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What is a Service Robot?

By S. Gonzales
Updated May 16, 2024
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A service robot is a robot that is capable of providing services to its owner. These robots generally are autonomous but can be controlled, either remotely or manually, by built-in systems. They also might be synced up with WiFi home networks or smart environments.

Service robots can differ in specific functions, but their jobs usually can be described as helping humans perform tasks that are dangerous, difficult, dirty, repetitive or distant. A service robot can ease the workload of a human being in this way, especially if the task is frequent, such as as with home chores. They also can be used in medicine, space, agriculture, firefighting, hotels and entertainment and to perform industrial tasks. Service robots are particularly useful in the automotive industry, where heavy lifting and fine calibrations are required to build a vehicle.

Domestic robots are widely popular. A service robot used around the home can do anything from vacuum a carpet to mow a lawn. A domestic robot can help its owner clean pools, mop floors and iron clothes. Some robots can even help homeowners clean up after pets. In cases like these, a robot can routinely pick up fur that has been shed or it can clean litter boxes after cats have used them, ensuring that the litter boxes remain fresh and that odors are controlled.

Service robots also can help move objects from one place to another within a home. A service robot can transport clothes to a washing machine for laundering, or it can take glasses from a table to dishwasher. These functions are attractive to those who spend a lot of time cooking meals or are often tired from long days. If a service robot is employed while children are in the home, it can significantly reduce the time parents spend doing household chores. They also might give parents peace of mind, because they know that glassware, for example, won't be handled and possibly broken by children if the robot arrives to collect the dishes.

A service robot can be particularly useful to disabled or elderly individuals. The elderly and the disabled can be limited in their mobility, so a service robot in the home can encourage independent living. These robots can aid with physical tasks, and they can facilitate many cognitive and social services. For instance, service robots might give the person a way to communicate with friends or relatives, link the person to his or her doctor or give the person daily reminders.

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Discussion Comments
By anon308101 — On Dec 09, 2012

My mother has arthritis in many of her joints and the worse ones are her wrists and arms. So vacuuming the house was always a pain for her (literally). So my brother and I bought one of those vacuuming robots and it has been a huge help.

My mother is not technologically minded, but finds it very easy to use and it just maps out the house and goes about cleaning by itself. Even the cats have grown to like it and now follow it about room to room rather than running away! It's a few years old now, but still works brilliantly, and I'm sure you can buy them even cheaper these days.

By anon302086 — On Nov 07, 2012

Service robots are created so that people can be fat and lazy.

By MaPa — On Jul 06, 2011

@gimbell - Lifesaving robots are amazing. And there are a bunch of new ones coming out, at least in part due to the ongoing war on terror.

They have robots that can patrol dangerous areas with cameras and sensors, and if they detect anyone there can sound and alarm and even allow the operator, safe at a base that could be miles away, to talk to the intruder.

Anytime you can automate a task and take away the risk to human life, I consider that money well spent.

By Viktor13 — On Jul 05, 2011

All of you guys mentioning the various types of robots: You can keep the vacuum robot, and I'll cut my own lawn, but you can have my pool cleaning robot when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!

That thing is a miracle. I *hate* cleaning my pool, and of course you can't get the kids to do it, even though they're the ones that mess it up. So I just hook that little puppy up to the hose and toss it in, and the pool gets vacuumed.

By horsebite — On Jul 04, 2011

@Wander - I see what you mean about lost social contact if disabled people had service robots, but there are other ways to interact with people. I see it as an issue that needs balance, but not an impossible obstacle.

A problem that a lot of elderly and/or disabled people face is that they cannot be left alone, because they can't move on their own. They end up in nursing homes because you just cannot find enough people to care for them around the clock, even if they could afford it.

If service robot technology got mature, and therefore cheap, a lot of those people may be able to stay at home safely for a lot longer. Or at least they could have a reduced staff if the lifting, etc could be automated.

I think it is at least worth researching.

By wander — On Jul 03, 2011

How do people feel about service robots caring for those that are elderly or disabled?

I have read quite a bit about service robots being designed with the purpose of providing food and assistance to those who are more difficult to care for. While this is a great technology to help assist current caregivers, and lesson the burden of family members, I worry about the reduced social contact those needing assistance may face with robots looking after them.

In Japan they have worked to make their robots look more human and friendly, in hopes that patients will be able to better connect with them. I am not sure if this is really such a good idea.

By popcorn — On Jul 03, 2011

Investing in a service robot to vacuum your floors is a good idea if you have mobility issues or just plain hate vacuuming. I purchased one when I moved into a new house with a lot more floor space and it really does the job well and was surprisingly affordable.

For the newest models of service robots for vacuuming you are looking at around $500 for something top of the line. If you are on a budget you can get some as low as $299 new, although there are some refurbished versions available for even cheaper. If you do choose to get one refurbished it is a good idea to go with the extended warranty.

By TheGraham — On Jul 02, 2011

@Malka - Sounds like you've read up on this lawn mowing robot quite a bit! After reading about the robot you have your eyes on, I kind of want to look into buying one.

The price is pretty steep -- around $2,000 for the one you were talking about -- but when I consider the cost of gasoline that a regular mower would go through during its lifespan of around a decade, the robotic lawn mower is not only better for the environment, but it actually pays for itself in gas savings, too.

