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The next generation of home robots will be more capable - and perhaps more social, too

Wander around any big-box electronics store long enough and you may eventually stumble over a handful of domestic robots designed to tidy up after you. They're probably somewhere near the refrigerators and the washers and dryers, waiting for you to introduce them to a mess.

That's not exactly the future that decades of speculative fiction foretold. We were promised homes full of intelligent (and sometimes sassy) robotic assistants, not just the cavalcade of glorified, rolling appliances we wound up with. But over the next few years, a new wave of domestic robots could start to do more than just clean up after us.

Amazon introduced Astro earlier this fall, a $1,000-plus robot meant to ferry around small items and keep its eyes - well, cameras - peeled for intruders while roaming our homes. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Samsung, which at one point or another has built almost every kind of home gadget imaginable, has spent the last few years openly wondering about what a new generation of domestic robots should be able to do. And researchers and start-ups have continued to work on robots meant to help people in still more personal and social ways...

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