Robots to become extended family members amid advances in AI, 5G, other tech

August 15, 2019

BY Alexander Kalis


  • About 14 per cent of families across the globe will have a function-rich home robot by 2025
  • On average, 10 nursing bots will be used in elderly care homes in G8 nations in the same period

In a span of six years, more people around the world will potentially be living with robots – the new extended family made possible by artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and other hi-tech advances.

The global penetration rate for home robots is predicted to reach 14 per cent by 2025, according to the second edition of Huawei Technologies’ Global Industry Vision (GIV) released on Friday. The report, which was initiated by Huawei last year, is designed to analyse industry development trends and serve as a strategic guide for information and communications technology (ICT) deployment.

“We’re seeing rapid changes to life, work, and society as every industry adopts AI, 5G, cloud computing and other emerging technologies,” said Kevin Zhang, chief marketing officer of Huawei’s ICT business, in a statement on Friday.

Living with robots, which is at the top of the GIV’s 10 megatrends through 2025, is forecast to help make people’s lives better, while turning into a multibillion-dollar segment of the global ICT market.

Butler bots can perform basic tasks like folding clothes, vacuuming and picking things up. It would also be in the realm of possibility that these bots could make coffee in the morning, when its censors gather that people inside the flat are about to wake up. These bots, in various forms, are already in 200 million homes around the world, according to the GIV.

More importantly, butler bots could serve as a family’s first line of defence in case of a fire, gas leak or break in. These machines would be able to activate the home sprinkler system, shut down the gas supply and lock doors, as well as send relevant images or video to authorities.

Companion bots would be available in three different forms: study, therapy and friendship. By 2025, every child will benefit from an “Einstein-like” smart tutor that will customise study plans based on personalised interests and preferred learning methods, according to the report.

Therapy bots would be programmed to teach social and academic skills to autistic children. The report said Autism Spectrum Disorder affects one in 68 children and its early diagnosis has a large impact on treatment efficacy. Friendship bots, by comparison, will be in a variety of humanoid and animal forms to provide subtle responses to human stimuli, which may be ideal for one-person households.

Nursing bots are expected to help as “smart first-aiders” in incidents such as a heart attack, while automatically contacting emergency services. The bots will also collect data from sensors around the home and on wearables used by a person, so that they can send real-time patient information to health care professionals. The GIV forecast an average of 10 nursing bots will be used in elderly care homes in G8 nations, including the US, the UK and the European Union.

Bionic bots would be in three forms: exoskeletons, prosthetics and augmentation devices, the report said.

Various models of exoskeletons are already available today. Combining mechanics, sensors, AI and mobile computing, exoskeletons for the shin and foot can provide help to a wearer who has difficulty walking. The GIV estimated the global market for exoskeletons to be worth nearly US$2 billion by 2025.

Smart prosthetics have a more specific application than exoskeletons. With machine learning technology, these devices will be able to make the brain-limb connection that automatically conveys the intention of an action to the limb, such as an arm or leg. The GIV said current research is focused on a musculoskeletal computer model that acts as a bridge between the brain and the prosthetic.

Augmentation devices, meanwhile, include bionic lenses that can potentially replace the eye’s natural lens with camera optics. It could benefit an estimated 39 million fully blind people and 246 million people with some visual impairment worldwide, the report said.

To be sure, there is no such thing as a crystal ball and predictions do not always turn out as reality in the ever-changing landscape of disruptive technologies. It can be a crapshoot in which people would rue the decisions they made.

In 1876 for example, US businessman William Orton, then-president of the Western Union Telegraph Company, dismissed the possibility of the telephone becoming a serious means of communication when he rejected an opportunity to buy all patents relating to the device from inventor Alexander Graham Bell and his associates.

Still, the rapid growth of home robots worldwide marks another industry in which China could take the lead in terms of adoption and innovation. The world’s No 2 economy is already the biggest market for smartphones and cars, as well as the country with the most number of internet users and potentially, the largest “href=”https://www.scmp.com/tech/big-tech/article/3013454/what-will-5g-china-mean-you” data-v-f8b97894=””>5G mobile infrastructure

In the field of robotics, the “Made in China 2025” industrial master plan predicted the number of industrial robots operating in the country would expand tenfold to 1.8 million units by 2025. Up to 70 per cent of the robots used in China would be made in the country at that time, from half in 2020.

The GIV also predicted that there will be 103 robots in industry for every 10,000 employees. Smart automation would take on more hazardous, repetitive and high-precision tasks, creating a boon for safety and productivity across many industries.

“Human exploration will never stop,” said Huawei’s Zhang. “We should set our sights beyond what we see now and look to the future, shifting from innovation to invention.”