Living with robots

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It’s been suggested that robots would not just be present in the workplace, in industries such as manufacturing, but start to co-exist with humans and live in our homes.It’s been suggested that robots would not just be present in the workplace, in industries such as manufacturing, but start to co-exist with humans and live in our homes.It’s been suggested that robots would not just be present in the workplace, in industries such as manufacturing, but start to co-exist with humans and live in our homes.

Robotics has been instrumental in various industries to help increase speed, efficiency, and even reduce human error or risk to humans. Today, it is widely used in factory automation, space exploration, handling of dangerous materials and more.

Indeed, the applications for robotics in various industries globally is growing. Statistics shows that demand for industrial robots would continue to grow on an average of 12% per year till at least 2017.

But what about robot applications with a softer touch? This requires more than just precision and accuracy of repetitive movements.

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robot3Japanese SoftBank group chairman Masayoshi Son recently observed that robots would outnumber humans in as little as 30 years. That seems to suggest that robots would not just be present in the workplace, in industries such as manufacturing, but start to co-exist with humans and live in our homes.

During Huawei’s Innovation Asia Day in Singapore recently, Vice-President of Softbank Corp.’s Global Business Decision, Akihiro Oshima said: “Geniuses like Leonardo Da Vinci had an IQ of 205, but artificial intelligence (AI) can have IQs as high as 10,000.”

He also opined that many jobs being done by people today would be automated by computers in the next 30 years.

A Jetsons’ future – just around the corner?

More than just automation is at play here.

Big tech companies like IBM are already forging ahead with robotics, making artificial intelligence (AI) like IBM Watson more widely available.

IBM Watson is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data. It mirrors the cognitive learning process of humans and makes decisions in the following sequence: observe, interpret, evaluate and then decide.

But the Softbank Group recently embodied this complex AI into Pepper, a robot that can read emotions, as well as have emotions of its own. Powered by artificial intelligence in the cloud, the robot would be able to generate its own emotions after processing data from its cameras, touch sensors, accelerometer and other sensors within its “endocrine-type multi-layer neural network”.

These emotions, developed by Softbank subsidiary cocoro SB Corp, are modelled after the human release of hormones in response to stimuli to its five “senses”. Due to this technology, Pepper would have emotions that are influenced by facial expressions and word.

Besides applications in the home, Pepper can function as a social companion, complete with its own personality that is conveyed by body language, gestures and voice.

Another key is also self-adaptation. Like a human being, Pepper will be able to recognise and learn new things. With its AI in the cloud and available for developers to create new applications for, Pepper is supposed to evolve its functions and make itself more at home with members of its human family.

Customer experience

Pepper and its AI isn’t all just about fun and play. Softbank has had about 300 Pepper robots in its shops around Japan since 2014. The idea is for it to create interest and even maximise conversion rates, via linking with a business’ customer relationship management (CRM) system. In other words, Pepper can recommend products and suggest services to walk-in customers.

Not to mention, it provides a pretty unique in-store entertainment.

Besides Softbank, Nestlé Japan has placed 1,000 Pepper units in its stores, and even Carrefour has Pepper in Europe.

Malaysia’s progress

The world of robotics and AI is an intriguing and fast-growing space. Malaysia has dipped its toes into this field, with its second robotics competition organised by Cyberview Sdn. Bhd, and Terato Tech.

In early November, Malaysia held Robo Race 2015, and the competition served as the perfect platform for local players, enthusiasts and students alike to showcase creative development in the fields of programming, animation, coding and 3D animation.

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For example, participants in the under-16 category raced each other using Bluetooth-controlled LEGO EV3 robots while trying to manoeuvre a tricky obstacle course, while in the open category, participants had to code the sensors of NXT/EV3 robots so that the robots could get around a tricky track by themselves.

Cyberview’s Managing Director, Faris Yahaya, had commented that a unique competition like Robo Race helps seed interest in mathematics and science at a level where it can make the most difference – the grassroots. Cyberview is a tech hub enabler that aims to empower the tech community through industry development, investor relations services, tech hub development and management services, in the hopes of propelling economic growth and wealth creation for Malaysia.

The age of robots is upon us. And Malaysia must begin to embrace it to move forward.

Participants of the Robo Race 2015 in a group photo after the end of the event.Participants of the Robo Race 2015 in a group photo after the end of the event.Participants of the Robo Race 2015 in a group photo after the end of the event.

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