The “Curly” curling robots are capturing hearts around the world. A product of Korea University in Seoul and the Berlin Institute of Technology, the deep reinforcement learning powered bots slide stones along ice in a winter sport that dates to the 16th century. As much as their human-expert-bettering accuracy or technology impresses, a big part of the Curly appeal is how we see the little machines in the physical space: the determined manner in which the thrower advances in the arena, smartly raising its head-like cameras to survey the shiny white curling sheet, gently cradling and rotating a rock to begin delivery, releasing deftly at the hog line as a skip watches from the backline, with our hopes.
Artificial intelligence (AI) today delivers everything from soup recipes to stock predictions, but most tech works out-of-sight. More visible are the physical robots of various shapes, sizes and functions that embody the latest AI technologies. These robots have generally been helpful, and now they are also becoming a more entertaining and enjoyable part of our lives.
Robots Take the Spotlight in Entertainment and Education
The market size of physical and interactive social and entertainment robots is expected to hit US$3.7 billion by 2023, almost quadrupling the 2016 figure, as the robots’ capabilities in vision, mobility and interaction with people continue to rapidly improve.
Advanced entertainment robots are much more than toys. Embedded AI technologies such as computer vision and natural language processing enable the robots to identify and track human faces, receive and recognize voice commands. They can respond and interact with behaviour like that of a house pet, or, when integrated with IoT modules and programmable systems, function as a humanoid Alexa personal assistant. Such robots are also intriguing and engaging students in educational roles. Across applications, an overarching trend is to make these front-line machines more fun for humans to deal with.
DJI – ROBOMASTER S1
Moving beyond its traditional drone business, DJI developed RoboMaster S1, a chariot-like educational robot designed to “bridge the digital world with the real one, bringing abstract theories to life through practical operations.” It will also of course show up for thrilling robot combat sessions. Embedded with automatic driving features and six programmable artificial intelligence modules, the S1 supports Scratch and Python and encourages users to write their own programs to teach the robot to automatically move and execute complex tasks. The Intelligent Controller’s CPU supports low-latency high-definition image transmission, AI computing, and programming development.
To further pique young users’ interest in science, math, physics and programming, DJI runs the annual RoboMaster Robotic Competition, a tournament in its seventh year that challenges competitors’ wit, engineering and problem-solving skills. As of August, Northeastern University (东北大学) sits atop the RoboMaster 2020 leaderboard, followed by the China University of Mining and Technology (中国矿业大学).
Named after the powerful “Monkey King” character in Chinese traditional fiction, the Wukong robot was designed for the purposes of play, education, social interaction, etc., the result of a 2018 collaboration between UBTech and Tencent. Wukong integrated computer vision, natural language process, and other AI technologies to enable the friendly robot to talk, see, play music, take photos, read and react with voice commands. UBTech’s latest products, like the Jimu series, and FireBot Kit of buildable and codable robots, further expand on this robot-based approach to engage kids and encourage them to learn how to do their own coding at a very young age.
Samsung – Ballie
Ballie is a Samsung robot product unveiled at CES 2020. Touted as resembling the Star Wars BB-8 droid character, it actually looks more like a tennis ball. Ballie connects with smart home devices and enables user control functions via voice commands. And while it’s not talking to you it can roll around, thoroughly and efficiently navigating the floor. Although Ballie’s fun functionality won a lot of attention at CES, Samsung has not yet disclosed any release date or price, and the droid ball seems likely to remain an amusing concept. Not every novel smart robot prototype gets the right bounces.
It’s said that emotions — more than reason — play a huge role in humans’ purchasing and lifestyle choices. That may be why the market for social and entertainment robots will see such growth. No matter what shape these robots may take, they can be expected to continue to integrate AI and IoT technologies to evolve increasingly enjoyable humanlike interaction capabilities that will enable them to move beyond the domain of kids’ toys or Roombas with names, to become our smart assistants, teachers, and even companions.
Analyst: Victor Lu | Editor: Michael Sarazen
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