A lot can happen in two minutes. In the world of robotics 120 seconds is all it took for 2,000 units of the ‘emotional’ robot Pepper to be sold online.
Whether we like it or not – and there are plenty of reasons to be against them – robots are going to continue to be developed and permeate our daily lives. A Pew report conducted last year predicted that robots and artificial intelligence will be across most of our daily lives by 2025. This included in our homes.
The humanoid robot with its large eyes and sweeping curves, from Aldebaran, has had a meteoric rise to fame as one of the first robots that you can buy to be used in the home.
It’s been designed to “help people grow, enhance their life, facilitate relationship,” provide some services and be useful to people. In essence, the robot is everything that a home robot should be, and the demand for it shows this.
But, while being impressive, selling a couple of thousand robots to early adopters is a long way from global domination.
“Having robots in every home is really about acceptance,” said Magali Cubier from Aldebaran. “On our side we strive to make robots that are interactive and cute and will draw people to them.”
Cubier goes on to say that the development of Pepper will continue to be about how it can be “a benefit in the daily life”.
It’s this attitude that may lead to Pepper becoming a common fixture in houses around the world. The most accepted robots are ones that are useful to the user. For example, the simplistic one-task Roomba has sold millions of units around the world, and while it is not in the home Cobot, an office robot developed by Carnegie Mellon University, shows visitors around the building.
Pepper and other robots mark the first generation of home robots that are intended to make our lives easier.
In the short term Cubier said that Pepper will be able to “assist with scheduling, remembering appointments, entertaining the family, assisting children with homework, as well as with broader tasks like home surveillance, connection and communication.”
But looking towards future generations of the robot, she believes Pepper’s development may be similar to the way mobile phones have come to be adopted globally.
“As the library of applications grows, Pepper will be able to be more and more useful for a wider range of tasks, but also more adapted to each family or home,” she said.
We will look back and wonder how we were able to go about our daily lives without assistances from robots
“This evolution will probably happen in a similar way, with gradual use, to smartphones; from one simple feature – calling – expanding into games, internet, directions and all sorts of apps that we use on a daily basis.”
Much of the work that’s been done in its development so far, which may go some way to explaining the smartphone mentality, has also been based around one of Aldebaran’s other robots, NAO, and the company’s operating system.
Both NAO and Pepper use the NAOqi OS, which allows updates and improvements to be made to the robots.
“In the next generations, I would like to see continued growth in Pepper’s application library, a better and better ability for Pepper to understand and interact with the environment, which means better and better sensors but also better and better ability to interact with people,” Cubier said.
Home robots over the next 10 years
As we progress towards Pew’s prediction that robots will be involved in our daily lives by 2025, it’s certain that there will be a lot of developments coming from within robotics.
Looking back at what has changed in the last decade or so can provide an indication of the scale of progress that we can expect.
At the turn of the millennium, Honda’s ASIMO humanoid robot – famed for falling down stairs in 2006 – was brand new. Since then humanoid research has progressed to levels where the most advanced robots can drive cars, open doors and more. Non-humanoids can take a kicking without falling over, and even walk on water.
For the creators of Pepper, the biggest developments will come from increased acceptance of robots and improved robot-human interaction.
Cubier said that as this happens “more emphasis will be placed on new technology and abilities, and we should be able to progress faster and faster”.
“This will not only drive the robotics market but also a number of related markets, from application design to sensor creation or accessories.” she added.
“I believe by this time [in 10 years] we will look back and wonder how we were able to go about our daily lives without assistance from robots.”