Brave new world

With ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence per­vad­ing our lives now more than ever, is liv­ing along­side ro­bots just around the bend?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By S. INDRAMALAR star2@thes­

What will cities in the fu­ture look like? Think smart, ver­ti­cal me­trop­o­lises pop­u­lated with drones and ro­bots, where your day might be­gin with your news­pa­per nar­rat­ing to you.

THERE was a time when the idea of an au­tonomous ro­bot seemed pure fan­tasy – some­thing imag­ined by fic­tion writ­ers and brought to life on the tele­vi­sion or movie screens. Not any more. From self park­ing cars and robotic vac­uum clean­ers that can nav­i­gate cor­ners to Pep­per, the hu­manoid ro­bot that can be found in sushi shops and nurs­ing homes and Aibo, the pet ro­bot dog, ro­bots are al­ready among us and look like they will be here to stay in years to come.

In Japan, one of the world lead­ers in the de­vel­op­ment of jinkou chi­hou (ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence or AI) and robotics, ro­bots are be­ing de­vel­oped at light-speed, largely to

ad­dress the needs and short­ages it faces. Care­bots( ro­bots to help with care giv­ing du­ties) are be­ing de­vel­oped to cope with the coun­try’s rapidly age­ing pop­u­la­tion while ser­vice ro­bots ad­dress the short­age in the labour force in spe­cific ar­eas.

The Malaysian robotics and Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence scene has also been get­ting more world­wide at­ten­tion, says Dr Yeong Che Fai, a se­nior lec­turer at the Cen­ter for Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence & Robotics at Univer­siti Te­knol­ogy Malaysia Depart­ment of Con­trol & Mecha­tron­ics En­gi­neer­ing.

“For ex­am­ple, lo­cal au­to­ma­tion com­pany DF Au­to­ma­tion & Robotics Sdn Bhd has de­vel­oped an au­to­mated guided ve­hi­cle that is NavWiz( nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem) con­troller-en­abled to move auto no mo us ly.DF is based in J oh o rand car­ried out all the de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing on its premises and pro­vides com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages com­pa­ra­ble to any other ro­bot maker. It has ex­ported ro­bots to Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land, Philip­pines, Viet­nam and Mex­ico,” says Dr Yeong.

He reck­ons that in Malaysia, man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries will ben­e­fit the most from robotics as it would re­duce their de­pen­dency on the labour work­force.

“Some big man­u­fac­tur­ing fac­to­ries can have up to 10,000 hu­mans. Robotics, au­to­ma­tion, AI and big data can help to op­ti­mise the man­u­fac­tur­ing process and im­prove ef­fi­ciency. This ben­e­fit will be chan­nelled back to the end user through bet­ter price and qual­ity. He is con­fi­dent how­ever that this will not cause Malaysians to lose their jobs. “In fact, robotics/AI helps in ar­eas that Malaysians do not want to work in such as per­form­ing repet­i­tive tasks and dan­ger­ous jobs. It also can in­crease ef­fi­ciency. For ex­am­ple, in a man­u­fac­tur­ing fac­tory, an op­er­a­tor would need to push a 500kg trol­ley for a dis­tance of up to 3km in a day.

“Not many op­er­a­tors want this job as it is tir­ing as well as dan­ger­ous. Thus, us­ing ro­bots is rea­son­able and jus­ti­fi­able,” he ex­plains.

Ro­bots for el­derly care

Like Japan, our pop­u­la­tion is age­ing too. Malaysia is pro­jected to be­come an age­ing na­tion by 2030 and we are al­ready see­ing signs of it with more and more re­ports of the el­derly be­ing abused and aban­doned and care­givers feel­ing the strain of car­ing for both their chil­dren and par­ents.Us­ing ro­bot sin car­ing for the el­derly will help in three broad cat­e­gories: serv­ing and fetch­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and emo­tional sup­port.

The Care-o-bot from Ger­man re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion, Fraun­hofer I PA, has been de­ployed in a num­ber of Ger­man as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties where it fer­ries food and drinks to res­i­dents from the kitchen.It also keeps them en­ter­tained by play­ing mem­ory games with them. Honda’s Asimo ro­bot was also de­vel­oped to as­sist hu­mans per­form tasks they can’t or need help with.

Na­dine is a so­cial ro­bot who is the brain( ro­bot) child of Swiss Cana­dian com­puter graphics sci­en­tist Pro­fes­sor Na­dia Th al mann. Na­dine is de­signed to be a com­pan­ion for the el­derly as well as chil­dren with dif­fer­ent needs.

Prof Thal­mann says that iso­la­tion is one of the ma­jor is­sues faced by the el­derly and while a so­cial ro­bot can­not and should not re­place fam­ily or friends, the re­al­ity is that many old peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly those in nurs­ing care or re­tire­ment homes, spend days on end alone.

