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.

60% of primate species threatened with extinction

A new study has called for urgent action to protect the world’s rapidly dwindling primate populations after figures revealed that 60% of the world’s primate species are threatened with extinction. There are over 500 currently recognised primate species, with the percentage considered at risk having increased by 20% since 1996.

The study draws attention to the incredible impact that humans have placed on primate environments. Agriculture, logging, construction, resource extraction and other human activities have all placed escalating and unsustainable pressure on the animals’ habitats, and are predicted to only worsen over the next 50 years.

Unless immediate action is taken, the scientists predict numerous extinctions.

“In 1996 around 40% of the then recognised primate taxa were threatened. The increase to 60% at present is extremely worrying and indicates that more conservation efforts are needed to halt this increase,” says Serge Wich, professor by special appointment of Conservation of the Great Apes at the University of Amsterdam.

Interestingly, one of the main suggestions for helping the primates is first helping humans. Most primates live in regions characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality, a fact that the study authors believe leads to greater hunting and habitat loss.

They suggest that immediate actions should be taken to improve health and access to education, develop sustainable land-use initiatives, and preserve traditional livelihoods that can contribute to food security and environmental conservation.

While it may be tragic to some, it could be easy to see the loss of these primates as unimportant to humans. However, it is important to note that the non-human primates’ biological relation to humans offers unique insights into human evolution, biology, behaviour and the threat of emerging diseases.

Additionally, these species serve as key components of tropical biodiversity and contribute to forest regeneration and ecosystem health. If they are struck by mass extinction, it is hard to predict the impact it could have on their ecosystems.

“‘If we are unable to reduce the impact of our activities on primates, it is difficult to foresee how we will maintain this fantastic diversity of our closest relatives in the near future,” added Wich. “That will not only be a great loss from a scientific point of view, but will also have a negative influence on the ecosystems that we all rely so much upon. It is therefore important to drastically change from the business as usual scenarios to more sustainable ones.”

The threat posed to delicate ecosystems by human expansion is nothing new, but it is perhaps shocking to have such a blunt figure out there as to the damage being caused.

More than half of these species – species that are far closer to us than we may be comfortable discussing – could die unless current policy is reversed.

The study’s authors have called on authorities across the world to take action and raise awareness of the issues raised.

The article itself is published in the latest edition of the journal Science Advances.

Mark Zuckerberg: VR goal is still 5-10 years away

Mark Zuzkerberg has said that the true goal of virtual reality could still be a decade away, in a testimony during a high-profile court case against his company.

Facebook, as owner of Oculus, is currently in the middle of being sued by ZeniMax Media for allegedly stealing technology for the virtual reality device. If proved guilty, they will be pursued for the amount of $2bn by ZeniMax.  However, perhaps more pertinent to the actual future of virtual reality are comments arising from Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony.

As it currently stands, virtual reality is still a far cry from being integrated into everyday life on a wide scale. Oculus, HTC Vive and Playstation VR are still largely targeting gamers and the idea of entertainment experiences. While they have found varying levels of success, all three platforms are being held back by the youth of the technology and, in the case of Vive and Oculus, the limited by the need for a high performing computer to plug into.

Image and featured image courtesy of Oculus

“I don’t think that good virtual reality is fully there yet,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s going to take five or 10 more years of development before we get to where we all want to go.”

The revelation isn’t a particularly shocking one; even the most ardent believer in virtual reality has to admit that we’re a fair way off the goal. Indeed, we can be seen as being in the first wave of mainstream virtual reality, with the main players in the tech using gaming as a way to introduce the technology to a group that are most likely to be interested from the off.

Zuckerberg has far grander plans than simply expanding the user base however, as seen with projects such as Facebook Social VR. If games are the entry, the idea is to expand virtual reality to become a whole new computing platform used for a bevy of experiences and containing a whole load of tools. The ambition is high, the reality slightly lagging behind.

Mark Zuckerberg with Priscilla Chan in 2016

When asked about the realisation of VR as this new computing platform, Zuckerberg replied: “These things end up being more complex than you think up front. If anything, we may have to invest even more money to get to the goals we had than we had thought up front.”

He then went on to add that the probable investment for Facebook to reach that goal is likely to top the $3bn mark over the next ten years. Considering the social media giant spent $2bn just to acquire Oculus, this represents a truly colossal investment in something that seemed to be initially set to hit a lot sooner. Admittedly the goal is rather grand: providing hundreds of millions of people with a good virtual reality experience transcending gaming alone.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s very important that you know that Mark Zuckerberg did in fact wear a suit to trial. Whether Palmer Luckey, making his first public appearance since his Gamergate/Trump support scandal last year, will manage to ditch the flip flops when he testifies is yet to be seen.