Will 2013 be the year that robots make their mark in mainstream society? The growing market for consumer robots has already reached $1.6 billion in 2012, which is dominated by the task and entertainment segments.
According to the latest market study by ABI Research, it will grow to $6.5 billion in 2017 and will still be dominated by the same segments, with security and telepresence becoming more of a significant third segment.
iRobot is still the main player, but more Asian-based companies are coming out with competing products and newer products like window-cleaning robots.
"We are seeing more personal robot R&D from Western companies and more task robot development from Asian companies," said Philip Solis, research director at ABI Research.
That's an apparent reversal of past development trends.
Application processors and the array of sensors used in smartphones and media tablets have achieved great economies of scale for components that consumer robotics will leverage.
The market for processors, micro-controllers, sensors, and physical components including actuators, servos, and manipulators was a little over $700 million in 2012 and will grow by five times that amount by 2017.
The semiconductor portion of that amount is well over a third and will grow as products become more complex and capable.
While the market for consumer robots is trudging ahead and growing, the lingering stagnant global economy has suppressed its market potential. There are also some safety concerns holding back the market, such as the additional cost of diverse redundancy for sensors.
"What happens if a robot falls down the stairs while someone is walking up, or gets caught on a lamp power cord and pulls the lamp down and starts a fire?" added Solis. "This is a gating factor to take-up of more complex personal robots – solvable but with additional cost."
Additionally, the applications and business models for more general personal robots needs to be worked out. Home elder-care is being targeted first for insurance- and retirement income-related potential.