Doing the robot dance

With both the personal and household robotics market set to grow over the next four years, ACN explores the related challenges in bringing robots to the household.

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Doing the robot dance Alexander Sophoclis Pieri, Editor, Arabian Computer News.
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  September 19, 2016

Possibly one of the more interesting stories to fall on my desk in the last month was focused on the global robotics market. Two aspects of the release, I found absolutely astounding. The first was DigiRobotics announcement that it will unveil the region’s first 3D-printed humanoid robot at GITEX 2016. The second was the findings from from Frost & Sullivan report that predicts personal and household robotics will grow from four million in 2012 to 25 million by 2020.

Now before you go conjuring up images of Rosie, the mechanical maid from the Jetsons, mopping the floors and cooking dinner, it’s quite likely these household robots will comprise of tiny cleaner bots, akin to the recently released Dyson 360 Eye or automated waste bins. At the most there may be aid robots, similar to the ones currently being developed in Japan for senior citizens.

Of course this concept of a home fully maintained by robots is the ultimate dream, albeit a tricky one to fully realise. The first step lies with the robots themselves, their designed function, as well as sophistication. The most basic automated cleaning bot today is typically equipped with sensors, and is programmed to recognise obstacles along its path and adjust accordingly.

Once the function of the robot becomes more complex however, so too will its detection capabilities and programming. For example, an automated bot that utilises strong chemicals as part of the cleaning process, will need recognise if a toddler is present and understand the dangers that the solutions may present.

As robots are tasked with more functions around the household, the medium for interaction between owner and unit will also need to be considered.

Take for example the robochef currently being designed by UK-based Moley Robotics. By recording an individual’s movements and studying a recipe, the unit is able to prepare meals for consumption.

While this enables the machine to product food from a set menu, accessible on a mobile device, small changes based personal preferences, require a bit more input then what can be achieved by an app. One possible answer lies with voice recognition but understanding the language — even different languages and dialects — require a sizeable database and speech analytics.

Now within larger households, a spill in one part of the house may not necessarily trigger a response from the cleaning bots. Instead an overarching platform with internal sensors, akin to a smart building design, would be able to identify issues and assign the right units to the task. If the use of artificial intelligence was also incorporated, the platform’s capabilities could be expanded further, learning occupant’s behaviors and adjusting accordingly.

Security will be paramount however, though I don’t expect hackers will turn loose the house’s garbage bot to attack. If you consider that such units will be equipped with cameras and microphones, hackers may compromise a unit to spy and collect sensitive data.

Also an important question is defining the robot’s response to crime. Say a cleaning bot comes across an illegal substance during its cleanup, or even something more nefarious. What happens if it witnesses a crime first-hand? Does the severity of the crime matter, or whether or not it was perpetrated by a minor? To what extent should it leave the decision up to the owner, or act independently and contact local law enforcement?

These are some consideration that must be discussed before we allow robots into our homes.

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