Smart robots coming soon to a cubicle or kitchen near you

Robotics expert Matthieu Chevrier paints a picture of a future when industrial, domestic and professional robots collaborate with humans as part of daily life.

Not too long from now, a smart robot might be in your kitchen.

Imagine this: As you start your day, you greet the security bot that has monitored your home all night through its distributed mesh network of sensors. It switches your home to your preferred settings – window shades up, morning news on low, coffee ground and brewed, security alarm off.

Your smartphone alerts you that a courier robot is making its way down the road to deliver refills of razors and toothpaste to your front porch. You step around the cleaning bot making its morning rounds.

At work, a collaborative robot has tested and prepared a prototype for a big client meeting. With a smile and a handshake, you secure a major new order, and employees immediately put their own collaborative logistics, warehouse and manufacturing robots into action.

When you return home, the evening news captivates you with a story about fully autonomous, foldable drones that have squeezed through a narrow cave opening, located trapped spelunkers and then led a rescue team to their location.

It may seem like science fiction, but those of us steeped in the world of robotics and automation software know this future isn't far away – and will be built with technology that exists today.

 Read our whitepaper: How sensor data is powering AI in robotics

A dramatic shift in human-machine roles

From my perspective as a system and applications engineering manager who spends every day thinking about robots, the trends and market drivers are clear. We’re in a period of transition: The roles of humans and machines in our work and personal lives are shifting dramatically.

Many robots, including delivery drones and automated logistics robots, are already in development. Thirty-three million domestic and professional service robots – those outside industrial settings that perform tasks for humans – are projected to sell between 2018 and 2020, according to The International Federation of Robotics, and we expect a similar surge in hospitality robots. Industry experts predict they'll enter into many parts of our lives where none exist now, including robots that:

  • Check us into a hotel and bring us room service
  • Guide us to an item we can't find in the supermarket
  • Deliver packages to our mailbox
  • Cut our lawns and tend our gardens and homes
  • Assist doctors and hospital staff in medical procedures
  • Lead us to our departure gate at the airport

What’s powering collaborative, adaptable and highly mobile robots

Much like a human’s five senses relay information to the brain, next-generation robotics rely on the fusion of sensor data and machine learning to make real-time decisions and navigate dynamic real-world environments.

Humans do this intuitively, using our eyes and ears together to understand when someone is talking to us, where that person is and which person in a group is doing the talking.

These components work together to give robots a better picture of the world than any one sensor alone, and they’re pushing the boundaries of technological capabilities and unleashing functionality that has never been possible.

Machines become surgical assistants with the help of servomotors that enable precise, controlled motion. Drones become rescue bots with time-of-flight optical sensors, LIDAR and ultrasonic sensors that work together to enable autonomous flight and collision avoidance. In tropical climates, industrial robots with temperature and humidity sensors become predictive maintenance powerhouses that anticipate dew points and protect electronic systems.

Sensors were once bulky and expensive, but an increasing number of them are being designed to be smaller, lower cost and faster to produce. Hardware and software technologies that bring algorithmic data processing out of the cloud and into the machine, like intelligent mmWave sensors, help eliminate the lag between sensing and responding.

This allows collaborative, adaptable and highly mobile robots to join and replace older machines that must be isolated from people and given simple, repetitive tasks.