES 2018, voice controls were even more ubiquitous. You'll soon be able to give a voice command to youror your to control the rest of the devices in your home. The bathroom got smarter, with and that know how much water you want for your bath. We even saw a .
As for preparing a full meal in a snap, smart appliances aren't quite there yet, but they still took strides in the right direction at CES. Like everything else, you can now control smart appliances from most major brands with your voice. Whirlpool showed off a that doubles as a convection oven -- getting that much closer to an all-in-one machine that can cook any meal.
Your fridge can't yet transport ingredients to your oven, but Whirlpool just developedvia the camera on your phone. Yummly will then recommend recipes involving that food and conform those recipes to your dietary restrictions.
LG unveiled an that could help bridge what we have now to the future of "The Jetsons." Cloi, via the LG Hub Robot, can , then start preheating your oven when you know what you want to cook. You'll still need to do the cooking, but machines that can recognize food and appliances that talk to each other could help make that necessity a thing of the past.
Robot helpers -- making progress
At last year's CES, I noted that. This year, one product brought nearly all of those pieces together -- .
In concept, Aeolus basically is Rosie the Robot, and I was quite enthralled by all the tasks Aeolus could theoretically accomplish around the house. Aeolus recognizes faces and responds to voice commands. Aeolus has a touchscreen if you want a more tangible means of interaction. It's a mobile robot with wheels and a body that raises and lowers so it can reach high places.
More importantly, Aeolus can map your home, remember what objects look like, and associate those objects with a place in your home. Aeolus can pick up a mess by putting objects away. It has arms that move and allow it to grip so it could grab you a beer from the fridge. Its arms could even allow it to grab a vacuum and clean up. Aeolus is awesome.
It's also huge, and I'd imagine seeing Aeolus roll to you slowly at night while extending that can of beer you asked for would be a rather harrowing experience. Aeolus is still very much a prototype, and it'll be prohibitively expensive when and if it does come out, but that's how new tech tends to start -- expensive and unwieldy.
A real-life helper robot might not need to be functionally the same as Rosie to do all of the same tasks. A robot might not need arms that hold a vacuum in order to vacuum. Again, we have robot vacuums now, so a roaming robot with a vacuum built near its wheels isn't a big stretch. At CES, we sawcapable of mapping and patrolling your home. could even project your favorite show on the wall you're looking at, and that's on sale now.
and also showed off concept robots that act as hotel porters, construction site carriers, restaurant servers and more. Rosie rolled on wheels, but we're starting to see . We also saw a cute robot dog called , in case you're looking for an automated pet (the Jetsons actually had a real dog, it just talked).
Check out the rest of the. Consumer-ready robots are finally becoming a reality, and the tech we need to make a real-life Rosie that's friendly and accessible is in there somewhere -- even if the robots we end up with don't exactly resemble the Jetsons' version. As we noted a couple of years ago after CES, .
Instant/flying travel -- not yet realistic
While CES showed us that we're getting surprisingly close to "The Jetsons" on a few fronts, we don't have flying cars yet. You also can't push a button and whisk your son away to school in a tube.
. , but most of "The Jetsons" vision of convenient travel is still more fiction than science.
We saw lots of visions of the future at CES 2018. It's stunning how close that vision is in parts to the visions of TV writers from the '60s. While we're still not quite there in a couple of aspects, it's also pretty exciting that we're pretty close to accomplishing feats that they could only dream of.
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