A glimpse of the future?
If science fiction is to believed, the world is a few steps away from an Artificial Intelligence revolution, a technological leap that will enable us to have robots in the home, helping us in our daily tasks and jobs... before they rise up against us. However before Judgement Day happens, we look at who is leading the market in robotics.
It may amaze you to learn that in 2003, there were an estimated 600,000 'household' robots in the world... of course, these were mainly robot vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers. Today, there are over four million.
As you'd expect, Japan is leading the way in robotics, competing against American and European companies to build humanoid robots to act as domestic helpers. 30 percent of the world's robots are constructed and operational in Japan, however the EU is not far behind.
Currently, the EU spends about 50 million euros (GBP£34.4 million) a year on research projects which produce robotic prototypes. As a result, the EU's 25 member states have a 35 percent share in the global manufacturing of robots.
As the market becomes more diverse to include robots designed for hazardous and specialist jobs to nanotechnology to hi-tech AI systems, it has been predicated that the sector for both industrial and service robots is forecast to be worth more than US$66 billion (GBP£37.4 billion) by 2025.
Despite this, it is still Japan heading worldwide innovation in the sector, building many of the humanoid robot prototypes made famous by the likes of Honda and Toyota. It is these humanoid robots that are the main hope for the industry, opening up domestic markets for 'robotic home helpers'. A few years ago, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries released a one-metre tall humanoid robot called Wakamaru that could recognise up to 10 faces and understands 10,000 words. It was marketed as a mechanical house-sitter and secretary and was hoped to be the first step in a 'domestic robot revolution'.
Today, we take a look at some leading examples from both the European and Japanese robotic markets, revealing how Europe, despite having made a large amount of progress in the field of robotics in the past 10 years, still has a fair way to go to catch up with Japan.
Reem-B from Pal Technology
Reem-B can walk dynamically, recognise and grasp objects, lift heavy weights and wander around by itself inside any building. It can also speak with people and accept a number of voice commands, recognise faces and can remind you of appointments. Reem-B is one of the most sophisticated robots in the world.
Maggie from the Robotics Lab, University of Carlos Madrid
A personal social robot used as a research platform to study human robot interaction. Maggie can recognise voices and people can communicate with it by talking and using gestures as well as interacting with its in-built screen. Maggie can also move alongside humans as they walk around and mimic certain actions. (Video in Spanish)
Care-o-bot from Fraunhofer
The mobile robot assistant is able to assist humans in their daily life and acts as an interactive butler. It can move safely among humans, and detect and grasp household objects and pass them safely to humans. The robot can move in any desired direction and is complete with a variety of sensors enabling it to move around safely in a multitude of environments.
Nao from Aldebaran
Nao is designed as an autonomous family companion able to recognise voices and emotions as well as assisting with daily tasks. Primarily aimed as an entertainment device Nao can interact with its owner and is able to evolve behaviours and functionalities. It can also be taught new behaviours by its owner if need be.
iCub from RobotCub
A research project aimed to study cognition through the implementation of a humanoid robot. iCub has 53 joints and is able to crawl and sit up like a small child, with fully articulated eyes and head. iCub learns by being placed in new environments with different objects in order to become familiar with its surroundings much like a small child.
Flame from TU Delft
Flame is a highly advanced walking robot providing insight into how people walk so that people who suffer from a variety of lower body deficiencies will be able to benefit from improved prosthesis and rehabilitation.
Asimo from Honda
The world's most advanced humanoid robot, that can walk, carry and push numerous objects and can also recognise moving objects, distinguish between different sounds and can determine human facial expressions
Ri-man from Riken
Aimed primarily at the healthcare industry and to be used in conjunction with current medical staff to look after the ill or aged. Ri-man can carry an average adult human from one bed to another and can recognise human speech.
Chef Motoman from Yasakawa Electric
A 500 pound, 5 foot tall robot that can cook the Japanese dish Okonomiyaki as well as bartend and can even assemble cameras. Motoman is an extremely dextrous machine that is aimed to be used alongside humans and relies on speech recognition to take orders from customers.
Actroid from Osaka University and Kokoro Company
The only robot to really mimic the appearance and mannerisms of a human. The Actroid can blink, speak and breath and can are able to recognise and process speech and respond to a certain degree. Mainly limited to upper body movement the Actroid has almost 50 points of articulation allowing it to react to both intrusive and gentle touches.
Reborg-Q from ALSOK
A robotic security system, that monitors all personnel entering an exiting its designated building by facial and speech recognition. In emergencies the robot will sound an alarm and send email messages and photographs automatically to the security guards.
Home Assistant Robot from Toyota and University of Tokyo
Home Assistant Robot (HAR) can navigate your home using 5 cameras and 6 lasers, it can move its neck in 3 directions and can move its arms. The main purpose of HAR is to help around the home with menial tasks such as closing doors, mopping floors, cleaning dishes and doing laundry. It can even move furniture and put it back in its place.
Wakamaru from Mitsubishi
A ‘real robot' created to live with humans. It can recognise the faces of people it has recorded, respond when spoken to, determine emotion from facial expression and can even offer up topics for conversation. It's main function is communication and aims to be a friendly addition to any household.
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