In the Realm of Domestic Help
Now if you want your electronic maid or butler to look like the rest of us (or perhaps like the rest of us wish we did), you need to check out Android World, a Web site that merits my personal cool rating of five ice cubes.
At Android World, Animatronics kits abound, and you can read about all kinds of projects that involve building artificial people. One of the most fascinating is Valerie, a lovely 5' 10" domestic robot, who is as yet a work in progress. She will come equipped with sight, audio, and even smell. For now, haptic capabilities seem to be limited to a hand that can roll an Allen wrench between thumb and forefinger, but I'm looking forward to great things from her. One of the wonderful things about this site is that it is an open project, with code snippets posted and photos showing exactly how each bit of Valerie is being built. A look at the Valerie project will convince you that the world of androids, for good or ill, is rising fast around us.
Meanwhile, as you wait for Valerie to reach the market, you might look over some of the toy bots discussed on the site. Along that line I caught a demo of a friend's Robosapiens this past weekend. The foot-high programmable robot danced for us, and then picked up his featherweight cup and held it out for money. This is what I call a pretty nifty use of limited haptic capability, suggesting grimly a chore we might want to teach our electronic family retainers in the upcoming economy where none of us have jobs.