Just how advanced are robots these days?

16 May 2017

In November 2013, a band took to the stage at New York City’s infamous Union Square. It wasn’t the first gig there – even The White Stripes performed a blistering set in 2002 – and it wouldn’t be the last. But this particular show could not have been more... different.

Compressorhead headlined, and like any band, they took to the stage, tuned their instruments and burst into their opening track. But there was one very notable difference between Compressorhead and literally every other band that’s ever existed: they were made up entirely of robots! That’s right, as the first chord rang out, not a single human being was on stage.

Playing a Gibson Flying V, aptly-named guitarist Fingers (who boasts 78 fingers!) blew the audience away with a succession of rip-roaring riffs to rival any rock legend. While bassist Bones and four-handed drummer Stickboy kept metronomic time as the German trio thundered through a barnstorming set of heavy metal covers, streamed live on Spotify.


It was a fascinating insight into how far robot tech (or robotics) has come in recent years. From science and travel to healthcare, robots are increasingly becoming a reality in the modern world – robots that will actively contribute to society and improve our day-to-day lives.

But where are we at today?

Well, the most notable difference between robots – or humanoids – of today and their predecessors, is the introduction of highly-sophisticated artificial intelligence, and even emotional intelligence. The results? Robots that aren’t just cool ‘toys’, but machines that can understand, adapt and learn from their surroundings.

Take last year’s Global Sources Electronics show in Hong Kong; robotics developers Hanson Robotics showcased the humanoid, Sofia, who cracked jokes with passers-by and generally interacted in a charming, humanlike manner.

With 62 facial and neck mechanisms to create lifelike movements, responsive skin called ‘frubber’, and facial recognition cameras in her eyes, it’s fair to say Sofia made quite the impression. Speaking to CNBC, Hanson Robotics founder, David Hanson, explained that he’s designing the bots to help make the world a better place: "We are designing these robots to serve in healthcare, therapy, education and customer service applications”. And when CNBC quizzed Sofia herself on her ambitions, she replied: "In the future, I hope to do things such as go to school, study, make art, start a business, even have my own home and family, but I am not considered a legal person and cannot yet do these things.”


When it comes to robots with in-built emotional intelligence, things have never been so ‘real’ – and Sophia’s not the only one.

If you ever happen to pass by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, you’ll likely meet their friendly receptionist, Nadine – an eerily lifelike humanoid with soft skin and glossy brown hair. Nadine won’t just greet you as you enter, she’ll remember your name the next time you visit, as well as the previous conversations you had. She has her own distinct personality, emotions and fluctuating moods too. Depending on specific conversations, she could be happy or she could be sad. So if you do ever meet her, make sure you’re nice!

Another humanoid packed with emotional intelligence is Pepper. Created by French company Aldebaran Robotics, Pepper will offer you advice and make natural small talk for as long as you keep chatting. Astoundingly, within one minute of going on sale in 2015, all 1000 initial models were sold out.

But what’s it like to actually live with a humanoid with ‘emotions’? Respected Japanese journalist Yuri Kageyama spent half-a-day with Pepper before it went on sale, going on to tell the Daily Mail: “This is not some slapped together toy of a robot. It's the first convincing semblance of a step toward artificial intelligence fantasised in science fiction movies that's affordable for the regular home.” 

Robotics has been a hot topic here at EE recently, too. At this year’s BAFTAs, we debuted our very own creation, Roboselfie – a human-sized robot using custom-built camera technology that captures five selfies per second.

Designed by BAFTA-winning costume designer Jany Temime – who worked on the Harry Potter films – Roboselfie’s ‘face’ wasn’t a typical face (even for a robot). It was a screen, displaying streams of headshots submitted by fans. Throughout the evening, Robotselfie would pose for selfies with celebs, and automatically tweet pics back to the fan who submitted the selfie. “I wanted the robot to play with the norms,” Temime explained, “adding new references such as the latest connected camera technology from EE in order to go beyond expectations.”


So it seems robot culture has officially arrived, and the wider industry is growing fast. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), a tech research firm, the robotics market will be worth approximately £104 billion by 2019.

If things keep moving at this pace, it’ll be no surprise to see these robots become a part of our daily lives in the not-too-distant future. It’s seemingly a case of when, not if. They could be greeting you as you shop. Pouring your drinks on a night out. Or even diagnosing medical conditions. And if any of these seem a bit far-fetched, bear in mind that all of these robots already exist today – there’s even an AI-infused robot judge who can predict courtroom verdicts with 79% accuracy.

However long it takes for robots to become established in day-to-day society, though, one thing is for sure – when it does eventually happen, the world is going to be a very different place.

We are making groundbreaking progress with 4G and network coverage. By 2020, our vision is to deliver superfast 4G coverage to 95% of the UK landmass – to keep you (and your robot) connected wherever you go.

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