Are we ready for the next generation of intelligent automation? It’s “social robots”.
From the cute BB-8 droid in The Force Awakens to quick-witted K-2SO in Rogue One, the Star Wars universe never disappoints when it comes to big-screen robots that steal our hearts (and who could forget the original C3PO and R2D2?). But how long before we encounter social robots in real-life everyday situations, such as the local supermarket checkout? (A potentially friendlier face than the don’t-work-when-you’re-in-a-rush self checkout?)
Well, sooner than you might think. These days, attention is being focused on robots that we can talk to, socialise with and live alongside. There are lots of benefits to social robots, from enhancing the customer experience to caring for the elderly. Some, like the (still) yet-to-be-launched crowdfunded Jibo, are even being marketed as “one of the family”, with the ability to help people with their personal goals (such as weight loss) and housework. Such is the hype and expectation around social robots, that Jibo is the most successfully crowdfunded robot ever, raising US$3.7 billion (AUD 4.8), making it 2,288% funded on Indiegogo when its campaign closed in September 2014.) Robotics Trends says while “latency issues” have continued delaying Jibo’s launch, Amazon Echo has sold more than 3 million units in the USA since launching there in 2014. Among its 900+ skills are ordering a pizza, playing games, arranging an Uber pick up, making shopping lists and checking package and flight statuses.
You can already find social robots in consumer-facing environments around the world.
Of course, just next week at Auspack (7-10 March) visitors will be greeted at the door by AMY! A first for an Australian exhibition, customer-service robot AMY will answer questions people have when they arrive, such as the location of a particular brand or company’s stand, the meeting rooms, café and so on. Give it a go: say hi or ask a question!
And here are a few other places to look around the world:
The retail industry has a good track record in leading new-technology adoption, which is why social robots can already be found in French supermarket Carrefour. Designed by French robotics company Aldebaran, Pepper is claimed to have sufficient emotional intelligence to sense your mood. Makers say the robot can understand up to 80% of conversations, can welcome and inform customers in different languages, dance with customers, and play some upbeat music to brighten their day.
Eventually, Pepper may be able to help with grocery packing. But not yet — it’s still not able to distinguish between different random items (so a carton of eggs still needs a human’s careful attention). For now, it simply tells you about the latest in-store offers.
It should come as no surprise that Japan is on the front foot when it comes to social robots. As well has having SoftBank mobile phone stores staffed almost entirely by Pepper robots, Nestlé uses them as the face of coffee in 1,000 Japanese stores. A joint statement from Nestlé and SoftBank says the robots will “help us discover consumer needs through conversations between our customers and Pepper.”
Cruising the high seas? Italian-operated Costa Cruises is already employing robots to greet and entertain customers. Not to be outdone, Royal Caribbean’s mammoth cruise ship Ovation of the Seas features a bionic bar, where twin robotic arms shake, stir and pour cocktails to order.
Back closer to home again, Stockland shopping centres are about to become home to the latest in robot technology. Stockland’s Marylands shopping centre in western Sydney has been the testing ground for a new 1.7m tall robot that provides assistance and amusement to shoppers. The experiment is the result of a partnership between Stockland, the Commonwealth Bank, Australian Technology Network of Universities and the University of Technology Sydney. So far it has proved a big attraction drawing in curious shoppers keen to see the human-robotic interaction.
But what do the robots do? Can they really think for themselves? If the latest developments are anything to go by, social robots can add value as a source of information and are a unique way to engage customers. This can be used to enhance the customer experience, when used in conjunction with human interactions — rather than in place of them.
As with any new technology, organisations need to work out whether the robots will add value to their business (and customers). Robots will always have their limitations — namely their lack of creativity, innovation and leadership. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place. As in manufacturing, the conversation should be focused on how we can unlock their value and potential.
Not sure how to find us? Ask AMY!
Proudly sponsored by Matthews, AMY is a customer-service robot on hand to answer your questions during the expo. So if you want to stop by our stand, AMY can tell you exactly where to find us.
And if you’re curious about social robots, this blog on cobots has some quite interesting information.
Come and see us on stand 59; you’ll see our smart products and the integrated solutions you need to increase results, decrease operating costs and streamline operations. Register now as our VIP guest, and get express entry, complimentary refreshments in the VIP Lounge, a ticket to the AUSPACK Networking Function and free shuttle bus services from and back to Sydney Airport
Like to set up a time with us to discuss your coding, labelling or inspection needs? Interested in how they can all integrate? Want to understand how automation can help your business? Pre-arrange a meeting with Matthews Australasia at #AUSPACK 2017 using the free AUSPACK MATCHMAKE program.
We are also presenting at the AIP Technical Forum running alongside AUSPACK 2017 on ‘Intelligent Information Driven Manufacturing’. The 4-day content line up is exciting! Have you registered yet?
Image credit / Palto