“With a so­cial ro­bot like Na­dine, at least they’d have some com­pan­ion­ship .Af­ter all, some­times all they want is to talk to some­one and the so­cial ro­bot can lis­ten and re­spond like a real com­pan­ion does. It can­not re­place hu­mans, of course, but it is def­i­nitely bet­ter than noth­ing.

“The re­al­ity is many of us are miles away and can­not be there for our el­derly all the time,” says the pro­fes­sor in an in­ter­view with

The Star in 2016. Prof Thal­mann is the founder and head of MIRAlab Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory at the Univer­sity of Geneva and has been work­ing on Na­dine since 2013.

El­liQ is an ac­tive age­ing com­pan­ion bot. It’s desk-bound but can speak English and will re­mind you to take your medicines, walk about to stretch your limbs, tells you when your favourite TV show is on, alerts you when you’ve re­ceived a new mes­sage on your phone and she can even book your trips for you. She’ s still in de­vel­op­ment though, so there’ll prob­a­bly be a lot more she can do – like scare away that stray cat that’s mess­ing up your plants. Miro, the robotic dog, serves the func­tion of pill reg­i­men man­age­ment, com­pan­ion­ship and ap­point­ment re­minders. But it also keeps an eye on the health sta­tus of its el­derly com­pan­ion Miro will try talk­ing to you and if you don’t re­spond, it will send a sig­nal to the con­trol hub alert­ing them of a prob­lem.

Robobear is an­other hu­manoid ro­bot that can help trans­fer se­niors from the bed to a wheel­chair. The nurs­ing ro­bot, which is still in the ex­per­i­men­tal phase and was de­signed by en­gi­neers from Japan’s re­search in­sti­tu­tion RIKEN, is also ca­pa­ble of lift­ing peo­ple.

Med­i­cal ro­bots

Ro­bot-as­sisted sys­tems have been play­ing a role in medicine for quite some time. High­pre­ci­sion ro­bots are used to di­rect X-rays pre­cisely at the area to be ir­ra­di­ated, for ex­am­ple. Urol­o­gists and neu­ro­sur­geons are in­creas- in­gly per­form­ing ro­bot-as­sisted op­er­a­tions. Doc­tors are still in charge, but for bet­ter pre­ci­sion, they use ro­bots.

In hos­pi­tal wards, robotic trans­port sys­tems are used to dis­trib­ute food to beds, clear trays and drive them­selves into the hos­pi­tal kitchen. Hos­pi­tal phar­ma­cies use

robotic sys­tems to mea­sure and pack medicines. Ro­bots can also play a cru­cial role in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Hand of Hope is an in­ten­tion-driven ex­oskele­ton hand that fo­cuses on im­prov­ing mo­tion of

the hand and fin­gers in stroke vic­tims, de­vel­oped by Re­habRobotics.

Ekso Bion­ics, a com­pany that de­vel­ops and man­u­fac­tures pow­ered bionic de­vices, is work­ing on de­vices that can be strapped on as wear­able ro­bots to en­hance the strength, mo­bil­ity and en­durance in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Driver­less cars,

We are get­ting closer by the day to self-driv­ing cars. Al­though car mak­ers and tech com­pa­nies are sketchy about pro­jec­tions for when ex­actly we can all be driven at leisure, es­ti­mates range be­tween the next five to 10 years. A news re­port re­cently quoted the Sin­ga­pore trans­port min­is­ter as say­ing that driver­less buses will ap­pear on some roads in the is­land state from 2022.

Robotic bar­tender

The Sym­phony of the Seas cruise ship has a robotic bar­tender on hand to mix and hand you your drinks at their Bionic Bar. Made by Ital­ian firm Makr Shakr, the me­chan­i­cal mixol­o­gists can mud­dle, shake, strain, and serve cock­tails made from any com­bi­na­tion of 30 spir­its and 21 mix­ers. The ro­bots work in pairs and while they may not be able to break up fights, your drinks will be mixed with ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion.

Ro­bot wait­ers

Chi­nese restau­rants have been re­plac­ing their work­ers with ro­bots from as early as 2006. Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in Busi­ness In­sider, even though there have been mishaps, the ro­bots are still cheaper than hu­man wait staff and are still a vi­able op­tion – plus they’re a nov­elty and at­tract cus­tomers. Most re­cently, In­dia launched its first ro­bot-themed restau­rant in Chen­nai. The place, Ro­bot Theme Restau­rant, serves pan-asian themed food, opened late last year and has been packed since it’s open­ing.


Prof Thal­man with­Na­dine,a hu­manoid ‘re­cep­tion­ist’ at Na­tional Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity who looks, acts and speak­slikeareal hu­man and can ex­press emo­tions (and who is a doppelganger of its cre­ator).—Filepic


In the fu­ture, the lan­guage of 1s and 0s will rule our lives.

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