The BEAR: Soldier, Nurse, Friend and Robot

"Obviously, the design will have to be modified and improved," said James Kuffner, associate professor at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute. "Maybe a track design won't be as nice for people's carpet or flooring as it is for a war zone."

Still, Kuffner likes the BEAR's design and said that when he looks into his crystal ball, he can certainly envision a not-too-distant future in which robots aid those in need. He points out that in Japan, where the nation's population is aging at an alarming rate, robot companions and entertainers have become increasingly common in both hospitals and homes.

"Studies have shown that the elderly are much more comfortable and … much happier in their own homes rather than in a hospital or nursing home," Kuffner said. "People definitely do get lonely, and just like a pet, you develop some affinity." But the BEAR can be more than a pet: It can store in its digital memory all the pictures of your friends and family, the important moments in your life, and tell you when to take your medicine.

Although Klein couldn't -- or wouldn't -- divulge a price tag for the robot or speculate as to when the BEAR would be ready for mass production, he said that Vecna's goal is to make it as affordable as a live-in home care provider for one year. As a former vice president at IRobot, makers of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, Klein knows a thing or two about turning robots into common household appliances.

Kuffner said that crazy as it might sound, the possibility that robots could be affordable and available enough to become as mainstream as a dishwasher or automobile is not only possible, but inevitable.

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