CES 2017 is nearly here, and we couldn’t be more excited. The best part of the show this year? Robots. They’ll be everywhere and we can’t wait to meet them.
Previously, robots have been used as marketing tools or demonstration props, but that may change this year.
“What we will see is more from the application point of view,” says IHS analyst Dinesh Kithany. Companies are looking for practical and not-so-practical but fun uses for robots.
There are typically three different kinds of robots for consumers: service bots (like your Roomba), social bots (like Pepper), and fully humanoid bots that are meant to do nearly everything a human can. It’s estimated that there will be 13 million home robots by 2020 (according to IHS’s Service Robots & Drones report 2016.
Better AI is coming
The quality of a robot depends on the quality of artificial intelligence. With innovations like Go-playing algorithms and Jarvis, Mark Zuckerberg’s smart home AI butler, we can expect a much high quality of robotics than we had in 2016. We’ve also seen huge growth in smart assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. That kind of technology will also be useful when creating better robots.
During this year’s CES convention, a panel is set to discuss how AI improvements will make robots more practical for everyday life. “We’re showcasing some advanced AI technology to demonstrate that AI is a reality and available to consumers for everyday communication and entertainment,” said John Rhee, general manager of Ubtech Robotics, which is set to make several announcements regarding its robotics range.
Robart, an Austrian company, will use also be using CES to show off its autonomous navigation software for household robots. This system is supposed to allow bots to “recognize their surroundings and communicate intuitively with the user,” CEO Michael Schahpar says. “They will learn ever better and adapt to changing surroundings.”
Another great event to hit: Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute will demonstrate some essential robotic skills involving computer vision at the show. Researchers will have a robot distinguish between various chess pieces and their locations on the board, as well as between various coffee cups, their locations and fill levels.
Beware the uncanny valley
One thing researchers must be careful of is the uncanny valley. Creating robots that look human is the goal, but creating robots that look too human is quite terrifying in real life. Hence Expressive Sophia by Hanson Robotics (the image we have here).
Hanson Robotics, the maker of realistic humanoid robots that feature a flexible, responsive skin called “frubber,” is somebody we’ll keep a close eye on at CES. A company spokesman says customers are keen to get hold of humanoid robots with lifelike facial movements.
Earlier this year, Hanson showed off its Sophia robot, which is capable of performing a full range of human facial expressions. At CES, Hanson is due to give its very first public demonstration of its Professor Einstein robot.
Others are similarly optimistic about this robot form factor.
“2017 is the year in which we will begin to see humanoid robots become home companions,” said Ubtech’s Rhee. His company is responsible for creating Alpha 2, a short humanoid social robot designed to make household life easier by setting reminders and controlling smart home devices like lights and locks.
A well-rounded smart pal for your smart home?
If you’re hoping you’ll find the ultimate robot butler or a reprogrammed KX-Series security drone — it’s a Star Wars thing and we’re really into Star Wars — at CES, this probably won’t be your year.
till, you can expect to see a host of new consumer robots focused on entertainment and education, especially for teaching kids to code. One example: New designs of Ubtech’s Jimu robots that offer the familiar snap-together programmable creatures but with increased mobility.
We’ll also likely see a number of companies showcasing hardware and software brought together by AI. These projects will give us a glimpse of the skills future robots might have and that could persuade people to think about bringing one home.
At the very least, we’ll find some cute bots to dream about.