The global consumer electronics and consumer tech trade show CES is in full swing in Las Vegas and the organisers have revealed that robotics exhibits have grown 25% at the show compared to the 2014 CES. 18 exciting companies are showcasing intelligent, autonomous machines that are capable of seeing, hearing, feeling and reacting to the environment in ways once thought impossible.
Here we look at robots’ phenomenal progress today and what’s in store to help us in our connected homes, care for the elderly and in education in future.
Imagine a world where robots help you manage your chores. Not just basic tasks like switching the lights on; but more sophisticated jobs, like monitoring the saucepan on the hob, watering the plants in the garden and carrying heavy objects for the elderly and disabled. With the advent of connected technologies, this isn’t a fantasy anymore: sharing our world with these ‘butlers’ is becoming a reality through the development of sensors.
Organisations around the world are working to drive innovation in robotics – from robots in Japan that can read human emotions to robots in the UK that are teaching children to programme. We all know that smartphones are becoming increasingly central to everyday life: from communicating with friends, to checking your bank balance and buying goods. But, with the right skills in place, robots could become the smartphones of tomorrow.
Together with SOMFY, a smart homes company, we at Worldline have conducted research and development to build a robot that helps people with their household chores. The service is connected to a home automation platform, which directs the robot to perform a range of different tasks around the house. The project won a Connected Objects award earlier this year and shows great potential for use in telehealth and household management to assist the elderly and those with disabilities. Let’s uncover some of the other cutting edge projects going on around the world today.
Butlers in our connected homes
To us, the most exciting thing about robots is that for some tasks, we can simulate almost exactly what humans can do. This is something we’re aiming to do with our Worldline pilot project, Yves. Our robot is designed to play the role of a butler, helping people with their daily chores and optimising comfort in the home. Equipped with light sensors and voice recognition, Yves can identify different times of the day and so knows when it’s time to open the blinds in the morning or switch on the lights at night. He also recognises commands, and so can be instructed to turn appliances on and off, control the central heating or even listen to children read.
Robots for elderly care
Atos and Worldline are part of the European futuristic ALFRED project to develop a ‘virtual butler’ for senior citizens. The R&D project, co-funded by the European Commission, includes advanced voice interaction and vital monitoring signs to promote independence and social integration for the elderly ALFRED’s objective is to act as a mobile personalised assistant for senior citizens, enabling them to remain independent, at the same time as facilitating coordination with their caregivers. Using cutting edge technologies, such as advanced voice interaction, will make it possible for the individual to talk directly to the Interactive Assistant. . Preliminary testing will start in 2015 in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Japan is another major country leading the robotics race, and has one of the world’s largest robot markets. Worth 860 billion yen (€5.89 billion) in 2012, it’s set to triple to 2.85 trillion yen (€19.54 billion) by 2020.
One of the major drivers for Japan’s growing robot market is its rapidly ageing population, with over 22 per cent of the country’s population currently aged 65 or older. This, coupled with a falling birth rate, is contributing to an increasing demand for workers, especially in the care industry, where many companies are introducing robots to assist the elderly.
Robots in education
At a basic level, robots are teaching pupils to read, but children as young as nine are also being taught how to programme, using robots, as part of a new primary school computing curriculum in the UK, for example. 2014 has been labelled as the “Year of Code” across the UK in a bid to nurture the next generation of computer scientists and equip children with the tools they need to revolutionise future industries. And the UK is not alone with its coding initiative; with Israel and Estonia being two other early adopters of coding within schools. If we can teach children how to programme robots at the very earliest stages of their development, we will have equipped our future generations of workers with the right skills to lead the robotics revolution.
In my next post, I consider the future of the automotive industry, where connected technologies are being introduced to deliver ever more personalised and interactive services in our cars."Robot butler at your service",