Are robots here to help us or to take away our jobs? Should we live in fear of them or joyfully herald their arrival? On one hand, roboticists are working hard behind closed research and development doors to create more useful robotic technologies. This includes tools to improve our daily lives, or to carry out risky procedures in the workplace. On the other hand, there’s the allure of sci-fi movies laden with special effects, and heavily-cited predictions of a robotic takeover. It’s an unnecessary contradiction, and we’re putting things into perspective with our top five arguments in support of a future where man and machines can work together..
1) At-home service robots
Robots are increasingly finding their way into our homes to help look after the elderly and the disabled. While these machines (also known as service robots) can be deployed in hospitals to lend nurses a helping hand, at-home robotic care assistants give individuals dignity, independence, and choice.
We embarked on two collaborative care projects, RAMCIP and CHIRON, and developed robotic prototypes that can provide care to elderly people in the familiar surroundings of their own home. These robots can improve significant aspects of a user’s daily life, whether they’re helping with meals and dressing activities or providing medication reminders and managing domestic tasks. Without advances like these, many in need of care would miss out on the targeted at-home support they deserve.
2) Restoring and cleaning up dangerous sites
We know from experience that robots are a far safer solution to human labor when it comes to bomb disposal and nuclear decommissioning. It’s never been ideal to send humans to clean up nuclear sites and have them handle hazardous materials or remove explosives from various locations, yet this is still happening. While we wish there would be no need to do this in the first place, we acknowledge the grave necessity of these tasks.
Having robots do the risky work means humans can still maintain control over the process without endangering themselves or negatively impacting their health. From restoring war-trodden areas to handling the remediation of land, robots can help while keeping humans safe.
3) Helping children with autism
Robot-assisted therapy (RAT) is one of the fastest-growing fields in robotics research, one that’s likely to see greater development in the future. This is based on findings that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) will interact more readily with robots than humans. This doesn’t mean replacing humans, but rather, it involves using robots as another tool to help the therapist or caregiver. There are many reasons why this is thought to be effective. Robots are generally simpler and behave more predictably than humans, and the robots also have the ability to operate autonomously so the child can continue to improve their social interaction skills even when the therapist or caregiver has left for the day.
There are also robotic pets on the market, designed to offer the therapeutic and interactive properties of an animal without the unpredictable behaviour. This allows children with autism to reap the benefits of a companion while simultaneously improving their cognitive skills with.
4) Increasing productivity in the workplace
One term you may hear in your industry is “collaborative robots” (also known as “cobots”) which, as the name suggests, are robots that work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. These cobots help by automating tasks in the workplace that are repetitively straining, dirty, or unsafe. This frees up time for employees to focus on higher-priority or more specialized tasks, resulting in increased overall productivity. For example, medical researchers spend a lot of time in the lab dispensing drugs. If a cobot takes over that menial task, those researchers have more time to spend on groundbreaking medical research that can help save lives.
We know there’s a fear that some employers could exploit robotic technology to reduce their workforces, but that’s where we need to establish solid ethical safeguards to ensure the correct and mindful use of robotics.
5) Enhancing learning in schools
The generations that succeed us will benefit the most from robotic technologies as the tech becomes more prominent in our everyday lives. This has kick-started conversations around including robotics and AI as subjects in academic institutions. Learning to use and program robots can be a great stepping-stone to getting more children, particularly young girls, interested in a career in STEM, and it also provides kids with an interactive approach to learning. For example, using alive robot can help children learn coding and engineering concepts, or help them concepts in physics, such as force and tension, through real-world examples.
It’s been reported that only 24 percent of U.S. tech workers, and a measly 17 percent of those in the U.K., are female. We hope to use robotics and AI to help close the gender gap in STEM careers.
We live in an era of enormous global possibilities, and there’s no reason why we can’t all work towards a direction that benefits our society and economy.
For more robotic news and to keep up with what’s happening in the robotic industry, visit Shadow’s website.
Rich Walker is Managing Director at the Shadow Robot Company, experts in robotic grasping and manipulation and well-known for their Shadow Dexterous Hand. Rich has been involved with Shadow since he was a teen, having a true passion for tech and being identified as the “whizz kid” by Shadow’s Founder, Richard Greenhill.