Robotics has become standard in much of industrial production, but AI also means robots are able to accomplish more and more complicated tasks. Here are some living examples around the world.
"The robots are coming..." has been an ominous science fiction trope dating back decades. Now, depending where you look, the robots have arrived. With the multiplication of artificial intelligence capabilities, there are real-life fears that robotics will make our jobs irrelevant. A recent report the International Federation of Robotics found that in China, a record 943,000 industrial robots are now operating in the country's factories.
But in fact, it goes well beyond the traditional assembly lines: advances in robotic technology are creating devices capable of accomplishing increasingly complicated tasks, serving as sous chefs, healthcare aids, and even entertainment. Here's a global look at the robots you may soon see staring back at you:
Making pizza, flipping burgers
The Pazzi robot-controlled kitchen
Imagine a chef who could whip out 400 pizzas an hour. That's the recipe for Cala, a new Paris-area business with a robotic pizzaïolo. Cala, which launched on delivery apps and now has a physical restaurant, offers quick meals at an affordable price because robots require far less space to work and you can never have too many cooks in the kitchen.
"It also allows access to more commercial spaces, especially in places where it is impossible to open a traditional restaurant," Cala co-founder Ylan Richard tells French business daily Les Echos. Cala, which just raised 5.5 million euros, plans to have seven restaurants by the end of 2022.
Cala is one of about 10 of these food tech companies around the world innovating completely automated kitchens. Pazzi is another start-up in France that hopes to automate 100% of kitchen activities; it raised 10 million euros and opened a Paris restaurant this past summer. Pazzi's robot can make a pizza in less than five minutes.
In the U.S. many of these advances are hoping to soften the impact of the country's widespread worker shortage. Miso Robotics first engineered a burger-flipping robot and is now taking on frying chicken wings and fries with its Flippy 1 and 2, which is being implemented in the Buffalo Wild Wings and White Castle fast food chains.
Growing strawberries in California
Robots cultivate plants at the Iron Ox greenhouse
Iron Ox, a California startup, is using robots to more sustainability grow produce; its greenhouses use 90% less water than traditional farms and 90% less electricity than other indoor farms.
Grover, a self-driving robot, transports modules of plants (carrying approximately 80 gallons with 70 plants in each module) and another robot is used to lift them up. It's truly a fully "smart" greenhouse, using a hydroponics system for plants to be grown in water with sensors monitoring acidity and nitrogen levels. Overhead cameras take 3D pictures of the plants for scientists to use to measure crop production.
Currently, Iron Ox has cultivated strawberries and Thai basil and is now also growing cilantro, parsley and tomatoes. With funding from Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the company is planning a 50,000-square-meter greenhouse in Texas that will have robots handling about 5,400 modules.
Patient care in Rwanda
Robots aid in COVID-19 medical care in Rwanda
Akazuba, Ikizere and Ngabo are all employed at the Kanyinya COVID-19 treatment facility near Kigali, Rwanda's capital, but they face no risk of infection. Donated by the United Nations Development Program, these robots with human-like eyes monitor patients and take temperatures to limit the human staff's exposure to coronavirus.
As Reuters reports, these robots also cut down on bedside visits by using technology to assess the effectiveness of a medical team's decisions and relaying messages to doctors.
In Egypt, mechatronics engineer Mahmoud el-Koumi created Cira-03, a robot that can test people for COVID-19, africanews.com reports. el-Koumi self-funded the prototype, which uses remote control. Cira-03's human-like face was designed to put patients at ease and before being deployed, a specialized doctor trains the robot to improve its AI. In addition to performing PCR tests, Cira-03 can take blood samples and temperatures. Results are then displayed on a screen attached to the robot's chest. And, oh yes, Cira-03 also reminds patients to wear a face mask.
Pure entertainment in Japan
Japan's new giant robot is inspired by a popular anime series
According to the International Federation of Robotics, sales of entertainment robots have been on the rise, increasing from 4.6 million units in 2019 to 5.1 million units in 2020. But these are no longer the basic animatronic puppets of the past.
Japan has long been a robotics pioneer, particularly to address labor issues caused by its aging population. But it's not all work and no play. Last year, a new attraction was revealed: an almost 60-foot-high robot (about half of the height of the Statue of Liberty) inspired by Gundam, a science fiction anime series.
The robot, located just south of Tokyo at the Gundam Factory Yokohama, was built as part of the Gundam Global Challenge. This gentle giant, which weighs 25 tons and has more than 20 moving parts, can move its arms and legs, appearing to crouch and walk. Fans can come watch the robot, which is accompanied by a music and lights display, truly bringing the fictional world to life.
Robofly in Seattle
The RoboFly is powered by a laser beam
Sometimes, the most impressive robotic technology is also the smallest, known as micro-robotics. As Tech Xplor points out, insect-sized robots have a range of applications, from helping in search and rescue operations to inspecting infrastructures to speeding up agricultural production. But their minuscule size also makes them difficult to manufacture.
University of Washington researchers have invented the RoboFly, a flapping-wing robot that can travel in the air as well as on the ground and on water surfaces. RoboFly weighs in at only 74 milligrams and has fewer components than similar insect-like robots, simplifying its fabrication. It's an example of biomimicry when animals and other organic processes inspire technology.
RoboFly is in fact an adaption of RoboBee X-Wing, which has four wings that flap 170 times per second. The RoboBee stands 6.5 centimeters high with a wingspan of 3.5 centimeters. Muscle-like plates control the wings, which are outfitted with six tiny solar cells; the wings begin to flap when exposed to light. Although because it required three times the intensity of natural sunlight, it didn't receive any real-world exposure.