03/02/2015 09:01 GMT | Updated 29/03/2015 06:59 BST

The Rise of the Robot


Image Credit

Valentine's Day looms, and along with it approaches anonymous cards, another 'gourmet' Valentine's meal deal from M&S, and a sea of restaurant tables for 2, occupied by couples gazing lovingly into their Instagram feeds. Valentine's Day is just another reminder of the decline in human interaction amongst our generation, and the nation's ever-increasing fixation with technology, fuelling the rise of the robot.

Robots working behind the scenes in factories performing basic, repetitive tasks have been a common occurrence for decades - however these bots have always been kept locked away, avoiding the danger of human interference for safety purposes. Today, robots are being designed to work in close proximities with humans, fulfilling more important job roles in public places. A recent study has reported that robots could eliminate 11 million UK jobs by 2034, and up to 50% of all jobs could be at risk of being taken over by these increasingly human-like mechanisms. Here we discuss the advances in robot technology, and where we can expect to see them replacing human beings in the work place in the near future.

Retail robots

A store in the US has introduced OSHbot - a 5ft tall 'retail robot designed to help customers find and visualise their purchases'. Much like a human shop assistant could, OSHbot is able to identify objects presented to them with its 3D scanner, to check whether this product is in stock (with down-to-the-second accuracy), and then guide the customer to where it is displayed. The combination of a human-like ability to communicate and move, with a machine brain means that OSHbot is able to perform these shop-floor tasks much quicker and more efficiently than a human ever could. Perhaps soon we can expect these robotic retail assistants to feature self-checkout facilities and mPOS systems such as Barclaycard Anywhere or Square, entirely banishing the need for human retail assistants.

As well as robotic retail assistants, mechanical shopping trolleys have been introduced. Purely for assistance rather than replicating a retail assistant, bots such as Budgee follow their assigned shopper with their goods, much like a shopping trolley.

Hospital robots

iRobot, an advanced technology company founded in 1990, have recently brought us RP-Vita - the hospital robot which can be 'manoeuvred around hospital wards from afar'. As the latest innovation in telecare technology, RP-Vita has the ability to allow doctors and specialists to consult on a case anywhere in the world via its telepresence feature. These bots allow a doctor to immediately see and tend to a patient, ceasing delays in diagnoses and allowing patients to be treated by the best doctor for their specific condition, wherever they may be. In order to add a personal touch to an unavoidably impersonal mechanism, the RP-Vita boasts an adult sized silhouette and a screen displaying the doctor's face. This robot is already installed in a number of hospitals in North America, and costs around $60,000.

Cleaning robots

From emptying gutters and washing windows to clearing carpets and wooden floors, the range of household areas that can be unblocked, cleaned and polished without us lifting a finger is incredible. iRobot have created a number of cleaning bots, and although these robots may seem a little self-indulgent, there's no denying the time and back-ache they save. An example of these cleaning robots is Scooba, the new floor scrubbing robot that can be switched on and left to float about the floor doing your hard work. With an advanced software system, Scooba avoids falling down stairs, crashing into walls and repeatedly bumping into your cat, yet covers and scrubs every section of your floor.

Restaurant robots

Arguably the most astonishing use of robots so far, a restaurant in China has employed robot chefs. After a human employee has added the vital ingredients and pushed the 'go' button, the bot is sent into a chef-like flurry - tossing and turning a wok to create delicious stir-frys, which customers have claimed taste no different to a dish prepared by a human.

As well as robot chefs, mechanical waiters are also being introduced throughout China. These robots are able to move around the table isles using an optical sensing system, take customers' orders and then serve their food whilst wishing for them to enjoy their meal. The owner of one robo-restaurant claims to have employed these bots as they are cheaper - a chef costs only $1.60 per day to run, and a waiter only 60 cents - as well as to entice customers. These robotic staff certainly act as in-house entertainment, drawing in customers who crave the experience of being served by a robot - although, they can forget service with a smile.

So perhaps next Valentine's Day, we'll have even less human interaction to worry about as our robo-waiter wishes us a good meal, leaving us more time to decide which filter makes our linguine look most enjoyable...