ROBOTS CAN WALK, talk, run a hotel … and are entirely stumped by a doorknob. Or a mailbox. Or a dirty bathtub—zzzzt, dead. Sure, the SpotMini, a doglike domestic helper from Boston Dynamics, can climb stairs, but it struggles to reliably hand over a can of soda.
That’s why some roboticists think the field needs to flip its perspective. “There are two approaches to building robots,” says Maya Cakmak, a researcher at the University of Washington. “Make the robot more humanlike to handle the environment, or design the environment to make it a better fit for the robot.”
Cakmak studies so-called universal design—the ways in which buildings and products are constructed for older people or those with disabilities. Robot can’t handle the twisting staircase? Put in a ramp. As for that pesky doorknob? Make entryways motion-activated.
Read more: How to Optimize Your Home for Robot Servants