• Robotics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Smart Home Technology
  • Digital Assistants

Will We Notice the Robot Expansion?

Neil Strother
Jul 17, 2019

Drone

Robots have yet to take over our world. But their presence is growing. Many of us have not yet been forced to fullyconsider some of the deeper implications. How will we react when robots become even more common in our smart homes, in our workplaces as cobots (collaborative robots), or as tools for managing a smarter grid? 

Many people are ready to embrace robotic technologies in their lives, according to a recent survey by the Consumer Technology Association. Awareness is relatively high, with nearly half of the survey respondents (45%) saying they are familiar with robotics. Of that group, 84% say they are enthusiastic about using robotics in their everyday lives. Among the key benefits they expect are convenience, more efficient use of time, and financial savings. In particular, they see robotics helping with household chores and in educational settings.

Ethics Around Robots Bear Contemplation

My perspective on robotics and robots was recently altered while attending Amazon’s re:MARS conference, the first public version of Amazon’s secretive MARS (machine learning, automation, robotics, and space) event. Dr. Kate Darling from MIT’s Media Lab stood out in regard to robots. She eloquently spoke of how we tend to anthropomorphize robots. We name them and assign them perceived human-like qualities. More than 80% of owners of Roombas have given them a name.

Kate Darling did not provide easy answers when it comes to the rise of robots; she posed ethical questions. For example, robots are now used with elderly and among children. There are questions about human autonomy and dignity in this regard: are these people being deceived in a way? Are these types of interactions merely supplementing or replacing human care, and what does that mean? She did not offer answers, but let the issues hang in the air for people to ponder. That was refreshing.

During the event, I had a revelation about my response to robots. There was a hall for vendors to display their technologies. While I was talking to someone, a smallish robot scooted near me and it seemed whomever was controlling the robot wanted me to take notice. It annoyed me more than anything, and I ignored it. Perhaps I’ve become accustomed to the presence of robots after attending tech events for several years. But having that reaction made me realize that if robots roaming around doesn’t phase me but instead annoys me, it won’t be difficult for others to accept them or be annoyed by them as prevalence increases.

When We Will Take More Notice?

From an enterprise or utility perspective, robots in different forms are already common. Car manufacturers, for instance, have used robotic technologies for years to efficiently assemble vehicles. Drones are now common among utilities (see Navigant Research’s Drones and Robotics for Transmission and Distribution Operations report for details) that use them to track remote assets. Similarly, oil rig operators use drones to inspect offshore rigs for anomalies. In warehouses, robots are increasingly used to automate and accelerate operations.

The robots are here, and we are much closer to seeing and accepting them as common than we think. What is Alexa but a robot that hasn’t gotten full mobility…yet.