The Robot Uprising is more Pixar than Terminator

Contact between human and robot

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The Robot Uprising is more Pixar than Terminator

Sam Volkering, Melbourne, Australia, Originally Published 29 July in Tech Insider

Last week Tech Insider Contributing Editor Shae Smith wrote about the ‘Uncanny Valley’.

In Shae’s words, ‘The uncanny valley measures human reaction to robots. That is, the more a robot reflects us, the more it changes our relationship with them. In other words, the more life like they become, the less comfortable we feel with them.’

The uncanny valley has always been a sticking point for robots. It’s our biggest hurdle to accepting these mechanical marvels.

But our tech savvy friends in Japan seem intent on making human-like robots. I even heard a strange rumour than Japan is considering giving robots citizenship.

Japan’s an interesting case study in the future of robotics. For decades they’ve been pioneers of robot technology. But these days it seems they’re intent on making us feel uncomfortable with their robotic escapades.

 Below is an example. Look at the picture below. How do you feel? Uncomfortable? Yes, it’s likely you feel a bit strange about it.

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Now look at the picture of Honda’s ASIMO below. Feel as weird? As uncomfortable? I doubt it. ASIMO is cute, like a little robot kid.

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ASIMO and Honda are on the right track. But if they put a weird silicon human face on him, I think people would burn down Honda.

ASIMO is the prototype that robot makers aspire towards. He’s agile, fun and even kicks a soccer ball. Just ask President Obama!

But although ASIMO is the soon-to-be future of robots, he’s really not all that new.

Robots have been around for a long time. It’s just we don’t see them on a day-to-day basis…yet.

In fact, within the next year you could have you very own home robot to greet you at the door and help you manage your life. That’s right, within one year you could have the home robot we’ve waited so long for.

It’s the intersection of revolutionary technology

Currently there are millions of robots used around the world. Yes, millions. But they’re not humanoid robots like Asimo. The millions of robots are like the ones KUKA AG [ETR:KU2] make.

You will find KUKA robots in most manufacturing warehouses. KUKA is one of the biggest robot suppliers in the world. I’ve seen them in operation first hand, and they’re mighty impressive.

If you have ever seen the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, you’re lucky. But you could see it on YouTube as well.

If you look closely, you’ll see lots of KUKA robots. In fact, Tesla recently just shut down their factory to install more KUKA robots.

KUKA also makes the world’s fastest robot, the KR AGILUS, which you can see here playing table tennis against former number one player, Timo Boll.

But as you’ll also notice, most of the Kuka robots are fixed. They are set in place and typically do their job from one spot.

But the world doesn’t only use KUKA robots.

There are robots like the 10,000 Amazon [NASDAQ:AMZN] plan to use in their workforce by the end of this year. These robots are to improve the efficiency of Amazon warehouses. Considering Amazon only recently had 1,000 robots, a jump that big is saying something…

Amazon thinks robots are hugely important to their business. So much so that they bought Kiva Systems in 2012 for around $775 million. Of course Kiva Systems is a robot maker. And you guessed it, it’s Kiva Systems that will make all 10,000 of Amazon’s new robots.

Then of course there’s Google. Google isn’t a search engine company. They’re not a self-driving car company. They’re not even a wearable tech company.

Google is the new breed of robot company.

Late 2013 Google purchased eight robotics companies. One of those was Boston Dynamics. They’re the company that makes the terrifying BigDog military robot.

What possible use does Google have with that much robot technology? It’s not like they need them for a mobile workforce, like Amazon…

I suspect it’s so Google can bring to market home robots to go along with their fully connected home technology. And this is why an Asimo-like robot in the home is far closer than you realise.

But if Google isn’t fast enough, they might miss the first wave of home family robots.

I say this because right now you can order a home robot that could be the game changer we’ve waited so long for.

Jibo is the first robot I’ve ever seen that I would actually want to greet me when I get home from work each day.

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Jibo is the brainchild of ‘Social Robot Pioneer’ and Director of MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robot Group Cynthia Breazeal.

I highly recommend you listen to Breazeal’s TED talk on The Rise of Personal Robots. It’s the insight into what you can expect from Jibo and the generations that will follow.

Jibo is the kind of robot we can expect to see more of in the coming years.  It combines all the wizardry of an immersive technology world in a friendly, non threatening package.

Jibo’s like the iPod of robots.

But if this is available technology now, what does the future of robotics hold for us?

Well, there will be more Jibos, but it’s likely you’ll find they will find their way into a ‘chassis’ like Asimo. Jibo is a fresh approach to getting robots into the home. He’s small and innocuous.

But it’s not hard to imagine a Jibo generation three or four that has the human agility of Asimo wrapped up in a friendly social system.

In other words, stick a Jibo on top of an Asimo, and you have the first humanoid home robot, without the weirdness.

Of course, the argument is this is all very expensive, and how on earth will we mass produce humanoid home robots?

Well, you only need to look at the systems of Kuka and the automated bots Amazon have in their workforce to realise it’s not a big leap to make.

Materials like aluminium and carbon fibre will play a hugely important role too, as robots require strength and lightness to be fluid and efficient in their movement.

Then of course, there’s the programming, software and hardware of the actual robot that’s needed on an affordable, mass produced scale.

What this all means is there is a robot uprising underway. But it’s not the dystopian robot artificial intelligence takeover ‘doom and gloomers’ imagine.

When I look at ASIMO and Jibo, the future of robots is far more ‘Pixar’ than it is Terminator.

The future world is one in which robots and people work together and look after each other. We will use them to be more efficient and to take care of mundane jobs.

They will help us organise and socialise better. And a byproduct might be that we’ll live happier and longer too.

All this will allow us more quality time with each other, as well as free time to work on things that stimulate us…to focus on what makes us different from robots…our brain.

And in this world of robots, it’s not just the companies that assemble them that provide opportunity for investors. It’s materials like aluminium and carbon fibre and the computers, sensors and processors that make them run, in addition to the software and programs than bring them to life, that will provide huge opportunity for smart investors.

Feel free to take a dim view of the world of robotics. Change is terrifying to many people. But if you take the time to think about the benefits robots provide, you may decide they’re not so bad after all.


Sam Volkering+
Port Phillip Publishing

Sam Volkering
Sam is Editor for Money Morning and it's small-cap and technology analyst. He spends his time hunting down the most exciting stocks on the planets, whether they’re potential-packed volatile small-caps or tech firms transforming our future through cutting-edge technologies. You can find more of Sam’s work over at Australian Small-Cap Investigator, where he shares the best small-cap stocks he finds on the ASX, or at Revolutionary Tech Investor where he reveals the latest breakthrough tech investment he’s discovered.

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