Robots: Who doesn't love the idea of a humanoid personal assistant with artificial intelligence, laser eyes and the ability to preempt your every move? No, wait…
2015 is the year of wearable technology, right? No, that was last year. This year wearable tech beds in and gets on with the real job in hand. The 2015 buzz surrounds robots of all shapes and sizes.
Yesterday, I caught up with Aldebaran at CES, a French company making big waves in the android marketplace. That’s ‘android’ with a small ‘A’. I first met NAO in Poland last month and loved the playful approach Aldebaran had taken to developing their first consumer robot.
Only it isn’t available to consumers yet. 10 years of refinement means developers have been the first to get their hands on the cute little chap to hone interaction and push boundaries for commercial markets. He currently responds to a set list of commands but this is then extended by the user with AI kicking in as he learns new and exciting ways to respond.
The limb articulation is particularly impressive. If you push NAO over, he struggles back to his feet in a truly human fashion. This where it all begins to get a little weird. The mere act of pushing him over makes you catch your breath, as if actually bullying a small child. You feel bad about having performed this action, merely to see see how he’ll react. And so begins the human/humanoid relationship.
Aldebaran have some exciting products in the pipeline, including Romeo, a personal assistant and companion for the medical and care industry. Humanoid robots with character can play a vital role in this area, with NAO already used in hospitals to aid rehabilitation and put children at ease in an intimidating environment.
I spoke with a number of other fascinating robotic manufacturers at CES but the tiniest was Ozobot, a cute little droid that (in their words) “teaches robotics and coding through fun, creative and social games”. I love the use of physical and digital inputs – in its simplest form, providing a pen or pixel line for Ozobot to follow across paper and tablet. The manufacturers picked up a raft of awards at CES – deservedly so.
This market isn’t just for startups, Google went on a buying spree in 2014 and their ownership of robotics companies is now in double figures. Automotive manufacturers have been at this game for years. Honda and Toyota are particularly hot in this area, as Mercedes and Audi up their game at CES with autonomous cars – that kinda makes the whole car a robot!
Amazon is another big player entering the arena. They’re offering us the chance to purchase our own personal assistant, Echo, useful and worrying in equal measures – especially with its ‘always listening’ approach.
Window cleaning robots, digital sandwich board cyborgs and tiny printer droids – Vegas was wall-to-wall automatons.
Of course, robots come in all shapes and sizes, with drones also falling into this category. Now everyone wants a drone before they get legislated out of existence so grab one while you can!
If 2015 wasn’t kicking off with a big enough buzz around robots, just wait for the season climax with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December. These are the droids you are looking for.