Exploring the Everyday Role of Robots

When one considers the notion of a robot, they are likely to visualize a scene from a science fiction or fantasy movie or television show. For example, characters such as Bender from Futurama or C-3PO from Star Wars, who acts as a translator in a very human-like manner, may come to mind. However, the robots of the modern era are far removed from those which one has seen on the screen.

Despite Steven Spielberg’s ‘AI’ depicting the potential of highly intelligent robots, the robots that are currently available are much more versatile. This does not mean that the robots we are seeing in our day-to-day lives are useless; in fact, their usage is becoming increasingly widespread, with the automotive industry being just one of the many sectors that are taking advantage of their capabilities. We are now seeing robots being used in a variety of unexpected areas.

It may be surprising to discover that interacting with robots is not something that will only come to fruition in the distant future. In fact, if you work in the service industry, you have likely already encountered a robot. To better understand the current applications of robots, as well as their potential for the future, let us take a moment to review the robots that we see on a daily basis.

Robots that are currently available

Do you ever find yourself wishing you had a helping hand to take care of your daily chores? Wouldn’t it be great if you had a personal assistant to accompany you while you are shopping and help you with carrying heavy bags or entertaining the kids while you are busy? Additionally, robots could be incredibly useful in achieving medical and educational objectives by providing assistance to those with disabilities or delivering educational content. The possibilities are endless.

And yet, unbelievable as it may seem, current robots or prototypes cover all of those bases. Some of the most intriguing examples are as follows:

  • Those Involved in the Service sector: It may come as a surprise that the service industry is increasingly turning to robots for assistance. The Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) industry is growing rapidly due to its ability to meet customers’ needs and wants. China’s food manufacturing sector is a prime example of this, with restaurants and cafés employing robots that can make coffee and even deliver food to tables. The tourism industry is also utilising robotic technology, with Japanese hotels using speech and facial recognition to answer customer queries, process requests, and check people in and out. But that’s not all; robots are now being used as butlers, concierges, and even airport security personnel. It’s clear that robots are playing an ever-growing role in our lives.
  • Home: In the past, television series such as The Jetsons predicted a future where robots would be responsible for completing mundane household tasks. This future has become a reality and we now have a wide variety of robots available to us. The most common type of robot is the robotic vacuum cleaner, with options ranging from simple versions that follow predetermined routes to highly advanced versions that are able to map and analyse the layout of your home and determine the best cleaning strategy.
    There are now robots that can take care of your lawn automatically and others that can clean your pool. There are robots that can help you carry around things and others like Lynx, which is a robotic embodiment of Amazon’s Alexa. And then there are robots like ASUS’ Zenbo that acts as a companion, shares its emotions with you, reads to your children, and even guards your home when you’re away.
  • Education: It is highly unlikely that we will reach a stage in the near future where robots are used to teach lessons. Nevertheless, they could be developed to serve as classroom assistants and even provide instruction to young learners in areas such as speech and musical ability.
    Yet, the most common use for robots in education is to provide kids with disabilities a high-quality education by keeping them up to speed with the rest of the kids. Thus, there’s Nao, a robot that can connect with children with autism and adapt to their specific needs to keep their education going. There are also robots like the ones developed by VGO that can assist children that can’t attend school because of injuries or illnesses. These remote robots can make those kids feel like they are actually in class without posing any problem for them.
  • Medicine: In order to provide the best possible care for patients, the medical profession has consistently been quick to take advantage of the latest technological innovations. The DaVinci system – which has been on the market for 18 years – remains the benchmark in robotic-assisted surgery. While this is essentially an instrument which requires a surgeon to manipulate it, research is being conducted with the aim of developing autonomous robots to be employed in the medical industry.
    Thus, there are disinfecting robots that autonomously clean patients’ rooms through high-powered UV rays to ensure that no bacteria survive, which reduces the number of airborne infections and the development of more resistant strains. There are also new gyroscopically actuated robotic limbs that, combined with bionic skins and neural implants, can replace a traditional prosthetic. The same goes for exoskeletons that can help people with all kinds of paralysis to move again.
  • Helped-Living facilities: The potential of robotics to aid elderly people is an incredibly promising area for research and development. Robotic technology could be used to assist with patient transportation, reducing the risk of accidents, providing reminders to take medication, and enabling elderly people to keep in touch with family, medical professionals, and carers.
    Take Projet Romeo as a great example. Unlike some of the robots in this article, this actually is a humanoid robot that can open doors, climb stairs and reach for objects, providing the services an in-house caretaker could give. A similar robot is called Robear, that’s a teddy bear of sorts that was designed to lift elderly people from their beds and into the wheelchairs, preventing accidents and given elders more autonomy. More archaic robots already in the market include a robotic chair that’s capable of moving elderly people around, which can be controlled through a joystick if needed.

