Robots seem to have caught the public’s imagination in the latter part of last year! Between appearances on the UK’s BBC The Apprentice and One Show, I’m pretty sure I even spotted Pepper on the 10 o’clock News around Christmas. From the perspective of a team of people who create leading edge Customer Innovation Experience Centres, it seems about time too. Robotics is no longer just the domain of the ultra-high end, because with the advent of Softbank’s Pepper and Nao, a significantly more accessible price-point has been achieved. Even more astonishing is the cost of Qihan Technology’s Sanbot which has caught our attention more recently.
Clearly a lower cost robot isn’t going to deliver the jaw-dropping capabilities of a Honda Asimo or Boston Dynamic’s back-flipping Atlas. So I guess the question is whether or not these lower cost robots can really do anything more useful than just fist-bump and look futuristic? In other words is this is just a case of a first wave of ‘style over substance’ technology?
Well, our mission over the last 3 months has been to show that’s not the case and that it is more than possible to make robots like Pepper do some pretty useful things. We have come up with a number of applications where within the limitations we can still get very effective outcomes. We did maybe have to delete a few dance routines from the internal processor to get there, but that has enabled us to get to a point where we have Pepper delivering and controlling PowerPoint presentations, linking up with calendar and meeting systems, sending emails to alert a host that their guest is in reception and via connection to a range of other IOT devices becoming the key control interface for automated environments.
We believe this type of human interaction, IOT control and ‘meet & greet’ capability has huge commercial application and more than justifies the hype. Robots that can engage personally with real people and personalise the environment around them offer the chance to create new experiences that will without question help to sell our clients’ products and services.
However we must define the rules of engagement for working with affordable robots at this stage in their life cycle – like ensuring that the lighting conditions are right for functional facial recognition, or trying to avoid getting tied down in people’s surnames (which are a dictionary of bizarre words in their own right!). Added to this they need to listen attentively but when they hear themselves, that gets tricky!
The development team are constantly refining and improving the systems and looking to engineer applications within environments where contexts can be reasonably neatly defined. Our latest applications are an exciting combination of Facial Recognition, ticketing system AI speech interaction (with IBM’s Watson) and CRM data retrieval – but more on all this next time…
Meantime roll on 2018, the ‘year of the robot’. Our prediction is that by the end of this year, a vast number of us will have had some interaction with a physical robot in the ‘wild’.