Will Robots Be The Biggest Tech of 2017?

Clemi Hardie, Noodle Live
07.02.2017 16:22

At the end of 2015 tech experts were predicting that virtual reality would be the biggest event tech trend of 2016, but the most exciting headlines came from an unexpected source: robots. So will robots be the biggest tech trend of 2017?

What do I Need to Know?

Thanks to Hollywood fantasy we’re all pretty familiar with robots, but 2017 is the year they’re set to come out of science fiction and into reality. Robots of all shapes, sizes and abilities have been making tech headlines, and the speed of progression and innovation is impressive.

At CES (the Las Vegas showcase for the latest prototypes and cutting edge innovations) robots were taking up a lot of the limelight. Pepper from SoftBank Robotics impressed critics with high levels of humanization. Pepper is advertised as being able to ‘read people’s emotions’ and is already helping lost shoppers at a scattering of shopping malls across the US. Pepper was not alone. Amongst his competitors was the adorable Kuri, a 20-inch high robot that responds to voice commands and remembers a map of your home. When asked, he can also record video and image, act as a sound speaker or alert you when someone is arriving home. More practical robots including Yumii with Cutii, designed specifically to care for elderly residents at home, were also making headlines. Yumii allows users to make doctors appointments, contact family members and even assist with cooking. It also allows you to set reminders and remember shopping lists.

As the rise of the robot takes hold, artificial intelligence will become increasingly important. AI has found its most popular manifestations in Siri and Google’s Alexa, and it looks like Alexa is set to become the most popular AI agent. At CES she was embedded in everything from cars and refrigerators to lamps and baby monitors, and of course, companion robots too.

The gold rush is on to create the perfect combination of high tech functionality and super smart artificial intelligence. With all of the effort being put in that may happen faster than we thought. 

How Are Robots Being Used At Events?

Let’s be honest, at this stage, robots are still more of a novelty than a real piece of utility tech. It will take a few years before robots become so mainstream that they’re performing everyday tasks for us, but #EventProfs can still take advantage of their desirability and interest factor.

Using robots for meet and greet isn’t that far of a leap from the work we do at Noodle, using RFID badges and wristbands to make arrivals super quick. A robot could simply make the experience more friendly. When you swipe a Noodle wrist band it can welcome you by name and even serve up a pre-selected personalised message (it could remind you about specific meetings or events you may want to attend). A robot could make the experience smoother, using AI to answer questions you may have and putting a more human face on the interaction.

Evotion offer robots for events. You can hire larger-than-life robots to entertain crowds, or opt for Hikibo, the drawbot that paints on glass or walls to create instant art created by guests. But alongside the showmanship, Evotion are also starting to offer functional robots that can work as your photographer, act as translators or welcome guests and point them to where they need to go.

And robot staff members are already in operation in the service industry. The Aloft Cupertino Hotel in California introduced a guest service robot called Botlr to their staff last year. Botlr works as a hotel butler, making deliveries to guest’s rooms and interacting with guests. They received fantastic reviews from guests who had fallen for the robots charms.

Not to be outdone, Japan introduced their own robot staffed hotel, known as Henn-Na. 90% of the work in the hotel is programmed to be performed by robots, although the hotel did struggle with some significant teething problems that required human intervention.

And lest we forget: drones. The high-flying robots have crept into the event tech kit already, becoming useful for photography and video purposes. They can get the best aerial shots and will capture a unique perspective. But that’s not all that drones can be used for. Timbre Group in Singapore are about to launch a series of restaurants that will employ serving drones. Prices for drones dropped significantly over the last year so we’re likely to start seeing increasing numbers of them at events.

Experiential events have also been incorporating telepresence robots, helping to connect people who are geographically separated. Just like Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory, we could soon be attending events from the privacy of our own bedroom whilst our robot selves patrol the event hall. 

What’s Next for Robots?

Innovation is likely to continue at lightning speed. By early 2018 we are likely to be in a very different place than we are now. At some point the gloss and novelty will wear off and robots will have to prove they’re useful enough to stay the course. AI and great interface will have to find a way to work together and once they do, we’ll start to see the real potential or our electronic friends.

With robots and artificial-intelligence enabled devices becoming increasingly popular and mainstream, we will likely see a similar rush for the law to catch up as we did with social media. Governments will struggle to stay ahead of rapid advances in connected technologies and all of the data breaches and privacy issues that can raise. Governments are also likely to come under increasing pressure to safeguard jobs against the coming ‘rise of the robot’.

In my opinion, collaborative robots are likely to be the next frontier. It won’t be good enough for a robot to operate in isolation, all of our tech devices will need to talk to each other and our robot companions could be great hubs from which we can co-ordinate all of them. Our Amazon Echo or our Smartphone could become the hub device from which we talk to our fridge, our heating systems, our baby monitors, our cars and all of our other connected devices. This is the so-called ‘internet of things’ that has been predicted for years. As more of our ‘things’ begin to connect to the internet, robots will step into the role of ‘office manager’ for all of our different devices. 

Get ready people, the robot takeover of our sci-fi fantasies could be fast approaching. 

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