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What is the next frontier of AI and robotics?

White robot with human features
Alex Knight/Unsplash
Dec 10, 2022 By WGSN Insider
Consumer Tech

From human-centred design to robot imagination, discover the ideas and innovations driving AI and robotics today.

At WGSN, we’ve been tracking the growth opportunities and added value that AI and robotics can enable in people’s lives, both at home and in the workplace. While substantial growth has been made, what further breakthroughs do we need to incite true mass adoption?

Here’s a look at the key trends and where the industry is heading:

Human-centred design

While computers have been around since the 1930s, they only became accessible 50 years later with the advent of graphical user interfaces (GUIs), kicking off the multi-trillion dollar industry we know today. Similarly, focusing on the usability of AI and robotics technologies is the key to driving adoption.

In industrial contexts, growing emphasis is on user-friendly robots that do not require a high level of expertise to operate. Software companies such as Canada-based Omnirobotic are tackling this issue with its platform that makes it easy to set up autonomous robot applications with minimal positioning and little to no manual programming. Meanwhile, US-based Ready Robotics’ Forge/OS platform integrates with hundreds of industrial robot brands and lets operators manage them with a simple flowchart-style visual programming interface.

The use of these technologies are on the rise; Gartner forecasts global artificial intelligence software revenue will grow 21.3% in 2022 to a $62.5bn market.

Engineers developing white robotic arm

General intelligence robots

Current machine learning technologies are being used to teach robots specific tasks, but they are rigid and do not handle variation well. For a future where smart robots can handle more work, robots need an understanding of setting and context.

“Lifestyle robots must be able to augment human capability and potential, to explore, evaluate, experiment and extend what it already knows when we encounter an unknown problem,” says Oliver Tian, vice president at Global Robot Clusters.

At AIBotics 2022, a conference addressing the adoption of AI in robotics, researchers from the National University of Singapore and Johns Hopkins University showcased a new framework that helps robots understand the affordance of things instead of what they look like. They successfully taught robots a chair’s purpose (sitting affordance) and how to prepare a chair for a person to sit comfortably on. Coined “robot imagination”, this method could make household robots smarter and better at solving problems autonomously.

Robots for ageing populations

Many societies globally are facing a fast ageing population, raising concerns about slowing economic growth and societal issues such as mobility and social participation. Some governments are looking to tech to combat these issues, partnering with private companies and academics to redesign cities and societies of the future.

Japan’s Society 5.0 vision aims to tackle its ageing population issue through the digitalisation of its entire society, using remote technologies to enable its population to work for longer while leaving routine work to AI. In Susono, the government is collaborating with Japanese automaker Toyota on Woven City, an experimental city housing 360 residents, most of whom are elderly. The project will test automated mobility innovations and smart home developments, including an underground parcel delivery and rubbish disposal system.

AI and robotics trends will affect how we work, play and learn in the future. WGSN subscribers can check out our Key Trend: Artificial Intelligence at Work report to learn about the near-term impacts of this revolution.

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