Generation Of Social Robots Being Created In The Bay Area

MOFFETT FIELD (KPIX 5) — A Bay Area facility is churning out social robots.

Meet Pepper, a social robot. Pepper is 4 feet tall, friendly, and full of personality. It’s got rhythm too.

Pepper is part of a new generation of bots that are more human than ever.

Powered by Softbank Robotics, Pepper can be programmed to act like a concierge. Or just be your friend.

It’s one of many that can be found walking around the Innovation Lab at Singularity University – a think tank at Moffett Field’s NASA Research Park.

Soon, these kinds of bots may walk right into our everyday lives.

Matthew Ebisu, a maker at Singularity University said, “I want to show the more cooperative side of robots, so I really like demonstrating how these robots are making an impact in people’s lives…”

Ebisu is known as the robot wrangler on campus. He helps build and program prototypes, and teaches entrepreneurs about social robots. His goal is to deconstruct the stereotype of robots as threatening machines and bring the romanticized, sci-fi images in movies closer to home.

Robotics is one of the hottest new markets in tech.

After growing at a rate of 17 percent each year, analysts predict the robot market will be worth $135 billion dollars by 2019, according to the tech research firm, IDC.

We already find artificial intelligence on our smartphones, such as Siri, or in appliances like Amazon’s Alexa.

Ebisu said, “So instead of replacing humans, they’re going to be working alongside them to help augment the workflow.”

There are already 20,000 Peppers and Nao robots at work in the world — mostly in Japan — being used to teach students how to program, working in businesses and hospitals, and living with families.

Nao can even do Tai Chi.

Monique Giggy is the director of Startup Solutions Group, a startup program at Singularity University.

A product that recently came of its incubator, the Lowebot, which roams the aisles at Bay Area Lowes Home Improvement stores.

It acts as an employee’s assistant. The machines can handle boring yet important tasks like inventory tracking, freeing up employees to help customers.

Giggy said, “If a robot, or a robot empowered with artificial intelligence could take care of that for you in a subtle way, in a non-intrusive way then it enables us to be human, it enables us to do the things that we love to do the most.”

Ebisu said, “We’re going to see a lot of new types of robots coming out in the market this year especially.”

Humans are literally getting more connected to these bots.

Ebisu programmed toy robots to react to brain wave activity, which is tracked by a headset. The more relaxed he’s feeling, the slower the movement. When he’s extremely focused, they march forward.

“We want to be able to work with them and understand them in the same way that I could work with a coworker and understand them,” Ebisu said.

More from Betty Yu
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