The next 'big thing' I have been watching for on the horizon is robotics. Those dreaded science fiction doom devices (robots) will soon be invited to invade our homes because they will finally be able to perform useful work, which will free us up to be even more productive. In the next 20 years (the length of time it took the computer to invade our homes) we will see domestic and personal robots do the same. The robot will probably take the shape of Honda's ASIMO (small humanoid), only it will have a friendly bug-free operating system that will encourage small companies to create utility programs. The robot will also have modular and upgradable components and sensors so its talents can be expanded as technologies evolve. Technology has now evolved to the point where there are no longer any obstacles to producing a domestic personal robot that will perform a dozen useful tasks for less than US$10,000. Although such robots are not yet available, I know of a dozen friends who would buy one today if they were on the market. The most desired features in robotics are: House cleaning, security monitoring, heavy lifting, companionship, pet feeding, communication and planning management, energy conservation management, support of owner's memory and support of owner's limited experience (think free technical advice). Interestingly enough, while you wait for your domestic personal robot (DPR) to arrive in a showroom near you, you can get your Mac to fill in on some of those tasks. And for a lot less than US$10,000. Your Mac already offers automatic personal memory support such as Entourage's reminders, iCal's alarm schedulers and similar scripts in almost all Mac applications. Even the Energy Saver Preference panel can be set to start your Mac automatically at a predetermined time with iTunes playing your favourite songs, all of which makes your Mac an awesome robotic alarm clock. As far as support for the owner's limited experience, doing a Google search or using the Mac's built-in help menu are a big step in the right direction. When it comes to security, pet feeding, energy conservation and home system management, most things can be automated using your home's existing electrical wiring and some X10 controller interface devices ( www.x10.com/x10_ahptt2.html ). X10 devices are available all over the world from a number of well-known manufacturers. They are essentially electrical receptacles, switches and camera controllers that connect to your Mac (or PC) via your existing electrical system. Perceptive Automation's Indigo ( www.perceptiveautomation.com/indigo/ US$89.95) is one of the better Mac software companies to have created software to control these X10 devices. Not only will Indigo automatically control your lights, fans, appliances, security cameras and sprinkler schedules, it will also allow you to control these devices remotely by way of e-mail, your mobile phone or any remote phone using Ovolab's Phlink ( www.ovolab.com/phlink/ US$149), which turns your Mac into an automated phone call management device. Indigo will also send e-mails automatically at predetermined times, allow you to control iTunes remotely, warn you by e-mail of power failure or intrusion detection at home, or notify you of any number of useful things. To use Indigo software, you will need a USB device that plugs your Mac into your home electrical system so it can communicate with the X10 modules throughout your house. Devices such as the PowerLinc Controller ( www.smarthome.com/X10map.html , US$39.95) are available from Smarthome, which is also an excellent source for all the switches and sensors you will need to bring your automation vision to life. If you just want to increase your reach to manipulate your Mac and the things it controls, you will want to check out the Salling Clicker ( homepage.mac.com/jonassalling/Shareware/Clicker/index.html , US$19.95). It turns your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone or Palm device into a wireless Mac controller. Granted these automations are a long way from a robot automatically walking your dog and baby-sitting your children, but they will put you in a position to experience the future now. E-mail Dave Horrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org with your Mac queries.