In a train of thought trailing back to 2002, one cannot help but come across iRobot’s Roomba, a vacuum cleaning robot and one of our first encounters with machines performing human tasks. Since then, robotics has come a long way, with its growth trajectory moving at a speed we never imagined possible. Looking back, we have visited the idea of a robot takeover in science fiction myth, with films and novels envisioning a future where robots could speak, walk, react and even feel. Interestingly, this is a description of the world we live in today; we have arrived at the future poets and writers once equated with fiction. How real is this ‘futuristic now’ in reality? Does the word ‘future’ describe progress or growth, with timelines and deadlines predicting smart cities due within time periods that are not long enough to even be fragments of history?
The future is now; it happens every day. For humanity, technology catapulted the human lifestyle and changed it drastically. For robotics, Artificial Intelligence reduced myths and legends into real physical experiences. Robots have emerged from tech labs onto the forefront of business. We no longer have to wait for the general masses to interact with robots; they do it every day when they perform simple tasks such as calling their bank. In the UAE, popular banks like Emirates NBD have adopted a Chatbot named Eva, automated to respond to repetitive client inquiries, and reducing human workload. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what robotics is doing for the world.
Robotics falls perfectly into a puzzle of technological leaps we have made in the past twenty years, all leading to new heights for humanity; discovering new depths in the oceans and never-before-seen territories in space to developing smart cities like NEOM, a planned area in Saudi Arabia set to feature the latest, most jaw-dropping technologies. The city derives its name from a bilingual play meaning “new future.” Its vision and early plans seem to echo the fictional depiction of utopia, further emphasizing the type of change robotics is creating on our lives.
Today, Proven Arabia is in the process of marketing humanoid robots that might be filling in typically human spots. Pepper is a semi-humanoid robot capable of reading human emotions and reacting accordingly. Pepper’s programmed social skills can place him as a host from spaces ranging from dinner parties to hospital reception areas. This checks the hospitality box, a field of work that requires years of experience and special skills from a human perspective. The business-minded would have been skeptical perhaps five years ago, but today an opportunity like Pepper can mean a great customer experience and a chance to cut long-term costs like monthly salary and social insurance.
Furthermore, robotics is entering the education field in two very different ways. As a teacher’s assistant, humanoid robots can co-host classes, engage students and share exciting inputs that might be repetitive from a human perspective. For example, NAO, a programmable humanoid robot can be incorporated in storytelling, history or geography classes. This adds excitement and engagement in the classroom. Another way robotics is being incorporated in education is by including it in the curriculum. Robotics is a practical science that students can learn about and apply, as well as grow with. As a school subject, robotics can help educate and inform about an array of fields, such as mechanics, physics, math and engineering; and this one class can develop into a university major given its rapid growth as an industry, providing jobs for millions.
Finance, a fast-growing field fueled by the latest technology, is using robotics to provide a digital workforce to match and validate data and submit finalized reports into document management systems. Other applications are using RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to automatically settle trades and confirm allocation, a time-consuming process formerly performed manually. RPA bots are also found in finance transferring verified data into systems. Verification of licenses and identification has now become a much easier and much more productive process thanks to robotics. The process now digitizes documents and uses native optical character recognition to save time and effort.
It is evident that robotics has become part of our everyday lives. From using a simple vacuum cleaner to building a smart city, there has been a massive shift in the way activities are performed, ranging from simple to complex world building.