When we hear the word “robot” the first thing that comes to mind are humanoid robots that move and behave just like humans in the vein of C-3PO or the Terminator. However, for a long time now, the real robots that have made a splash in the industry have traditionally adopted different shapes, from cleaning robots like Roombas to manufacturing robots in factories or even drones a humanoid form hasn’t been the main priority of robotics in most industries.
And yet robots that look like humans do exist and have a role to play in our society. While our future world won’t be filled solely with humanoid robots there is still a role for human droids in our culture and industries, and it all comes down to the fact that in a world made for humans sometimes a human android is the best alternative.
Real life robots come in countless shapes and are designed for a wide variety of functions even if they share a humanoid form. The main advantage these robots provide is first and foremost their ease of integration into our society since our living and working spaces are designed for a humanoid shape, and there’s also the psychological factor of seeing a familiar shape assisting us in our day-to-day tasks.
However just like humans can specialize in countless different venues of work, humanoid robots can work in countless areas like education, entertainment, and even politics. So let’s take a look at some of the most important applications these robots currently have in the real world.
One of the most promising applications of human-shaped robots comes in the form of vendor robots. One of the main challenges malls and shops have to deal with is the bulk of workers required to fulfill the basic needs of their business, as even a fully staffed team can struggle to meet all demands in particularly demanding days,
Human-shaped robots have slowly been finding a place in this market and can prove to be the solution businesses owners all over the world were waiting for. One clear example of this integration comes in the form of Agility Robotic’s Digit which is fully capable of bipedal motion and can navigate its surroundings autonomously while carrying different items. As such Digit can help with unpacking logistics and free up time from the staff for more delicate tasks like customer interaction.
Developing a brand is an integral aspect of any business, however, to properly achieve this, it’s necessary to have a knowledgeable worker who can not only deliver accurate and extensive information but also be a charismatic image on their own. Traditionally brand ambassadors are famous entertainers or celebrities, but some brands are finding success with robotic ambassadors instead.
Robotic ambassadors aren’t necessarily something new, Hanson Robotics’ Sophia is perhaps the most popular as the ambassador robot has been recognized even by the United Nations. However robotic ambassadors are becoming more commonplace and one clear example is SoftBank’s Pepper. This humanoid and charismatic robot is both a successful mascot character and a fully functional terminal that allows users to learn more about a brand while they schedule appointments or discover additional information through its functional tablet.
Picture this: A robot that can perform a complex surgery or defuse a bomb with all the expertise of a professional. While this might sound like a distant dream due to the challenges that AI still face, there is one simple way around this: Have a robot that is completely controlled by a human.
Avatar robots are in short robots that accurately mimic every motion that a human performs. The human operator enters a specialized control rig and the accompanying robot will then perform any motion they make.
Avatars allow robots to realize tasks that are far beyond their skill level with ease, and for humans to handle these tasks remotely. This means that a doctor can perform surgery on a patient that is on another continent or a soldier can defuse a bomb without any personal risk. Avatar robots might not be as widespread as other examples in this article, but Toyota’s T-HR3 is already showing a lot of potential for the idea.
While robots might not yet be able to graduate as teachers on their own, the impact that human-shaped robots have left on the world of education is undeniable. We’ve talked about Pepper once already, but what we didn’t mention is that this charismatic robot is to interpret and respond to the emotions we showcase.
A robot like Pepper can support learning processes through a combination of its built-in tablet and its reactions to the mood of its potential students. Its tab allows it to display information efficiently while its emotion-reading abilities allow it to react in real-time to the complexities of its students or guests and perform its role as an educator more efficiently.
The movie industry is perhaps where robots first achieved mainstream popularity, so it’s quite fitting that humanoid robots are finding new life as actors themselves.
For robots being able to react in real-time is usually one of their main challenges, but pre-programmed actions and motions are considerably easier to execute. Meaning that staged plays like theater are achievable by robots with relative ease. Perhaps the most famous robot actor is Engineered Arts’ RoboThespian which has an integrated library of impressions, gestures, and even songs. These motions can be combined and rearranged to create complete performances and RoboThespian can share the stage with other human or robot actors without issues.
The humanoid robot market is an expensive one and a single robot in this list can have a retail price of up to $2,000, which doesn’t even begin to cover the development costs each company has to spend before releasing a product. However, this does not mean that robots aren’t worth the time or effort, robots don’t require a wage or medical coverage, and can improve efficiency to a point they’ll still return a net profit even if the overall workforce remains the same. As a whole, the market for humanoid robots is expected to be valued at $3.9 Billion by 2023, and it currently has a 52.1% compound annual growth rate; meaning that these human-shaped robots are a great investment in today’s market.