Robotic Technology: A Palpable Reality

Driverless cars? Robotic vacuum cleaners? What sounded like breakthrough technology a few years back is becoming more attainable across households in the United States. New technologies emerge every day. We now have “smart toilets,” and no, not the type that flushes itself automatically, but a toilet that has the capability of analyzing biochemistry and reporting on the user’s health directly to doctors. Uber and Google continue to invest in the research and development of self-driving cars. Uber stepped it up recently by having a self-driving 18-wheeler deliver a cargo of Budweiser from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.

In this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Asia, we got a taste of what the near future will look like. Keenon Robotics introduced a robot that can accurately deliver food in a restaurant along with a tour-guide robot, which has the capability to learn its environment and show it to tourists in a friendly way. Our homes will also feel the effects of these robotic advancements. ECOVACS Robotics created the “Unibot,” which can sweep floors, purify the air, and detect gas leaks. Industrial robotics giant KUKA is also planning to invest in home automation robots with capabilities that will far exceed what we have in the market today.

As a society, we always look to make our life easier. Robots can help us simplify many aspects of our everyday life, but how ready are we? As part of Rockbridge’s annual National Technology Readiness Survey, we tested the desirability of robotic technologies for the second consecutive year.[1]



Like last year, the big winner was home assistance. More respondents are open to the idea of having a robot help with physical labor tasks inside their home in this wave (77% vs. 71% the previous year).

More businesses are exploring the possibility of using drones as tool to deliver their products and it looks like they are on the right path. Receiving packages through a drone continues to be a popular innovation among almost half of U.S. consumers (46% vs. 48% the previous year). On the contrary, purchasing/leasing a driverless vehicle and riding a driverless taxi continue to be the least desirable technologies. Recent incidents, like the first fatal casualty in a driverless car or crashes reported across the United States from companies who implemented driverless cabs, are likely to make consumers steer away from self-driving vehicles in the near term. Though this technology is a reality, the majority of U.S. consumers are not receptive to the idea.

As robotic technology reaches new heights, it also creates different perceptions among consumers. Slightly over a third (35%) of U.S. consumers believe new developments in artificial intelligence will augment humans in jobs, creating new job opportunities.  In contrast, less than a quarter (21%) feel artificial intelligence will replace humans, exacerbating unemployment.

While the majority of U.S. consumers (64%) have a positive outlook and are “hopeful” on artificial intelligence and emerging technology, it is entirely up to us, the consumers, to accept them into our everyday life or simply take them as fads.

About the Study: The National Technology Readiness Survey is conducted by Rockbridge Associates, Inc. and A. Parasuraman, and has tracked technology and e-commerce trends since 1999.  The survey is co-sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Service at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.  The most recent wave is based on an online survey wave of 1004 U.S. adults sampled at random from a consumer research panel. The questions on robotics were collected in December 2016, and the questions on AI were conducted in October 2017. Results are weighted to match census characteristics.

[1] For this study, robots are defined as technology that can perform physical tasks (e.g., driving, housework, serving in a restaurant), operate autonomously without needing instruction, and are directed by computers without help from people.

Written by: Alonso Espino, Research Manager and Charles Colby, Chief Methodologist