In my ongoing research, one of the challenges that stands out for consumer robotics is the cost/benefit of any new robotics device or application. Robotics is one of extremes. On one hand very expensive industrial and military robots enjoy success, while smaller scale consumer robots get squeezed by cost issues into toys.
Medical robots may be a way to slowly bridge the divide. I read stories like the one above and it puts the cost/benefit curve into perspective: 1) human lives are priceless; 2) the health care system has ample opportunities for saving costs through new machines or telepresence applications. Perhaps this is a way to transition to more mass-scale consumer-facing robots (initially still expensive but worth it and eventually cost-effective through mass production and consumer awareness).
Some of the healthcare applications that can show consumers the benefit of robotics include:
* Surgical robots
* Medicine-dispening robots
* Telepresence robots that can allow remote healthcare workers to check in on remote elderly patients
* Semi-autonomous robots that can help escort patients within hospitals, as well as provide remote diagnostics and triage of incoming patients
* Robots that can take on common repetitive tasks in a hospital environment, from surface-cleaning to bed changing
While these examples are themselves very sophisticated and costly applications, in an environment where the costs are already high and the pay-off is high (better care for humans), the return on investment has a better chance at being justified. Over time, advances in the medical arena can lead to cost reductions through scale. In addition, some of the more simple innovations that arise could be scaled down for a more cost-effective and consumer-friendly adaptation for people's homes.
Another more psychological benefit of the healthcare world is that it has a way of making one focus on the desired result, rather than building technology for technology's sake. Some say this is a needed paradigm shift for many in the consumer robotics industry.