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Day of the robots is coming, says UN

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Repeating a prediction that has been made incorrectly only a million times before, the United Nations said today that the market for domestic robots will take off in the next few years. The market for robots that can vacuum, scrub the floor, empty dishwashers and so on will grow to be worth a world-wide total of $3.3 billion by 2002 -- with some 24,000 units sold. (Do the maths: that's an affordable $137,500 each). The conclusions are contained in the latest annual report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the International Federation of Robotics. Strangely the report documents that last year was in fact a remarkably bad year for robots -- another clear sign that their adoption is about to take off. Sales of industrial robots -- the largest robot sector -- fell by 16 per cent because of the economic weaknesses in the key markets of Japan and South Korea. Some 71,000 units were sold in 1998 with an estimated market value of $4.2 billion. The industrial market is predicted to grow at eight per cent a year to 2002 with the postal industry identified as one area for key area for delivering improved growth. Still the vision sounds good, which is probably why people keep making optimistic predictions. Robots will act as the interface between a range of domestic computers (fridges, washing machines etc) doing things like this, in the words of the report: "They could vacuum, scrub the floors, empty the dishwasher and place the china in the cupboards, lay the table, take out the garbage, guard the house against fire and intruders, mow the lawn, increase the mobility of old and disabled persons and much more." All while you're down the pub. ®

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