The kind of generalist, go-anywhere-do-anything robot made famous by decades of science fiction is still, well, science fiction– but maybe not much longer.
A startup company called Unbounded Robotics is selling a three-foot-tall robot with a single manipulator arm. Unlike most robots, which are designed to test locomotion or do something specific (think of the Roomba) this one can be programmed for a wide range of tasks.
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That might sound obvious - computers can do lots of different things too, after all - but programming robots to handle real-world objects has proven difficult to do, unless they are given precise instructions. Industrial robots, for example, will do only a small set of assembly tasks, and a Roomba can vacuum, move and avoid things, but that's about it.
Unbounded Robotics' machine, called the UBR1, is deliberately non-specific. It has an arm that can move in several directions and a "hand" on the end that can grasp with pincers. It can also roll along and detect obstacles in its way. UBR1 also has an extendible "torso" and USB ports, and powers up from the wall socket. It can navigate to its own dock, and has cameras to see with. But it isn't programmed to do anything - that's left up to the user, and Unbounded also plans to develop software of its own.