I still remember the first time I saw R2-D2 and C-3PO on the big screen. It was the summer of 1977 and my parents took us to the drive in theater to see Star Wars. The way the astromech and protocol droid moved, interacted and helped Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo was well beyond cool in my young, impressionable mind. Afterwards, I couldn’t figure out why my parents didn’t get a droid to help out around our house. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back came out that I realized the autonomous servants were actually played by actors and special effect techs.
Today, robots are a part of our everyday lives. They build our cars, vacuum our houses and even mow our yards. But their appearance is nothing like the droids I was looking for as a child.
But with the continued advances in the field of robotics, we’re getting closer to having modern day versions of R2-D2 and C-3PO. From retail to healthcare, here are five robots that might just change your life.
Cute and pleasant, Pepper by Softbank Robotics is programmed to be much more than a robot. Designed to communicate through voice, touch and hand motions, Pepper is capable of recognizing primary human emotions and selecting the behavioral response that is best suited to the situation. The humanoid robot learns more about you and your personality traits and preferences as it spends more time around you. But it’s not just a companion for home. Pepper is being marketed to retail stores as a greeter and sales support. It can alert customers of sales and lead them to their requested items while encouraging impulse purchases by walking them past other targeted retail items.
While not as cute as Pepper, the DASH retail robotic shopping cart by 5elements Robotics is designed specifically for retail solutions. Looking essentially like a shopping cart from the future, DASH is designed to increase profits by leading customers past featured sale items, collecting buying trend data and providing targeted advertisements on the attached touch screen. Customers can even pay DASH directly, which can then follow the customer to their car and return to the store after the customer has finished unloading the robot’s basket.
While technically a smart toy, Leka was created to help children with developmental disabilities like autism. The ball-shaped robot is a perfect tool for parents and therapists as they support the education of these special kids. With fun, educational games, Leka increases motor, cognitive and emotional skills and stimulates autonomy. Its spherical shape allows it to move easily around the room and its screen and multi-colored LEDs can display emotions that children can easily understand.
The helper robot Cutii was created by a French startup as an at-home assistant for the elderly who feel isolated. With an interactive touchscreen for a face, Cutii can respond to verbal cues and assist with daily activities like setting up appointments. Plus, the French robot helps fight isolation by helping you get in touch with loved ones through video conferencing and acts as a companion with activities programmed to make sure its owner never gets bored.
In a world of new virtual assistants, Romeo by Softbank Robotics is designed to be a physical assistant. Humanoid in appearance and 140 cm tall, Romeo is large and strong enough to assist the elderly stand or walk down the hall. It is currently working in French and European laboratories, exploring solutions for elderly assistance. Equipped with cognitive support applications, the robot will interact with its human and encourage them to stay hydrated. During sleep or nap time, Romeo powers down to allow its owner to sleep. And if too much time passes between interactions, the robot will encourage social interaction by asking questions.
Forty years have passed since R2-D2 and C-3PO first caught our attention and showed us what robotics could become. From Pepper and Dash to Leka and Romeo, today’s robots are finally starting to resemble the droids from Star Wars in both form and function. Because of their connectivity, interactive programming and ability to mimic moods, they can assist us in our daily lives more than we realize. The astromech and protocol droid may have been from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but their influence is very much here today.