Robot Reboot

Robots have been around for a while. Until a couple years back, robots were capable of doing relatively simple mechanic jobs: vacuum cleaning, lawn mowing or surveilling the house.  It is only in the past two years that robots have been rendered a consciousness and have been made for use by the general public. Their form and function are changing by the day and are furthering the quest of an automated life.

The social humanoid robot Sophia, developed by Hanson Robotics (Hong Kong), made headlines since October last year, when she became the first robot in the world to be recognised with a citizenship (by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). She is envisaged to be helpful in healthcare, therapy, education and customer service, as she grows through being trained in lab and interaction.

This year at Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 in Los Angeles (USA), a robot owl named ‘Luka’ was shown by the company Ling, which can read bed-time stories to children. The idea behind Luka is to encourage children to read by themselves. Jiawei Gu, the Chief Executive of Ling, assures that Luka can never take over the bedtime-story time of parents, but if, some time, the parents are not there, kids can continue to listen and read their book. While, at first, robots like Luka might pose a threat to assuming important roles like that of a parent, on the bright side, it is a gadget to keep children away from other gadgets. In an age of mobile phones and tablets, Luka, indeed, takes a move towards something organic and helpful.

Likewise, breakthroughs in sociorobotics brought to the field of medicine can partly compensate the need for emotional comfort. Every year, thousands of kids are diagnosed with cancer. And the treatment they get can last from a few months to years. In a quest to provide comfort and joy through this daunting process of treatment, the company Aflac launched its social robot companion, My Special Aflac Duck, at CES 2018. This plush buddy responds and moves in a life-like natural way. The kids can feed them, bathe them and interact with them. The duck can dance, cuddle, quack, ape young patients’ mood and go through the same therapies in order to lift some stress off, built up during the treatment period.

Also at CES this month, two big daddies of technology – Sony and LG revealed some of their robots. These Concept Robots are designed for various places for different tasks. LG, for example, showcased their three bots – a Serving Robot (which would serve meals in hotels, restaurants or airports), a Porter Robot (which can pick and carry luggage) and a Shopping Robot (which can provide grocery service and automatic payment at supermarkets).

Sony acquainted us with its Aibo, the autonomous robot dog, which can potentially deepen its emotional bond with its owner family members.

What were once thought to be hands for machines are now given a reboot, while they enter the process of being human.

(By: Syed Mohammed Afnan, student of Jamia Millia Islamia pursuing Masters in English)

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