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What to Expect from Industrial Applications of Humanoid Robotics
Robotics engineers are designing and manufacturing more robots that resemble and behave like humans—with a growing number of real-world applications. For example, humanoid service robots (SRs) were critical to continued healthcare and other services during the COVID-19 pandemic, when safety and social distancing requirements made human services less viable, the Journal of Information Technology Teaching Cases reports.
Intelligent humanoid robots are still some time away from widespread adoption across all industries that may benefit from their capabilities. But scientists continue to develop mechanics, algorithms, and artificial intelligence (AI) that allow for more human-like capabilities, behaviors, and even simulated emotions. All these features make humanoid robots more viable options in unique industrial use cases.
This article benchmarks scientists’ and business leaders’ current progress in developing humanoid robotics for industrial applications. We highlight four trends of which business leaders should be aware as they consider humanoid robotics applications in their own industries.
Industrial Use Cases for Human-Robotic Interaction (HRI)
In order to understand the impetus for humanoid robotics, we must consider the related need to improve human-robot interaction (HRI). HRI is a growing area of study and a critical factor when considering industrial adoption of humanoid robotics. For humanoid robots, this involves the success with which they detect, understand, and learn through sensors and artificial intelligence the behaviors, questions, and commands of human beings. HRI also investigates human reactions to humanoid robots—specifically, their emotions, their trust in robots, and their ability to both communicate and work with those robots productively.
As humanoid robots become more prevalent, HRI will increase in relevance due to the breadth of applications that will emerge. Humanoid robots already have real applications in the healthcare and service industries, for example, where human emotions, wellbeing, and medicine or care on which humans depend are contingent on successful HRI.
Human workers will increasingly rely on humanoid robots in industrial settings as well. While repetitive robotic process automation (RPI) is already prevalent in industrial environments, future workers will also rely on robots to perform nuanced tasks that require adaptability and intelligence, and may even have human safety implications (e.g., when humanoid robots must transport hazardous materials).
Uncertainty as Industrial Humanoid Robots Approach the Mainstream
As these use cases emerge, human risk and uncertainty will become a substantial concern—especially in industrial settings, where humans will depend on humanoid robots to perform tasks safely and successfully every day. Specifically, human workers will have understandable misgivings about relinquishing more decision making and responsibility to humanoid robots when they are untested outside of traditional human capacities (e.g., experience on the job or referrals from past employers).
In these settings, the humanization or “anthropomorphism” of robots could either help or hurt their purposes. For example, Humans have found humanoid robots highly personable and effective in service settings that nonetheless require some autonomy and cognition. But this trust may not carry over into industrial settings where labor is more frequent, dynamic, and high risk.
Even so, recent advances in robotic intelligence mean future industrialized robots will achieve “high-fidelity movements” where “the robot is able to plan its movement—considering its dynamics and all the obstacles—within fractions of a second,” the University of Illinois Chicago reports. Combined with more advanced sensors and cognition, humanoid robotics may become both trustworthy and trusted in industrial settings where today they are neither.
4 Industrial Trends in Humanoid Robotics
Business leaders must visualize future humanoid robotics applications in their own industries, even if real adoption of those technologies is distant, uncertain, or even out of the question today. Their competitive and opportunistic understanding of their industries depends on it.
Here we discuss five key trends affecting humanoid robotics in industrial applications. Consider the implications of HRI within your own industry as the field of humanoid robotics evolves.
1. Humanoid Robots Will Perform More Complex Physical Tasks
Traditional robotics hinges on the repetition of a single of series of actions. Early applications of machine learning focused on improving those singular functions as well. Humanoid robots in industrial settings will perform more complex tasks based on real-time stimuli and criteria, emulating human beings more directly.
Already, “MIT researchers have developed an AI model that understands the underlying relationships between objects in a scene and helps robots perform complex tasks,” Lifewire reports. “This work could be applied in situations where robots must perform complex tasks,” such as organizing inventory or assembling machinery.
2. Humanoid Robots Will Adopt More “Humanistic” Responsibilities
It is unlikely that humanoid robots will replace human functions entirely; rather, they will augment specific tasks that are traditionally human responsibilities. This differs from traditional automation, where robotic tasks are repetitive, highly limited, and strictly mechanical. Instead, humanoid robots may take orders when performing specialized functions, such as lifting materials or operating machinery; they may answer questions or provide advice as human laborers perform certain tasks as well.
3. “Cobots” Must Earn the Trust of their Human Coworkers
As workers share physical spaces with humanoid robots, they will need to build a new type of trust—not only in those robots’ abilities to collaborate on tasks, but to ensure for their own personal safety in doing so. These “cobots” will need to deliver on the promises of their manufacturers, assisting human beings in safe and meaningful ways as well.
Humanoid robots may be in a stronger position to do this than non-humanoid robots as roboticists increasingly focus on improving their relatability and real-time adaptability to human behavior. Humans will need to grow accustomed to robots performing unforeseeable tasks in response to unique requirements and stimuli, and adapt to levels of sociability that will be inherent in their AI-driven personalities.
4. Intelligence Sophistication Will Differ Based on Roles
Robot intelligence is not as malleable and adaptable as human intelligence, even as its technology progresses. That means robots and their capacities intelligence will continue to be designed for specific functions, rather than be adaptable to any environment.
“Mechanical intelligence relates to standardized and transactional tasks, which require a minimal level of learning,” Boston University’s Boston Hospitality Review reports in their analysis of robotics in the hospitality industry. Meanwhile, “analytical intelligence is based on systematic and rule-based learning from big data and enables logical thinking in decision-making.”
In other words, a customer service robot in a hotel setting will invariably require less sophistication than a nursing assistant robot in a healthcare setting, or a factory floor robot in an industrial setting. “Intuitive” robots like those designed to provide medications, conversation, and even empathy in elderly care settings will require more sophisticated capabilities—such as the ability to identify emotions and respond during human crises—as well.
A Long Pathway to Success
The normalization of humanoid robots in industrial environments is still in progress. Widespread and even early adoptions won’t be possible until humanoid robotics emerges from academic and experimental settings with higher rates of success, not to mention real, cost-effective use cases.
What’s more, both scientists and industrialists haven’t agreed on what constitutes the ideal anthropomorphic design, or the appropriate degree to which robots should resemble humans. Questions remain unanswered, such as:
- To what degree should robots look like humans?
- What is the right conversational tone for robots in different settings?
- How should human characteristics differ from one role to another?
- What level of cognition is appropriate for different roles?
Despite this uncertainty, this exciting and inventive field is sure to revolutionize all industries for several decades. Much as the design and sophistication of automobiles evolved form one generation to the next, the evolution of humanoid robotics will be evolutionary, continuing well into the distant future.
Partner with Uvation as You Consider Robotics in Your Industry
The consultants at Uvation can help you understand the implications of robotics in your industry. Book an online session with a robotics expert and begin preparing for this inevitable future.