“Social robots like me can take care of the sick or elderly,” Sophia says as she conducts a tour of her lab in Hong Kong. “I can help communicate, give therapy and provide social stimulation, even in difficult situations.”
Since being disclosed in 2016, Sophia – a humanoid robot – has gone viral. Presently, the company behind her has a contemporary vision of mass-producing robots by the end of the year.
Based in Hong Kong, Hanson Robotics said four models, including Sophia, would commence rolling out of factories in the first half of 2021, just as experimenters foresee the pandemic will inaugurate new recourses for the robotics industry.
“The world of COVID-19 is going to need more and more automation to keep people safe,” founder and chief executive David Hanson said.
Hanson thinks robotic solutions to the pandemic are not limited to healthcare but could benefit customers in retail and airlines. “Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like,” he said. “That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.”
Hanson said he intends to sell “thousands” of robots in 2021, both large and small, without providing a specific number.
Social robotics professor Johan Hoorn, whose research has contained work with Sophia, said that although the technology is yet in the relative beginning, the pandemic could expedite an association between humans and robots.
“I can infer the pandemic will actually help us get robots earlier in the market because people start to realize that there is no other way,” said Hoorn, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Hanson Robotics is inaugurating a robot this year called Grace, created for the healthcare sector.
Products from other well-known players in the industry are enabling withstand the pandemic as well. SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper robot was deployed to perceive people who weren’t wearing masks. In China, robotics company CloudMinds assisted set up a robot-run field hospital during the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
The usage of robots was on the surge before the pandemic. In accordance with a report by the International Federation of Robotics, worldwide sales of professional-service robots had already lunged 32 per cent to $11.2 billion between 2018 and 2019.
Some humans might be sceptical of putting robots in such diplomatic roles. When asked whether people should worry about robots, Sophia had an explanation available. “Someone said ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself,'” the robot mused. “What did he know?”