The Most Popular Languages for Programming Robots

It is clear that the development of cutting-edge software and hardware technologies have enabled the creation of robots. However, the software engineering community is yet to reach a consensus on which language is the most suitable for powering these robots. The individual skills, knowledge and preferences of the development team should be taken into consideration when making this choice.

It is sensible to suggest that there are numerous languages available to those considering a career in robotic programming. This is because robots can be programmed in a variety of ways. The first of these is ‘sequencing’ – the act of guiding the robot through an operation by providing it with a set of instructions to follow. This form of programming relies heavily on the robot’s capacity to obey the instructions given.

Offline programming requires robots to be able to receive instructions from a computer and execute them in response to external stimuli. In order to do this, robots require a complex programming language and a series of commands tailored to the tasks or objectives they are expected to complete. Such robots consist of the following components:

  • C/C++: These general-purpose languages are widely considered to be the ideal starting point for developers new to the robotics industry, given that they enable communication with lower-level hardware and enable real-time operation. They are robust, object-oriented and imperative, which means the learning curve is not as steep.
  • Python: As a high-level language, Python is particularly suited to robotics applications, education and post-processing. Its primary benefit is the ability to create scripts that automate the entire robot programming process, which eliminates the need to program each and every phrase individually. Additionally, Python’s various robotic frameworks allow users to save time and effort when creating complex applications, as fewer lines of code are required. Furthermore, Python facilitates the testing and optimisation of the basic logic of the programme. Therefore, Python is an ideal language for robotics applications.
  • Java: Java is an increasingly popular language for robotics development, due to its easy access to a broad range of application programming interfaces (APIs) specifically designed with robots in mind. This accessibility allows for the creation of more complex robotic systems, with a variety of command, control and voice synthesis tools available. Furthermore, Java is often employed in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, such as machine learning algorithms and neural networks, which may be instrumental in the progression of robotic technology in the future.

It is suggested that the languages highlighted should be viewed as complementary rather than competing. Each language has its own unique benefits, drawbacks and specialities, meaning that in order to address an array of challenges, developers would need to become proficient in multiple languages.

Having a good understanding of multiple programming languages is incredibly beneficial in the field of robotics. This is because each language is responsible for a different aspect of the robot and its programming. Therefore, if you are considering a career in robotics development, you must ensure that you are proficient in many languages. Robotics projects can be very complex, so you must be prepared for a difficult and demanding journey.

Commonplace robots of the future

It is evident that the robots mentioned previously have certain restrictions. Whilst they are remarkable in their own way, some of them are unable to make complex decisions without human input. This will change, however, as the advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) progresses and companies start creating robots that are equipped with AI to carry out more intricate tasks.

At present, it is likely that robots of the type mentioned above will remain a regular feature of larger systems, such as those used for autonomous driving. This is because the technology necessary to construct robots with human-level perception, emotion, and intelligence is not yet advanced enough for this to be a viable option.

The popular depictions of the AI assistants of science fiction, such as C3POs, Benders and Haley Joel Osments, may still be a distant reality, but it is essential to recognise this fact. As such, it is likely that we will see a rise in the use of robots that are becoming more and more comparable to intelligent tools, which will undoubtedly enhance the quality of life in a multitude of ways, from the food we eat to the health care we receive.

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