Robots are starting to be part of the everyday life of consumers. Already found in industry or in our homes, with robotic vacuum cleaners, they are now entering stores to serve us better!
Robots are not so new!
The first traces of a humanoid date back to 1495. That humanoid was a knight built by Léonard Da Vinci, who could sit down and move his arms.
In 1738, Jacques de Vaucanson built a robot duck who could eat, drink, quack and digest!
Then cybernetics appeared around 1915, with for instance Hammond and Miessner’s electric dog, which moved as a function of the level of light.
So robotics is not new, but since the early 2000s it has become part of consumers’ everyday life, with robot vacuum cleaners for instance.
2000 was also the year in which Honda launched its humanoid robot Asimo. It has had extensive media coverage, as it can walk and move like a human and communicate in sign language.
Robots as logistics operatives of e-commerce
Zappos has used robots in its warehouses since 2009 to help order pickers. The robots, built by Kiva systems, move according to the orders to prepare. They position themselves under the storage racks then lift them and take them to the order picking station.
For Craig Adkins, vice-president for fulfilment operations, the use of Kiva pods has exceeded all expectations. They have doubled the productivity of order pickers while halving energy costs in warehouses. Spurred on by this success, Amazon bought out Kiva Systems for 775 million dollars in 2012.
Such robots are also used in Gap.com, Walgreen or Staples warehouses.
Robots at the point of sale
Japanese mobile phone operator Softbank has deployed robots made by the French company Aldebaran in its shops. The robots called Peppers are there both to greet customers and to entertain them.
Peppers analyses the customer’s mood according to facial expression, body language and way of speaking. It thus adapts its way of interacting with customers.
Endowed with artificial intelligence, the robot also learns as it interacts with customers.
The robots are also networked and thus share their leaning with one another.
Nestlé is also going to equip its Nescafé shops in Japan with Aldebaran’s Pepper robot. They will sell the brand’s coffee machines. They will play the role of a real sales assistant, according to Kohzoh Takaoka, President and CEO of Nestlé Japan: “Pepper will be capable of describing our products and services to engage in conversation with our customers”. Pepper will be brought into service in December this year at Nescafé.
American chain Lowe’s has developed a “sales assistant” robot in its innovation lab. These robots have been created by Lowe’s Innovation Lab in collaboration with Silicon Valley robotics firm Fellow Robots. The robot will be deployed in the Orchard DIY store in San Jose in California. It can speak a number of languages, refer customers to an expert via videoconference and assist customers in their search for products or their inquiries.
It even features an image recognition function if ever you show it a part that you wish to change.
Four of these robots will be tested shortly in the San Jose store.
Darty, Philips, Nao: a partnership illustrating the theme of the connected home
Darty invited Aldebaran’s robot called Nao to its stores to explain to customers the concept behind Philips’ Hue lighting range. Three scenarios enabled Nao to steer its audience on different courses: a description of the product, a demonstration etc. Not forgetting the handover to a sales Darty assistant for more detailed explanations. The robot clearly has a use: an appeal that gets more and more visitors interested in the product. The Nao robot ensures neutrality (customers are amused and intrigued) and the sales assistant can then take over and deal with the customer in a more personal manner.
Man and machine will merge in 2040!
Transhumanism is dedicated to boosting the capacity of man through science and technology. Google promises this merging of man and machine by 2040.
Automated prostheses for legs or arms are already available for injured or disabled people. The first bionic arm was grafted in 2011.
So this is no longer science fiction but a reality, man can be augmented by a machine.
This trend is gaining momentum and starting to worry certain scientists on ethical grounds.
It is all the more worrying because it is players like Google who are thinking about these subjects.
Google has hired Ray Kurzveil, the world’s leading figure of transhumanism, to head its X-lab to push back the body ageing process and develop artificial intelligence for human beings.
Google invested heavily in robotics in 2013 by taking over 8 specialist start-ups, including Boston Dynamics, a pioneer in robotics supplying the American army!
And now Google is launching out into genetics! This research in genetics will facilitate implants and grafts of bionic equipment in the human body…
And it is surely the myth of inaccessible immortality that underpins this research; is the ultimate aim to merge mane and machine?
And are you ready to be automated?