Do you know whether this Robomow RM400 robot can avoid obstacles, like a vacuuming robot? Does it pick up the grass clippings, or leave them on the lawn? Can it handle a lawn with a tilt? My lawn has around a fifteen degree tilting slope at one point behind the house, and I'm worried a little lawn mowing robot (especially an electric powered one) might not have the engine power to climb it.

I wonder where you could learn how to make a robot to mow the lawn instead of buying one? Probably just wishful thinking; if everybody could make their own, I guess the companies couldn't sell theirs with the $2,000 price tags on them.

By SkittisH — On Jul 02, 2011

@gimbell - Hey, I remember the BigDog robots! I have never actually heard the name before but your description tells me what they are. I tried doing a quick search on the name and sure enough, the pictures that come up match my mental image.

I first saw video footage of a BigDog robot bounding, jumping and reacting to shifting environment like a mountain goat climbing down a steep slope back during high school. I was in a beginning robots class. We mostly used LEGO Technic sets to make simple robots that could follow drawn lines and navigate mazes, but we also watched videos of "real" robots to learn how they worked.

Anyway, the BigDog robot amazed me at the time. One of the most interesting things about it is that its legs are entirely reversible -- if it flips over onto its back, it simply rotates both pairs of legs over from the "belly" to the "back", reversing which side of it is the top. Even more impressive is the fact that it can do this leg flip fast enough to catch itself on its feet before landing rather than flop onto its back!

I didn't know what kind of uses such a robot could have back when I first saw footage of it; I had no idea it would become a service robot that entered nuclear reactors and saved lives. What a great use for such a cool invention!

By gimbell — On Jul 01, 2011

@Malka - That does sound like a dream come true for those lazy individuals who hate mowing their lawns. And hey, if it's good for the environment then you've found a way to make being lazy into something constructive!

Lawn mowing and vacuuming robots seem like hobby robotics compared to my favorite kind of service robot: the life-saving kind.

In particular I love the robots that can go down mine shafts to help rescue miners trapped down there or even just to send a video contact feed back up to the surface and to their families. I also love fire and smoke resistant robots that firefighters are using to rescue people stuck in buildings in conditions that might prove fatal to a firefighter.

My favorite kind of life-saving service robot, though, is one called the BigDog. BigDogs look strangely organic -- they're four-legged robots able to run, jump and bound over uneven terrain. They also happen to be resistant to extreme amounts of nuclear radiation, which is exactly why Japan requested the U.S. government send several of these BigDog robots to help them with their 2011 nuclear reactor emergencies after a certain enormous earthquake.

Forget being lazy and mowing your lawn -- think big. Robots can not only make our lives more convenient, but they can also save our lives entirely.

By Malka — On Jun 30, 2011

@kylee07drg - Hey, sounds close to the kind of service robot I'm thinking about buying -- a lawn mowing robot. As far as types of robots go, I think service robots are way more of an asset to humanity than the latest goofy attempt to make a robot that looks like and presents the illusion of being a human person. Those can't even walk yet, while the robot I've got my eye on can mow the lawn, as I said.

This robot I want is called the Friendly Robotics Robomow RM400. It's this cute little rounded green robot on two wheels with a shape that vaguely reminds me of a hermit crab. It comes with its own docking station, and apparently you just let it charge for 16 hours (charge time's no big deal since the lawn takes days to regrow), then program it to mow the lawn at a certain time of day.

When that time of day rolls around, the Robomow RM400 will roll off of its docking station all on its own, mow the entire lawn, then return to the docking station to charge.

I love that idea for three simple reasons: 1, it means I don't have to mow the lawn anymore. 2, it would be fun to watch it mowing the lawn while enjoying not being out there mowing it myself. 3, it's actually better for the environment than mowing with a regular lawnmower, because it's electric instead of being gasoline powered. Win/win/win!

By orangey03 — On Jun 30, 2011

@wavy58 - I use a hands-free pool-cleaning robot for my in-ground gunite pool. All I have to do is push the button and drop it in the pool.

This robot power washes the surfaces and cleans the cracks, pores, and seams. It is able to pick up hair, leaves, algae, debris, and sand. Because of this, it reduces the filter's workload, so we don't have to run it as long.

The robot has an auto-reverse feature that tells it to back up if it gets hung up. It really was a good investment, because on top of everything else, it saves me loads of time.

By wavy58 — On Jun 29, 2011

Does anyone here own a pool cleaning robot? I get so tired of vacuuming my pool. I would like to know if those robots are strong enough to pick up hair and leaves. I would love the opinion of someone with one of these robots.

I have long hair, and I lose a lot of it in the pool. It gets stuck in the filter, and I know it can't be good for it.

Also, I have trees in my yard, and we get a lot of leaves in the pool. Some of these leaves are tiny pine needles, and others are large magnolia leaves.

By kylee07drg — On Jun 28, 2011

My friend has a service robot that vacuums his apartment. He said it works pretty well.

To get the most out of a vacuuming robot, you must first remove any obstacles that could block its path. This robot is a ball that rolls on wheels along the floor, so if it bumps into anything, it will back up and go around the object.

Not only does this robot clean his carpet, it also provides entertainment for his dog! The dog stays inside while he and his wife are at work, and it has great fun chasing and barking at the robot.

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