Humanoid Robots. Nice-to-have or mainstream must-have innovation?

Innovators are often scoffed at for their fanciful ambition – from the Wright Brothers to Thomas Edison, people’s tendency is to rail against innovation. It is interesting to look at the many examples over the last 30 years where early adopters have driven technologies from gimmick to ubiquity in a matter of months. With our focus on robotics, we are particularly interested in the future potential of service and humanoid robots, which definitely seem to be catching the imagination of developers and some tech visionaries.  If they follow the trajectory of mobile phones (or aeroplanes or even light bulbs!) then we are in for some exciting changes in the way we live and interact – but where are we on the curve and what are the parameters that will drive that transformation to mainstream applications ?

The Journey to Mainstream Adoption of Humanoid Robots

I saw a quote recently that goes something along the lines of: “Everything starts as a nice-to-have gimmick before it becomes mainstream. Being called a gimmick is the same thing as calling something innovative”

Well maybe, but of course not everything that is a gimmick goes mainstream.  So how do those of us working in innovation best tell which gimmick is going to become the next big thing?

Clearly it has something to do with use cases. There are some innovations that are just fun, some that would genuinely be ‘nice-to-have’, and others that have the potential to be totally transformational.  If only we knew enough to be able to know what fits into the latter group!  Alas some things that have the power to be transformational, often don’t initially give much clue as to possible future use cases.

The Transformational Development of Mobile Phones

I am old enough to remember when the first mobile phones came out back in the 1980’s.  Most people thought they were just a fairly ostentatious gimmick.  Clearly the potential use case was transformational – wire-free calling from anywhere – but as we all know, that wasn’t by any means the full story.  They were a ‘nice to have’ tool for business – how little did we know then about the rise of the internet and the coming social media tsunami. The transformative use case beyond the business application was always there – we just hadn’t considered how  things would come together to enable it.  Very few of us saw data usage and the web doing what it has!

Virtual Reality: from Gamers to Business Applications

We are now seeing technologies like Virtual Reality move from the domain of ‘nice-to-have’ for gamers, to something with a serious transformational business application.  For example, we know now that Mixed Reality technologies can assist enormously in improving training for groups as diverse as Jet Engine engineers, surgeons, military training programmes and much more.

So perhaps it is something to do with understanding how innovations get adopted and then adapted to maximise their new found use cases – often augmented by other parallel innovations.  Their convergence with other mediums align today’s gimmicks with use cases that perhaps seemed unthinkable at the outset, which then develop a life of their own once their potential has been explored.

Service Delivery Robots – The Future?

With our team working on service delivery robotics, we find ourselves in the middle of almost as much enthusiasm as we do scepticism.   Can robots such as Pepper, Sanbot or even Cruzr be transformed from ‘nice-to-have’, to properly out-gun their purposeful, dedicated production-orientated cousins?  To do things so useful that we can’t imagine our daily customer service interactions without them?

How many technologies would have to converge for us to be able to interact with robots that are as smart as the humans who currently teach us, care for us and sell us products?  Clearly a lot, but with such a strong business case to aim at, I for one wouldn’t bet against it.

The Future

To that end, we’re currently working on a cloud based system that draws together as many of these early phase intelligent ‘nice-to-have’ technologies.  We will then offer access into a single online module, containing multiple applications, to which any service delivery robot can interface.  That way, I guess by putting all the ‘gimmicks’ into one interconnected place, we will see where the synergies and use cases emerge.  This alone will drive the future of Service Delivery Robots.

So, before you scoff at a new ‘nice-to-have’ innovation being promoted for your business, stop yourself, ponder the potential use cases and take a look at how we are leveraging the latest technology.

#Innovation #gamechanger #technology #robots #AR #VR #DVsignage