Robots as Companions: To Be or Not To Be?
An innovative new purpose for these silicon beings has emerged—in the form of being companions for us lonesome humans.
While the prospect of robots being sentient, empathetic companions may be mind boggling to some, the day when AI-powered butlers pamper the affluent is not very far off.
Assisting disabled people, helping the blind, and performing critical procedures during surgeries are just a few of the applications that robotics have immediate relevance in. However, an innovative new purpose for these silicon beings has emerged—in the form of being companions for us lonesome humans.
Kuri is a perfect example of this emerging trend in robotics. Kuri belongs to a new subset of robots referred to as the “companion robot”. These machines are intelligent, and are designed to make for useful assistants at home. Robots of such a nature already exist, and can be seen helping disabled people with their tasks. Kuri is designed to be an all-purpose companion, and is more like a member of your household.
These astounding new developments carry with them a set of new dilemmas and challenges that we need to address.
What will be the nature of our relationships with these conscious, silicon beings? How will we interact with them? Will they have their own language? Can a robot ever be a replacement to the loving arms and embrace of a human being? And if they can, what code of ethics govern the treatment of these individuals? And on a more sinister level, will rational thought and analysis eventually lead our silicon friends to view us as… expendable?
To be honest, a lot of these questions are a moot point at this stage. The underlying technology has not reached such levels of complexity and optimization. Vacuuming robots are a common sight in developed nations. With the ever-improving technologies associated with robotics, vacuuming robots are taking things to the next level. Robots that map out your house, and intelligently optimize their cleaning patterns according to your home’s floor plan, are already available in the market. These machines time their disposals in such a way that their owners only have to take out the trash once in 2 weeks. A 2017 market research piece predicted that the global robot market would grow to 34.1 billion US$ by the year 2022. While cleaning robots are expected to make up a majority of the share, companion and therapeutic robots are also expected to be a significant contributor to this figure.
The demand for robots is primarily spearheaded by the burgeoning senior citizen populace of developed nations. Robots that take care of the needs of elderly citizens are highly desired in these nations; a high disposable income and a need for utility coupled with the ever-lowering prices make these markets a sensible destination for our silicon friends.
Hasbro’s “Joy for all companion” is another companion robot released by a major market contender. The product is essentially a lifelike cat or puppy dog complete with fur, sans the complications associated with owning a feline or canine buddy.
Preliminary market testing demonstrates that these companion robots offer stress relief and companionship—Hasbro has gone as far as donating many of its robots to the MealsOnWheels program, offering senior citizens a hot meal and an opportunity to fight isolation.
“Buddy” by BlueFrogRobotics is another prime example of a companion robot. Built on an open source platform, Buddy “connects, protects, and interacts” with each member of your family. Buddy provides a host of “smart robot” services such as home security, smart home, mobile telepresence, personal assistance, and care for elders.
CES 2018 was a stage to a host of therapeutic and companion robots. As a matter of fact, the “CES Best of Innovation” winner in the household category was Intuition Robotics ElliQ robot. ElliQ is being positioned as an “active aging companion”
Alfac provided demos of its new companion robot “My Special Alfac Duck”, intended to help children fight cancer. Jerry the Bear is another robot produced by the same company, targeted at children with Type 1 diabetes.
The future of robotics is a fascinating one indeed, with our silicon companions moving beyond mere utilitarian functions, and into our households and lives.