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Comdex hosts robotic petting zoo

By Marsha Walton

Robot Petting Zoo at Comdex
Some brainy gadgets strut their stuff at the Robot Petting Zoo at Comdex.

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CNN's Daniel Sieberg reports on the advances in robotics while visiting the robot petting zoo at the COMDEX tech show in Las Vegas. (November 19)
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- A sleek array of robots paraded before the Comdex crowds, offering a robotic petting zoo of sorts at the annual technology convention in Las Vegas.

"There will soon be a day when PDA stands for 'personal droid assistant,'" said Fred Nikgohar, founder and CEO of Robo Dynamics. While his company is just a few months old, he expects to have a version of his robot on the shelf by Christmas of 2004.

Displaying products at the Comdex Robot Petting Zoo on Tuesday, Nikgohar and others see consumer versions of robots providing entertainment, telepresence and security within the next few years.

Imagine this scenario: Your business trip just got extended by three days and you know your ficus plant is getting thirsty. Not a problem just relax, get on the Internet and instruct your household robot to do the watering.

While only serious techies can make that happen today, developers at Comdex (Computer Dealer Expo) are almost evangelistic that robots will someday be as common a household appliance as your toaster or microwave.

But don't get a picture in your mind of Rosie from the Jetsons. The first wave of consumer robots will probably look more like microwave ovens than C3PO from Star Wars. And there are two good reasons for that, says Lance Ulanoff, executive editor of PC Magazine Online.

"One is that it's incredibly difficult to build a robot that looks and acts like a human," said Ulanoff. "Also, you don't want people to fall into false sense of security, by thinking, 'Hey, that looks like Aunt May, it can take care of the children.' It's going to be a long time before robots can take care of our kids," he said.

But Ulanoff says camera equipped robots could be used as an additional set of eyes in a hospital or nursing home, to check the status of patients more frequently than staff are able to.

Most of the robots on display are equipped with software from Evolution Robotics. The company says computer vision, autonomous navigation, and human-robot interaction are three elements critical to bringing robots into more homes.

Geek chic

Later Tuesday, the technology crowd focused on something quite different and unexpected, its fashion sense. Comdex sponsors, a little tongue in cheek, threw a Ready-to-Wear Wireless fashion show at the Palms Hotel.

"We like to party like everybody else," said Noel Verdin, a network administrator attending the annual technology gathering.

In the trendy Rain lounge, Las Vegas entertainers gave hundreds of the convention-goers a fast-paced musical history of the 23 years of the show. Then the scantily clad performers showed off some of this year's hottest gadgets, from slick cell phones to high tech industrial vests and coats.

Most of the techies, tired after a long day on the show floor, watched with green, orange and blue glow sticks around their necks and a cocktail in their hands.

It was a chance for IT professionals to let their hair down a bit, said Comdex executive director Dave Rosenberg. "We talk about applying technology to business problems, tonight we applied fun to technology professionals," he said.

Still to come at Comdex: Finals of the "Fastest Geek" competition, and PC Magazine's selection of the Best of Comdex.

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