Robots: The Next Explosive Technology
When you look around at the world of 2015, you’ll see many technologies that once belonged purely to science fiction: video phones, tiny handheld computers with incredible processing power, private space flights, and electric cars. There’s only one thing missing. Wasn’t the future supposed to bring us ubiquitous robots? So far, the robotics industry has not lived up to the dreams of science fiction.
That is, until now. As the prices for computing power and sensors drop, robots are starting to become more and more cost-effective. They are already hard at work in the manufacturing sector, but still we see very few robots in our day-to-day life.
Fellow Robots aims to change that fact. This startup, based in Silicon Valley, specializes in creating customer service robots for the retail industry, and their five-foot-tall OSHbot recently debuted at a Lowe’s store in San Jose. The robot, which costs only $50,000, is programmed to approach customers when they enter the store, answer questions, and lead the customer toward whatever item they request. The robot can even account for changes in inventory by accessing an internal database and doing continual scans of which items are on the shelves, and where.
OSHbots have remarkable capabilities in sensing, speech recognition, and obstacle avoidance, but the real benefit is their capacity for data analytics. Unlike human sales associates, OSHbot can store detailed data on customers’ use patterns, which can be incredibly valuable to the store. By tracking which items customers are looking for, OSHbots can provide invaluable data to the store’s managers. Similarly, the robot can compare the customer’s stated needs on entry with the item that they actually end up purchasing. This allows robots (and human associates) to make better recommendations and streamline the store’s layout to maximize purchases and satisfaction.
The OSHbot is an impressive piece of innovation, but the real innovations will come when such robots can tap into the Internet of Things, Cloud computing and Big Data landscape. Today, the items purchased in the store go out on their own, and once they leave the store the robot can no longer access information about them. But as more and more products incorporate online technology (e.g. wearable tech, self-analyzing home devices, etc.), the robots will have an even greater supply of data to draw on in their interactions with customers.
A customer wearing a FitBit could, in theory, walk into a sporting goods store and enable the service robot to know, instantaneously, what kind of products might be relevant to that customer’s interests. The wearable technology would store data on the customer’s habits and, through wireless communication, enable the robot to lead the customer right to the most relevant items. Once the big data capacity of the Internet of Things becomes a reality, the value of robots is likely to skyrocket, and within a few years we could be surrounded with sleek, helpful robots designed by innovative companies like Fellow Robots.
By Gustav Steinhardt