The creeping fear that robots might someday rob humans of their jobs is unfounded, according to bunch of robot companies based out in San Francisco.
In a new report published Wednesday by Silicon Valley Robotics, a non-profit made up of several robot companies, the general consensus is that 'no,' service robots won't be stealing our jobs. Instead they'll be doing us a favor by taking over repetitive menial labor, freeing humans to engage in more creative task that only homo sapiens can do—if all goes according to these companies' plans and commercial interests.
Interviews with emerging robotics startups such as Farfetch, Fellow Robots, and Savioke—to name a few—reveal how companies are aiming to expand into the service sector. While the development of industrial robotics has dominated the market for several decades, the report's authors argue that robots will increasingly be used in the e-commerce, logistics, and retail sectors.
Why? Because robots can be put to work 24/7—reducing labor costs, remember vast amounts of information accurately, and be programmed to improve over time. But creators sure don't want them to be like "one-trick ponies that just automate a single-task" like their industrial predecessors.
"We're thinking a lot more about flexible robotics. We think about programmable robotics," said Roger Chen from OATV, in the report. "It's no longer just about robotics automating specific human tasks. It's more about how flexible robotics will enable superior operations overall."
Marco Mascorro, CEO and co-founder of Fellow Robots, gives an example of how optimised robot workers can assist their human colleagues. For example, when a robot works in a store an onboard mapping technology will allow it to memorise where all the objects are kept in the store. If something gets moved, telling other employees can be a chore. The robot, however, said Mascorro could provide other store associates with this information.
"We're talking about how we can make this experience even richer for employees," added Mascorro, noting how up to twenty-five languages could be added onto the robot to making communicating with customers easier as well.
In the customer service sector, robot makers suggest that robot workers in hotels could actually entertain and put guests at ease. Relay, an R2D2-lookalike delivery robot made by a startup called Savioke, is explicitly for that purpose. According to Savioke CEO, Steve Cousins, Relay's ability to deliver late night snacks and emergency towel supplies to guests basically allows humans to cut out "redundant tasks" and focus on more managerial roles.
It's not like our robot butlers will react rudely to guests either. When Relay goes to deliver a bunch of snacks to hotel guests, it's programmed to ask polite questions relating to the guest's stay. Another plus is that nobody cares if they look bad in front of an automaton.
"If the robot's coming and bringing you something early in the morning, you don't have to brush your teeth and get dressed because there's a person coming to your door," said Cousins, in the report. "Robots don't care how you look and they don't smell your breath. It's just a more "at the door" experience that people seem to like."
If all goes according to the report's plans, it sounds like service robots of the future will serve dually as our minions and entertainers, with their human overlords cracking the work whip.