As I travel the country with our fleet of robots the most frequently asked question about any of the robots is always what does it do? What would I use it for? This question is asked at every robot encounter and about every robot we provide. So, for this writing I will answer that question about/for the NAO Robot from SoftBank Robotics. I will address other robots in later writings. More than 10,000 NAO robots are in use in over 50 countries. So that fact alone should be an indication of the robustness of NAO’s versatility, utility and functionality.
But first let’s address a few foundational issues that surround these questions. Underlying the posited questions is usually the feeling that robots are ‘job stealers’ and that they are a threat. What most are really asking is the question: ‘Will it eventually take my job away?” Well the fact is that in certain job classes that may very well be true. However, the job creation that I see being generated in the robot sector and what I observe in the scope of unfilled jobs ‘going calling’…employment opportunities abound. Just this week a major retailer was stuffing doors in our neighborhood with ‘We Have Jobs Open” flyers! While this is a good question, without robots in our industrial future, our economy will falter severely and that will be worse for jobs. My assessment is robots are a good thing.
This next issue I have found to be very, very interesting. Robots without a ‘human like face’ don’t seem to generate the angst that robots with a ‘head and face’ do. No one objects to the ‘robot’ that washes their dishes or their clothes. Or, the oven that cooks their food or makes their toast or their morning cup of coffee or caries them like an elevator does in a building. Well those are ‘machines’ well not really they are a class of robots, I think. It is when we add a ‘face’ and seeming intelligence for ‘conversation’ that things get edgy. So, when you can talk to your dish washer are you concerned that one day it will say “I am not working today!”? Or, “You need to do a better job scraping the residue from the dinner plates!” Upon reflection, I clearly remember the angst that surrounded microwave ovens when they arrived on the scene. “How does it do that?!” “Are we all going to die of radiation poising?” Try and find a home today without a microwave. The same adoption curve will happen for in home social robots. I therefore think it is the ‘head and face’ motif that makes us think that the robot differently and that it may have a sinister purpose of its own making.
Let us now turn to the actual question at hand and answer the “So what is it used for?” question.
Here are my top ten uses of the NAO Robot:
1. HOSPITALS: as Pediatric Medical Assistants clinically proven to reduce pain and fear in children that face medical procedures.
2. AUTISM THERAPIES: as mediated behavior intervention vehicles that help unlock the social communications capacities of children on the autism spectrum.
3. SCHOOLS: as a STEM Robotics learning platform
4. SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITIES: as social assistants and exercise therapy leaders
5. LIBRARIES: as a ‘makerspace’ resource for community education and robot access
6. RETAIL: as an art expert in an art gallery showroom
7. SUPERMARKETS: as product educators
8. BANKS: as customer service agents
9. TRADE SHOWS: as in-booth sales agents
10. ENTERTAINMENT: as performers in stage and dance performances
I think the above gives a pretty good answer to the question and presents a view of the ever-growing utility of robots of the ‘social/collaborative’ class such as a NAO. In some of the above cases such as in pediatric medical care and autism the robot actually does what it does better, and delivers a better impact than humans. Robots are rising for sure.