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Christmas Gift Guide

The droids we're looking for

Taking out the trash

Total plant care


Grocery shopping


Patrolling the home

Mowing the lawn


Raking leaves

Toy Pickup

Cleaning the litter box

Washing the car

With robot vacuums and broader smart-home tech, household tasks are getting easier. That said, there’s still so much more we hope robots can do. We think the following tasks are pretty close to being off our collective plates thanks to our robot friends.

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Given the path-finding technology in robot vacuums, getting automated wheels onto a trash can to save you the effort of rolling it from your garage to the curb should be well within reach. Add in an existing smart garage door, and your robots will have garbage handled.

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We already have a lot of tech to make maintaining your yard less work. Between plant sensors and automated sprinklers, we're close to being able to plant it and forget it. For your yard to be truly autonomous, we need a machine that can deliver fertilizer. Something that can pull weeds would be great, too; you'd just need to teach it where the things you don't want pulled are located.

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Washing machines are getting smarter, but the ironing board is as dumb as it ever was. That said, machines like Swash give hope that getting your clothes ready for work could be fully automated soon. They're still expensive and look to be a little tedious, but since technology tends to get smaller and cheaper with time, combining something like that with an industrial ironing board could be feasible in the near future, and practical shortly after that.

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Some fridges can track the foods you put into them, but you have to enter each item individually and tell the fridge when you take something out. If fridges and cupboards can get smarter with inventory management -- perhaps grocery stores could put a scannable bar code at the bottom of your receipt -- having them automatically order the foods you run out of is the logical next step.

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Taking food management one step further, if your fridge and cupboards know what you have, they can more easily make recommendations for the evening meal. Ranges have shown increased connectivity as well, and can currently walk you through complex recipes, changing the heat as necessary. What's missing is a reliable means of transfer from storage to stove top. The task is simple enough that current robot butlers could manage it with a little tweaking, and reallocated tech from something like the Taurus MyCook Touch could take care of the stirring while cooking.

Caption by / Photo by Colin West McDonald/CNET

While hands-free cooking might be far off, fully automated security is pretty close. We already have connected locks and garage doors, as well as cameras and sensors. You're still the one that has to manage all of these devices, though. With basic path finding, teaching a robot where all of your sensors are and attaching a camera should be simple enough. That way, when an alert happens, you can keep relaxing as your new patrol officer checks on the situation.

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This is cheating a little bit, because we have robot lawnmowers now. That said, they're currently cumbersome to set up and too expensive for many. The technology is here, we just need to refine it, make it better at pathfinding and navigating hills, and make it more cost-effective.

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Ditto for roboplows. Like robot lawnmowers, they currently exist, but can cost upward of $8,000. Given that Minnesota has an annual competition to improve this exact technology, I'd hope the near future brings a successful and reasonably priced model that can out-shovel Mr. Plow himself.

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While we’re outside, I'd love a robot to help gather the leaves in the fall. This wouldn't necessarily be too much of a stretch from robo-mowers; it would just need a different gathering mechanism. Long arms to herd the leaves into a pile would save you the work of collecting but you would still need you to bag them. Alternatively, it could mulch and collect the leaves and you'd simply have to dump the reservoir a couple of times.

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If our robot leaf raker has arms to herd, attaching something like that to a robot vacuum cleaner to help collect toys could be extremely helpful. Maneuvering those arms around the furniture could prove difficult, so they might need varying levels of extension. Alternatively, a single arm that could grab and lift to a bin could work, similar to the fictional invention of David Wallace from "The Office."

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Imagine enjoying the company of a feline friend, and not having to worry about taking care of its waste. The existing Litter-Robot has the right idea, but it's large and loud, and I can imagine the big dome might be enough to scare away your cat, especially once it starts moving and making noise. It works by rotating the entire interior to collect the heavier waste on one side and scoop it away, and you still have to empty a waste drawer. This tech needs to get smaller and look friendlier. A waste drawer might be a necessary evil for now.

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Finally, why shouldn't existing robot mops be repurposed to help out with the car? Obviously, the brush would need to be redesigned as what's appropriate for your tile floor might not be gentle on your car's finish, but that's easy enough. The greater challenge -- the sides of your car. Robot vacuums still tend to weigh a few pounds, so they'd need to get lighter to feasibly be able to stick to a surface and move vertically.

Caption by / Photo by Colin West McDonald/CNET
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