Why a truly multipurpose robot is so important
Have you ever noticed that vanilla icecream basically serves as the basis for all other flavors and toppings. You make chocolate icecream by adding some syrup, you get rocky-road by throwing in some chunks. Sprinkles give it some color. A cone lets you carry it around. And yet all of these flavors and toppings are possible because of the vanilla base. But what if there were no vanilla? What if you just had the toppings and flavors each serving their own specific purpose, but in isolation.
That is what the robotics industry is like today. Right now robots are designed for very specific purposes. They only vacuum or they are for interaction or they just roll around. This is like chocolate syrup, sprinkles and a cone.
If you want a robot that can perform all of these jobs, a vanilla robot, they generally cost tens of thousands of dollars. The most affordable version at the moment is likely PAL Robotics Tiago at $50,000. But if you want a "perfect machine" there is the PR2 which is $250-$400,000.
At prices like these, the robots are like artisan vanilla. And that makes sense because each robot is basically hand-made to order because there is no volume. Without volume the price can't drop, but without some price drops there can be no volume.
But the vanilla robot is so necessary because it can serve as a foundation for development. With most robots being custom (flavors and toppings) there is little progress because each developer is working with their own special system, Because of this basic components and softwares have to be rebuilt for the specific machine as opposed to built upon. A vanilla robot serves as a platform that move the industry collectively ahead.
That is what Jerry was designed to be. He is the poor-man's PR2. The Model T of robotics. Simple and robust, but affordable. Jerry has the capabilities to be a vanilla robot, but we still need to build the software foundation for others to grow from.