BERLIN -- Joseph Schlesinger, an engineer living near Boston, thinks robotic toys are too expensive, the result of extravagant designs, expensive components and a poor understanding of consumer tastes. So this year, Mr. Schlesinger, 23, began to manufacture an affordable robot, one he is selling for $250 to holiday shoppers.
His creation, the Hexy, is a six-legged, crablike creature that can navigate its own environment and respond to humans with a hand wave or other programmable gesture. Mr. Schlesinger said he had been able to lower production costs by using free software and by molding a lot of the plastic parts locally in Massachusetts, not in China.
Since setting up his company, ArcBotics, in suburban Somerville, Massachusetts, Mr. Schlesinger has built a backlog of more than 1,000 orders. His goal, he said, was to become "the Ikea of robotics."
"I think the market for consumer robotics is poised to explode," said Mr. Schlesinger, a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. "We are only at the beginning."
Since the 1960s, robots have assumed major roles in industrial manufacturing and assembly, the remote detonation of explosives, search and rescue, and academic research. But the devices have remained out of reach, in affordability and practicality, to most consumers.
That, according to Professor Andrew Ng, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University in California, is about to change. One big reason, Mr. Ng said, is the mass production of smartphones and game consoles, which has driven down the size and price of robotic building blocks like accelerometers, gyroscopes and sensors.
On the edges of consumer consciousness, the first generation of devices with rudimentary artificial intelligence are beginning to appear: entertainment and educational robots like the Hexy, and a line of tireless household drones that can mow lawns, sweep floors, clean swimming pools and even enhance golf games.
"I'm seeing a huge explosion of robotic toys and believe that there will be one soon in industry," said Mr. Ng, an associated professor of computer science at Stanford.
The most advanced robots remain exotic workhorses like NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover, which cost $2.5 billion, and the LS3, a doglike robot being developed for the U.S. military that can carry a 400-pound, or 180-kilogram load more than 20 miles, or about 30 kilometers. The mechanical beast of burden, whose price is not public, is being made by a consortium led by Boston Dynamics. In Menlo Park, California, engineers at Willow Garage, a robotics firm, are selling the two-armed, 5-foot-4 inch (1.63-meter) rolling robot called the PR2 for $400,000.
A video on Willow Garage's Web site shows the PR2 fetching beer from a refrigerator, which while an engineering and programming feat, is an expensive way to get beer.
"I think we're still some years away from useful personal robots making pervasive appearances in our homes," Mr. Ng said.
Right now, for the masses, there is the CaddyTrek, a robotic golf club carrier that follows a player from tee to fairway to green through tall grass, up 30-degree slopes and in snow, for as many as 27 holes on a single charge. Players wear a remote control on their belts, which acts as a homing beacon for the self-propelled cart, which trails six paces behind the player.
Golfers can also navigate the robotic cart, which is made by FTR Systems, to the next tee while they finish putting.
"Someone ran up to me last week and said that my golf cart had broken free and was rolling through the parking lot," said Richard Nagle, the sales manager for CaddyTrek in North America and Europe. "Most people just stop and stare. They're not used to this."
FTR Systems does not disclose the proprietary technology it uses to power the CaddyTrek, which sells for $1,595, but Mr. Nagle said sales of the robot carriers had been strong, and the company had been rushing to meet orders in the United States and Europe.
While one robot totes your golf clubs, another, the Polaris 9300xi, could be cleaning your swimming pool. The blue, four-wheel drone submerges in a swimming pool and pushes itself along the bottom and walls to dislodge and filter sediment. The device, which is made by Zodiac Pool Systems of San Diego, cleans pools as much as 60 feet long.
Users can program the robot to clean a swimming pool at regular intervals or use a remote control to steer it by hand. The Polaris 9300xi sells for $1,379.
A silent, four-wheeled grass cutter called the Automower, made by Husqvarna, a Swedish power tool and lawn care company that also owns the McCulloch and Gardena brands, can care for lawns as large as 6,000 square meters, or 64,000 square feet.
The Automower cuts grass by staying within a boundary wire drawn around the perimeter, sensing and avoiding trees, flower beds and other obstacles. The mower, which is sold in Europe and Asia but not in the United States, cuts rain or shine and returns to recharge itself when its batteries get low. Advanced models use GPS and can recognize and return to narrow, hard-to-reach parts of lawns and gardens, ensuring that no areas are missed.
The least expensive garden drone, the Automower 305, costs €1,500, or $1,965, and can mow 500 square meters on one charge. The top-end Automower 265AX sells for about €4,600 in Europe and is designed for hospitals, hotels and commercial properties.
The Swedish company sold its first robotic mower, which was solar-powered, in 1995. But the device was too expensive and too unreliable in climates like that of northern Europe, where sunny summers are not guaranteed. About five years ago, the Husqvarna switched to battery power, which lowered the cost and eliminated weather as a factor.
Henric Andersson, the director of product development at Husqvarna in Stockholm, said the company's robotic mowers were getting extensive use in Scandinavia and Europe.
"After being around for years, sales really began taking off about five years ago," said Mr. Andersson. "The graph of sales looks like a hockey stick. The robotic mower has reached a tipping point. More people are now incorporating the device into their lives."
Other basic robots are beginning to work inside the home. iRobot, a firm founded by three former employees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, makes robots that vacuum, sweep and mop floors. The iRobot Roomba 790, which costs €900 in Europe, is a self-propelling vacuum cleaner that can sense and navigate interior spaces, adjusting by itself from carpets to hard floors, and wielding side brushes for corners and walls.
The iRobot Scooba 390 cleans sealed hardwood, tile and linoleum floors, no pre-sweeping required. The device looks like a hovering bathroom scale and can hug walls and avoid staircases and other dangerous drops as it cleans, vacuums, wet mops and dries as much as 850 square feet of floor on a single charge. The Scooba 390 sells for €500.
Theoretically, a house full of robotic gadgets can lead to more free time, which is where the AR Drone 2.0 quadricopter, a flying, smartphone-controlled helicopter, may come in. The AR Drone 2.0 is equipped with two onboard video cameras: one conventional and one high-definition, which can stream and store video of its flights.
The AR Drone 2.0, which the user steers over the helicopter's own Wi-Fi network, can be guided through looping maneuvers and fly as far away as 50 meters at speeds as high as 18 kilometers per hour. The craft can fly about 12 minutes before needing a recharge. The device, made by Parrot, based in Paris, costs €300 in Europe.
Parrot has sold more than 250,000 of the drones since it was introduced in 2010.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.