AMERICAN ROBOTIC: Although a few of the domestic robots of tomorrow may resemble the anthropomorphic machines of science fiction, a greater number are likely to be mobile peripheral devices that perform specific household tasks. Image: AMERICAN GOTHIC, 1930. BY GRANT WOOD; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY THE ESTATE OF NAN WOOD GRAHAM; LICENSED BY VAGA, NEW YORK, N.Y., AND SUPERSTOCK, INC.; MODIFIED BY KENN BROWN
Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell highly specialized devices for business use and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce innovative toys, gadgets for hobbyists and other interesting niche products. But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when--or even if--this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world.
Of course, the paragraph above could be a description of the computer industry during the mid-1970s, around the time that Paul Allen and I launched Microsoft. Back then, big, expensive mainframe computers ran the back-office operations for major companies, governmental departments and other institutions. Researchers at leading universities and industrial laboratories were creating the basic building blocks that would make the information age possible. Intel had just introduced the 8080 microprocessor, and Atari was selling the popular electronic game Pong. At homegrown computer clubs, enthusiasts struggled to figure out exactly what this new technology was good for.
This article was originally published with the title A Robot in Every Home.