All posts by Richard Van Hooijdonk

Robots are set to seep into every aspect of our lives

Since the 1950s, robotic technology has advanced to a point where we are now being assisted by robots in the manufacturing, space, military, civil security and transportation fields. In the manufacturing industry, many human jobs are already being performed by robots.

This has caused a substantial decline in accidents, worker injuries and manufacturing failures. But those are mainly robots made for static surroundings. With the development of robotics in the 21st century, that’s about to change.

As trend watching predicts, future technology will include mobile robots that can be navigated by using the existing static robotic application, enabling them to operate in environments beyond human reach. Frost & Sullivan’s recent study called ”The Future of Mobile Robots” suggests that the mobile robots market will reach $17 billion by 2020.

But the problem is how to develop robots which are able to identify our emotions and react to them effectively. By incorporating artificial intelligence, futurologists hope to be able to develop a new line of mobile robots who can behave like humans.

Softbank, a Japanese telecommunication company created a human-like robot called Pepper which is able to recognise human emotions by using voice recognition technology and algorithms. With these, Pepper can identify our emotions from our facial expressions and tone of voice. There’s a wide spectrum of fields where this technology can be applied and in this article we will mention some of the most interesting ones.

Softbank's social robot Pepper. Image courtesy of Softbank

Softbank’s social robot Pepper. Image courtesy of Softbank

The service industry

Illah Nourbakhsh, trend watcher and professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, claims that robots will increasingly become part of the service industry as they become more communicative.

In Japan, there are places where robots even work as assistants, taking and delivering orders. Imagine a restaurant with robotic waiters that know exactly what you like and dislike, based on information about you in your online profiles.

Medicine and health

Another field that will be greatly influenced by robots is the health sector. Miniature robots that perform surgeries are no longer science fiction.

Scientists at Autodesk are developing nano-robots that will kill cancer cells after being injected into a patient’s body. Moreover, we have already developed robotic exoskeletons that help paralysed patients walk again.

Or, think of robots helping nurses and physicians in hospitals. The UCSF Medical Centre at Mission Bay, San Francisco is actually developing not one but two such robots.

One of them is responsible for the delivery of medical supplies, drugs, bed sheets and so on, to desired locations in the hospital. The other one serves food, remotely ordered by patients from their rooms.

Image courtesy of RIKEN

Image courtesy of RIKEN

Education

Some schools in the US already use robots as teaching aids. However, trend watchers claim that they will perform much bigger roles in the near future and even evolve into independent teachers.

”Robots will improve classes by replacing traditional teaching methods with active work on real-world problems’,” futurist Hourbakhsh explains.

Furthermore, companies across the world have started to develop robots to assist in special education. The result – a toy-like robot that catches children’s attention more easily which improves their learning and costs less than traditional education methods for children with disabilities.

Image courtesy of Google

Image courtesy of Google

Transportation

The most popular disruptive technology today seems to be the autonomous cars. Companies like Google, Tesla and Uber have already developed this technology. They intend to target both the private and the public sector.

By the end of 2016, autonomous vehicles are planned to be tested in 30 cities across the US and the UK. Experts believe that this technology will help improve city efficiency and solve problems like air pollution.

A study conducted by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in Portugal suggests that implementing so called ”taxibots” in Lisbon would reduce the number of cars in the city by 90% and significantly decrease levels of air pollution.

Where will the integration of future technologies lead us?

Developments of disruptive robotics technologies are certainly going to transform the industries mentioned in this article. In the very near future, more and more fields will involve robots in order to enhance productivity, reduce production costs and make end products easily accessible to consumers.

On the other hand, however, there is concern that robots will take our jobs away. Even if this happens, new areas of production and career prospects will become available. But one thing is certain: robots are getting better and better and they are here to stay.


Renowned speaker Richard van Hooijdonk offers inspiring lectures on world trends, technology and marketing. More than 300,000 people have visited his inspiration sessions both at home and abroad. Known at RTL, BNR, Radio 1 news and lecturer at Nyenrode and Erasmus University.