Over the past few years, some amazing trends in robotics have pushed the boundaries of innovation. For instance, the field has seen exciting early tech developments, such as Amazon expanding its warehouse robot army and SoftBank launching an emotion-aware robot named Pepper, as well as significant advancements in trends like autonomous cars. Extrapolating from those developments, MIT Technology AI editor, Will Knight, made five predictions about what trends in the robotics field would balloon in the years to come, including:
- Rapid advancements in China, developing and using advanced manufacturing robotics
- Deep learning to help robots learn, see, understand, and reason
- Knowledge-sharing between robots
- Personal and engaging robots, characterised by human emotions
- Smarter, autonomous drones utilised across industries
Another AI expert, Emmet Cole, predicted that trends in robotics will see the release of robot cops, unemployment due to intelligent technology, and significant advancements in autonomous cars—and he hasn’t been far off the mark so far. Let’s dive in and explore the top trends that are making waves—and will continue to do so over the next few years.
1. Automation continues to bloom despite job-loss concerns
Despite the hype surrounding job loss to automation, Pew Research revealed a majority of people weren’t afraid to lose their jobs to automation. But, historically, there has been an impact on employment in customer services, such as fast-food chains. However, it does seems Knight’s predictions about the impact of robots on manufacturing in Asia may have been correct: Apple supplier, Foxconn, took on an initiative to replace 60,000 workers (over half their staff) with robots—and that’s just one example.
In any case, now is the time to explore automation in the office. By identifying bottlenecks within your current workflows, you may be able to maximise productivity by implementing small layers of automation—and that doesn’t necessarily need to equal job loss. For IT, it will result in more free time to dedicate toward strategic initiatives instead of maintenance.
2. Robotics developed with a human touch
Intelligent robotics is becoming increasingly popular: Roombas can vacuum for you, while an Amazon Echo can offer you hands-free convenience. But are robots getting more emotional and building relationships with their users?
While there hasn’t been a race of robots developed that can fall in love or experience anger, there’s been some serious advancements in this trend. University of Pisa’s FACE is an incredibly human-looking cyborg that’s sophisticated enough to show fear during a horror movie. PhD robotics pioneer, Alexander Enoch, also designed a robot that isn’t just personal but is capable of being anything you want it to be—and it’s specifically programmed to solve the robotics engineer shortage over the next 10 years. Named Marty, this robot is affordable and provides Wi-Fi, so you can program him in any language and expand on his abilities as he becomes more intelligent.
3. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a . . . drone?
Although you may have been hoping for one-hour drone delivery, Amazon hasn’t replaced their delivery service with drones just yet. Even so, the latest reports from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority estimate there are around 100,000 privately operated drones in Australia, and interest around drones is growing by the day.
Drones are also being used for a number of services. For instance, while cyborg cops aren’t quite a reality, police departments can pilot drones to assist in pursuing suspect criminals and SWAT raids. And clinical pathologist Geoff Baird hopes drones will soon transform rural medical care by delivering lab tests to medical technicians and doctors. One of the most exciting drone innovations for the foodies of the world is the burrito delivery drone, making its inaugural debut at Virginia Tech—we can only hope it comes to Australia next.
4. Robotic reasoning advances—but needs some work
The latest Turing test results showed that chatbots aren’t smart enough to fool a panel of judges into thinking they’re actually human—yet. Robotic reasoning via deep learning has made great advancements, but it’s also been heavily surrounded in controversy.
For example, the results of the first AI-judged beauty competition were not racially inclusive. Tay, Twitter’s chatbot, crowd sourced deep-learning capabilities that turned her into a racist misogynist within 24 hours. As more robots become capable of reasoning, developers are discovering how human bias can affect algorithms—and the importance of controlling this factor. With some fine-tuning, though, this trend is looking increasingly promising for businesses.
5. From human ride-sharing to robot knowledge-sharing
No robot training academies exist today, but there have been significant steps toward this futuristic concept. University of Maryland researchers are developing robots that can learn to replicate tasks by watching humans live or on video. Recent research from Dr. Roderich Gross at the University of Sheffield also unearthed Turing Learning, or a new breed of swarm robots capable of learning by example. This represents significant technology advancements toward robots that don’t need to be programmed. Instead, they can determine what’s normal and abnormal simply by observation.
While Uber has started taking journalists for rides in self-driving vehicles, it’s still law that humans operate a vehicle. Roger Cohen of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation believes it will be a long time before you can call a driverless Uber. And although there may be no robot cops, the city of Cleveland is piloting a six-wheeled robot named Griffin, which will be used to search for evidence and explosives in confined spaces.
While you’ll have to wait a little longer for autonomous cars or a cyborg that can learn from other robots, at least burrito delivery via drone may be a reality soon. But seriously, keep your eye on these trends in robotics and you’ll be well-positioned to be an early adopter in your workplace, which may give you the edge needed to beat competition.