With a sharp jawline, and fluttering eyelashes, doe-eyed Sophia, the world’s first AI-powered humanoid is quite a stunner. Besides her looks, she boasts of an admirable sense of humour. Designed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics, Sophia exhibits many human values such as wisdom, compassion and kindness. She is also capable of expressing her emotions, holding eye contact, recognising faces, and understanding human speech. And Sophia is not the only humanoid robot the world is gushing over. There is Nedbank’s fully programmable hospitality-bot Fabio, the bipedal humanoid Atlas, and, of course, the adorable tomato-feeding Tomatan.
With significant advances in the fields of AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning, humanoid robots have come a long way in the last few years. From cleaning houses to cooking meals, they can potentially perform any task like a human. While the exceptional development of industrial robots has already revolutionised product manufacturing, fully-functional humanoid robots are yet to become mainstream. However, as we approach the end of another year, the scenario could change soon. Let’s take a look at what the upcoming year holds for humanoid robots:
Humanoid robots will be mass-produced
Several companies have already been toying with the idea of opening mass production factories for humanoid robots. In December 2017, the world’s first humanoid robotics’ mass production factory was opened in Turkey. The AkinRobotics Factory, established by a software company called AkinSoft, makes robots that can process what they hear, smell, and speak. In 2019, we could see mass production of humanoid robots happen.
Humanoids to become part of our families
Experts believe that it won’t be long before humanoids become part of our families. In near future, children are likely to grow up with robot companions who will look after them, like nannies. Scientists have already been able to program humanoids with emotions like empathy and compassion. And, in countries like Japan, where humanoid robots are well-accepted, it’s very likely that people will have no problem welcoming robots into their homes. For instance, when Pepper was launched in Japan in 2005, its initial 1,000 units sold out within a minute. In 2019, we could expect humanoids to make their way into our houses and live alongside as nannies or domestic help.
Humanoids to take over dull and dangerous jobs
About 5 years ago, Elon Musk predicted that artificial intelligence would become seriously dangerous by 2019. Many people feared that robots would take over the world and steal their jobs. But in reality, robots will only replace humans in performing tasks that are tedious, repetitive, and even dangerous in some cases. For example, welding, when done manually, can have hazardous effects on the health of the human worker. With robotic welding in place, humans no longer need to inhale the fumes from metals thereby mitigating the risk of contracting certain occupational diseases.
Similarly, in the coming years, humanoid robots may replace humans in construction work, coal mining, feeling trees, and other jobs that pose a threat to human health and well-being. This does not, however, mean that humans will be left with no jobs. Their roles will evolve to require special human skills as well as the ability to handle complex robotic mechanisms.
Humanoids as caregivers
While technology has made lives considerably easier for seniors, they still need a hand with their everyday chores once in a while. And, in today’s fast-paced world, it is not always possible for relative and friends to always be there. This is where humanoid robots come in. With demands for professional caregivers on the rise, humanoids have the potential to assist the elderly in the near future. One main advantage humanoids have over humans is that they can provide round-the-clock care to ageing people. The Japanese government has already started funding the development of elder care robots to fill the shortage of specialised workers. In Tokyo’s Shin-tomi nursing home, there are 20 different types of robots to care for the residents.
Humanoid robots can already perform simple household chores, and the time isn’t far when they will have the ability to do more complicated tasks. Several countries are already working on advanced humanoids that can coexist with humans in harmony. While it’s too early to chalk out an exact timeline for this, we expect to see more innovations in the humanoid robot industry in 2019.
Pulak Satish Kumar is the chief operating officer at Puresight Systems.