The Jetsons (from left): Astro, Judy, George, Jane, Elroy and Rosie the Robot.
© Hanna-Barbera Productions/Photofest
By Jonathan Vanian
June 24, 2016

This essay originally appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Sign up here.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but Rosie the Robot will not clean your house, rake leaves in your backyard, or water your plants anytime soon.

Although the technology industry is in a robotics boom, the type of robots portrayed in popular entertainment—like Rosie, the lovable robotic maid in the cartoon series The Jetsons—are likely to remain fiction for some time.

It’s true that the cost of building robots has shrunk considerably over the past few years, as the hardware required to bring them to life has gotten simultaneously more powerful and less expensive. Couple that with the rise of open-source (in laymen’s terms, free) robotic software development tools, and engineers have been able to build robots more easily than ever.

And what machines these roboticists are making.

For instance, owners of the Baxter(bax) industrial robot don’t need to fiddle with software code in order to program it for simple tasks like packing boxes on an assembly line. One just needs to grab one of Baxter’s arms, demonstrate what needs to be picked up and placed, and the robot can take it from there.

But, as any roboticist will tell you, machines like Baxter typically perform only one task because it’s still incredibly difficult to make a robot that does many things, let alone one thing, well.

Hollywood, however, makes robotics seem easy. In Rocky IV, a hulking robot servant not only delivers a birthday cake to Rocky’s brother-in-law without a hiccup, but—perhaps more wondrously—has no problem understanding and responding to Sylvester Stallone’s mumbling voice. Compared with the Italian Stallion’s electronic sidekick, voice recognition assistants like Siri and Alexa have their work cut out for them.

This isn’t a knock on the robotics industry for taking seemingly forever to deliver the future. Instead, it’s a call to reality for those who believe we’re on the verge of robots that can handle our every demand. One popular “robot failure” video on YouTube will give you a sense of how hard it is to build a robot that can accomplish the simple task of pouring ketchup on a burger.

Robots might be able to do their job better than you:

So if you’re looking for a robot to take care of all of your monotonous household chores, keep dreaming. Or instead, take a second and think about how far robotics has come. We now have robots that can vacuum your house on their own without any human help.

That’s one chore you can scratch off your to-do list.


You May Like