The future of robotics in personal services
Service robots in everyday environments or public settings are still a novelty in Australia but they have significant potential. Typically, these applications must be well designed to surprise or impress the public and invite further interaction and consumption. Installations usually rely on vision-enabled robots, for example, museums use camera-equipped robots that can navigate and can be used for people to remotely visit the attraction and show themselves around.
As the sector is developing quickly, some major application areas have developed, such as robotics in hotels and restaurants, in public environments for guidance and information outlets, in stores or other public environments to promote sales or services, or as robot attractions such as joy rides.
Tourism, hotels and restaurants
As in retail, robots are used as concierge services, can help with translation for foreign nationals, and in the future, will most likely conduct tours using autonomous vehicles.
In hotels, robots can perform the tasks of carrying suitcases to rooms, delivering room service, transporting laundry, and double as security robots when not on active delivery duty. In restaurants, they can be used in the preparation of food. Robots are mostly used as an attraction, to prepare or serve food and drinks, or act as shelves for returning trays. A growing sector is public relations robots. In 2016, almost 7,400 units were sold, 139 per cent more than in 2015. Most of these robots were telepresence robots, for mobile guidance and information, with a sales volume of 7,200 units in 2016, up from 3,100 units in 2015. The total value of public relation robots increased by 126 per cent to $AU159m. By 2020, sales are expected to grow from $AU159 million to $AU5.8 billion (a 37-fold increase). This is higher than any other form of professional service robot [IFRSR17].
Robots could be used to maintain sporting grounds, monitor health of public pools and other public spaces, and answer queries from the public as a concierge robot.
Robots (or UAVs) are increasingly being used in cinematography (see XM2 case study p. 97). There are also performance robots used for theatrical performance, and as a replacement for animatronics. Advantages include camera position and repeatability, and replacement for steadicam (mobile robot and/or UAVs). Robotic animatronic use in movies has been largely superseded due to advances in digital animation that have removed the need for physical representation of characters.
Robots at home (domestic services)
The hugely popular small humanoid robot called ‘Pepper’ was originally created for use by SoftBank Mobile’s retail stores in Japan, and was released in 2014. Pepper is a social robot that can talk with humans, recognise and react to emotions, move, and live autonomously. During interactions, Pepper analyses facial expressions, body language and verbal cues, honing responses, and offering a dynamic and surprisingly natural conversation partner. Within advanced IoT architectures, there is large potential to make the robot a versatile and customisable platform for human machine interaction (e.g., using the Watson dialogue service – see case study p. 98 ).
The market for household robots was worth $US1.234 million in 2016. It is forecast to grow by a factor of 10 to reach $US11.278 million by 2020 [IFRSR17].
Other personal services (e.g., hairdressing, beauty treatments)
Personal services are an emerging area and there are no known instances of these types of robots in Australia yet. Companion robots are becoming more common, particularly for elderly or people with disabilities, as they can replace or augment companion animals, providing a level of comfort and care and increased mobility (see Chapter 6). These may be in the form of a humanoid or wheeled robot, and often resemble ‘cute furry creatures’ (e.g., cats, dogs, seals such as the Paro robot – see case study p. 67).