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A "Rollin Justin" robot, developed by the German air and space agency the Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft und Raumfahrt (DLR), prepares to mix instant tea - 


Bill Radke: When I was a kid, I was sure we'd all have robot butlers by now. But the closest most of us have gotten is that floor vacuum, the Roomba. Well, the truth is, robotic technology is on the brink
of much bigger applications -- from health care to warfare and more. In San Diego today, a conference is attracting a record number of researchers interested in how to make machines work better with you and me. Marketplace's Caitlan Carroll has that.

Caitlan Carroll: We've watched robots who want to act more like humans. Remember this guy?

Wall-E: Wall . . . Waaalleee.

The adorable garbage collector in the film Wall-E. The real trick is making robots that understand what a human wants.

Adriana Tapus: If the person is pushing with the hands showing, "Go away, stay there," the robot it's trying to see that person's intentions.

Adriana Tapus is one of the conference coordinators. She foresees robots that can care for an Alzheimer's patient, or treat a wounded soldier on the battlefield.

Defense and health care have been the focus of much of this research in recent years. But robotics industry expert Dan Kara sees wider applications:

Dan Kara: Particularly in the area of education robotics, smart toys, something they call hobby robots.

Basically robots you assemble and program for your own amusement. Whatever the application, the robotics industry raked in an estimated $11 billion last year.

In Los Angeles, I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.