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They don’t have set working hours, bad days or a lack of patience—our future companions made of plastic, metal and electronics. According to the World Robotics Report 2014, service robots are breaking records in production and everyday surroundings.

More industrial robots were sold last year than ever before—and the trend continues to increase. China alone saw an increase of 59 percent, compared to an overall global increase of 12 percent. By 2017, 31 million “metallic campanions” worth more than US$ 11 billion will find their way to consumers.

Among other things due to their constantly increasing life expectancy, service robots are of special significance. Compared to last year, the number of service robots in private households increased by 28 percent to nearly 4 million, which corresponds to some US$ 1.7 billion in sales volume. Right now, that predominantly includes products such as floor-cleaning robots, robo-mowers and robots for edutainment—i.e. toy robots and other devices for hobbies and the education sector.

In the future, however, we will have increasingly complex and efficient “machines” in our homes that serve as assistive robots for senion citizens, household chores and edutainment purposes. They will perform tasks that, until now, were typically performed by people. Unlike the “old” stationary mechanical assistants in factories, they will move freely about our homes. To do so, they will use sensory data to construct maps, just like future four-wheeled “robots”—the autonomous automobile.

Japanese tin man on wheels

Pepper, the "emotional" household robot, is expected to roll through the USA soon (Bild: Nestle).
Pepper, the “emotional” household robot, is expected to roll through the USA soon (Bild: Nestle).

Japan is one of the next countries where robots will be used not just in industry, but also in guest houses, hotels, delivery services and the healthcare sector. Japan’s government expects that its “Make the Robot Revolution a Reality” growth strategy will increase volume on the market for service robots by a factor of 20 to 1.2 trillion yen (EUR 8 billion).

Softbank’s robot model Pepper kicked off the campaign in Nestle stores last week. The “good mood” robot on three wheels is 1.2 meters tall and weighs 28 kilograms, and it is being used to sell coffee machines. The customer’s voice and gestures are recorded by two cameras, one 3D camera and four microphones, and they tell Pepper if the person in front of them is sad. Pepper then acts on its own to cheer the person up.

Two ultrasound, six laser and three bumper sensors prevent collisions, two gyroscopes help the robot maintain its equalibrium and touch sensors in the fingers take care of its tactile functions. New capabilities are available via WiFi or Ethernet, and it has a battery life of 12 hours. The family robot is expected to hit markets starting in February and to cost approximately EUR 1,400. Pepper was developed by Aldebaran Robotics, the French robotics company that builds the humanoid robot Nao.

Robot Baxter

Co-working robots like Baxter promise a future for home robotics (Image: Rethink Robotics).