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May 22, 2016

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Service robots are the latest fad

THE times they are a changing.

Gadgets had already made inroads into our homes — add robots to the growing list.

Service robots are now being deployed into our daily life to do meaningful works instead of expensive gadgets with concept technologies.

Robot phones can interact with dialogues and projection; an office robot developed from an iPad; a robotics housekeeper to help with cleaning; and robots designed for kids for the purpose of education while there are others for security reasons as well.

The robot market in China is expected to be worth 100 billion yuan (US$15.4 billion) within three years and the sales of robots in China are set to almost triple by 2018, according to a report by the Germany-based International Federation of Robotics.

Before that, industrial robots were widely used in China essentially in manufacturing, automotive and aerospace industries. With surging demand and development of technology, service robots have started to take center stage. Among the various tasks it can perform include taking care of children and elderly people, home security, assisting with work in offices, restaurants and even banks. Service robots will soon become a part of smart home and society and a member of the family, changing the interactive way between users and devices.

It reminds us of the prediction made in 2007 by Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, that robots will become a part of our daily life in the future, just like the computer and smartphone.

“The popularity of robots in fiction (in movies such as Star Wars and television shows such as Star Trek) indicates that people are receptive to the idea that these machines will one day walk among us as helpers and even as companions,” Gates said.

The technologies behind service products is becoming mature — cloud computing, voice recognition, visual effect, location based service, sport sensor, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The VR is now the hottest item in the industry and has enjoyed rapid development.

Sharp-developed Robohon, a robot-size smartphone integrates latest telecommunications technology — a breath of fresh air in the saturated smartphone market. Ecovacs offers movable air purifier and cleaner with smart features, a massive help for housewives.

Many firms including Sharp and Ecovacs displayed their products and technologies at the recent CES Asia, the top consumer electronics show held annually in Shanghai.

The booming technologies like AR and artificial intelligence will be featured in robots designed for children, who will be encouraged to explore the possibility and the unknown with their robot mates, said Shawn Shen, chief product officer of start-up Putao. The kid robot will debut this summer.

BB8 and ForceBand from Star Wars

BB8 is a droid character in the Star Wars franchise and was seen in the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With a free-moving domed head, BB8 is portrayed by both a rod puppet and a remote controlled robotic unit. More than 1 million robots have been sold globally, according to Sphero, the developer of BB8.

A wearable band called the Force Band will debut later this year, which controls and interacts with BB8 in a new way through gesture and BlueTooth.


Sharp’s Robohon phone

With the aim of evolving the way users and devices interact, Robohon allows users to interact through dialogues apart from offering basic functions including call, e-mail, camera and Internet — and serves as a companion in our daily lives. It can grow to accommodate more natural communications with the user by learning the user’s profile and usage situation. It plans to debut in China after finding voice recognition partner in Chinese language.

Ecovacs Robotics’ Unibot

Unibot is a robot housekeeper with combined functions and smart control, which helps people to cut down on housework. With mobile application and camera, owners can know the working conditions of the robots and adjust cleaning routes even when they are not at home. The Unibot features smart planning, air purifying, floor cleaning and humidification functions.


Roboming’s robot

A self-balancing scooper and with an iPad is Roboming, a simple robot but with wide variety of applications.

The walkable robots with iPad camera are used in shops, museums and offices and will play roles of guides, anchors, videoconference hosts and real property agents. The simple structure, wide range applications and 24-hour battery has made it popular in the market with 400 to 500 units already sold for 5,999 yuan each.


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