If you were asked to describe a robot 10 years ago, you might have come up with something along the lines of a large silver box covered in lights and dials, with 2 arms, 2 legs and a human-like head – the reality of modern robots is of course quite different! Robotics and electronics in our daily lives are becoming more prevalent by the day, not just in labs and factories, but at home and in the office as well. We are assisted by robots for a huge variety of tasks every day even if we don’t realise it – and it’s only going to increase! It's important to be aware of the future of robotics which is why we continue to run our robotics camp in 2019 to help kids get an early understanding.
Robotics in the Home
Robots for household tasks such as vacuuming and lawn mowing have been steadily increasing in popularity over the past few years, and you can now get a robot vacuum cleaner on the high street for less than £100. Whilst these devices might appear simple, they are actually very intelligent and employ a lot of ‘traditional’ robotics principles such as collision detection, infrared sensors, wireless control and mapping of cleaned (or mown!) areas so that they don’t cover the same space twice.
Whilst not a robot in the traditional sense as they have no moving parts, devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have exploded in popularity thanks to their ease of use and affordability. According to Amazon, in 2018 their number of Alexa users almost doubled, and they sold over 100 million devices. They can of course integrate with smart home devices as well, controlling lights, locks, alarm systems, robot hoovers and mowers even to name but a few, providing a tangible ‘output’ to the real world just like a traditional robot.
An exciting new area for robotics is the concept of autonomous delivery robots for what is commonly known as the ‘last mile problem’ – the most difficult and time-consuming part of a delivery is the last mile to the customer’s home. Amazon has already completed small scale trials with delivery drones and is expected to be delivering packages commercially later this year. Getting a drone to complete this task without human intervention represents a huge achievement in robotics – they must be able to intelligently recognise, process and act accordingly for any possible situation, obstacle or safety concern that could arise during the deliveries, which are expected to be able to be made with packages of up to a few kilograms. Other companies are also looking at wheeled food delivery robots for immediate food delivery in cities but with potential for other uses, which again give a completely new set of robotics design challenges to overcome.
The rise in popularity of internet shopping, particularly online supermarket shopping, has seen a huge increase in the level of automation used in warehouses for supermarkets all over the country. Many large supermarkets now use large fleets of robots to collect and deliver boxes of groceries to picking stations, where humans then pick what is required for each order. Some are even starting to use robot arms with cameras and AI image recognition to pick the individual items from the boxes!