Personal robots and robot butlers, capable of carrying out multiple tasks in domestic and everyday environments, have entered the market.
These assistive robots will soon include APIs, which will allow developers to make more applications for them, and should generate increased demand.
At the 2020 CES, Samsung introduced “Ballie,” a small A.I.-powered robo-ball that functions as a security robot, fitness assistant, smart speaker and friend. While there’s no word on when Ballie will be available to customers, Sony has a robot dog in the market already. Aibo is a cute robot puppy that can play fetch—it responds to reinforcement learning, so the more its owners offer feedback (in the form of neck scratches and pats on the head), the better it gets at interacting.
Panasonic and Japan’s largest homebuilder Daiwa House created an A.I.-powered robot that can sort and fold your laundry. Honda and Sony launched a fleet of personal robots in the past year, offering both companionship and some help with the housework. (Whether there’s a Marie Kondo-bot on the horizon, we still don’t know.)
Many countries, including Japan, Italy, and Germany, are facing rapid demographic shifts. Population numbers in certain age groups are changing, and within a generation some of these countries and others will no longer have the demographic makeup needed to make their societies function as they do today. Science and technology will eventually compensate for the lack of people: robots will assist with everything from eldercare, to medical assistance, to everyday companionship.
In Japan, the population is inverting: There aren’t enough people working to support retirees (one in four people in the country are now age 65 or older), and there aren’t enough new babies being born. It’s no surprise, then, that the first crop of companion robots is being built in Japan.
Anyone interested in the future of robotics would be wise to look beyond Silicon Valley to the universities and R&D labs of Japan, where extensive research on the next generation of robot companions is already underway. Out of necessity, robots—mechanical systems, artificial intelligence, and automated services—will act as productive, emotionally-intelligent stand-ins for younger generations that were simply too small in numbers.
For now, personal robots are out of the price range of average consumers. That will change as the device ecosystem matures in the very near future.
AMY Robotics, ARP, Bioinspired Intelligent Mechatronics Lab, Buddy, Fujitsu, Groove X, Honda, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, LG, MIT Media Lab, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nanyang Technological University, Panasonic, Ritsumeikan University, Samsung, Sharp, Shinpo Electronics, SoftBank Robotics, Sony, Tokyo University, Toyota.
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