Man or machine? Three use cases for robots

May 10th, 2018
Application examples for robots
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Robots inspire and frighten many people equally. Images of machines that can run, jump, roll and open doors on their own regularly go around the world. We present three practical examples of the use of intelligent machines from the USA and Asia that are already a reality.

1) Robots in gastronomy

Robots have been part of everyday life in Singapore since 2016. Tourists visiting the city-state in Southeast Asia meet the machine helpers in numerous luxury hotels. So Yoshi and Yolanda are taking care of the room service and drop off towels, toiletries or a snack without human assistance. The singing robots also take over birthday surprises. In the same house the Yobot takes care of the luggage. and stows it automatically until the guests want to pick it up. Similar autonomous colleagues work for the M&C hotel group, Sofitel or Park Avenue Rochester Hotel.

All robots can independently operate the elevator, recognize the correct floor and call the guest when the correct room has been reached. The design of the machines usually does without arms or hands. And not only because of the technical complexity of gripping. Rather, a limited functionality the jobs of human colleagues. After all, someone has to load the rolling butlers and remove waste. A kind of exception is the kitchen robot Ausca, which prepares fried eggs in the restaurant "Beast and Butterflies".

Numerous videos on the web show the Gastro robots in action. However, it is always important to depict the human colleagues in the immediate vicinity. The consistent message: Robots do not replace humans, but enable them to concentrate on other activities.

2) Robots in transportation

Anyone who is currently obtaining their driving licence should consider whether it is still worth the money. Because self-propelled cars will be reality from July 2018, zat least in San Francisco. Computer scientist Andrew Ng announced in March this year that the company Drive.ai is providing a new means of public transport within a defined route. The autonomous vehicle does without a driver and moves independently from station to station.

The saves costs and is more reliable than personnel. Because unlike humans, a human being who has been artificial intelligence (AI) and there's no blind spot. This considerably reduces the risk of accidents and increases efficiency. This development should have a direct impact on jobs in the transport sector. The professions of taxi or truck driver could become obsolete through self-propelled cars. 

Although companies such as Google, Uber or Drive.ai are pushing ahead with the further development of autonomous vehicles, there are challenges that are slowing this process down. Manufacturing intelligent cars is a highly complex and cost-intensive process. Dr. Park Byung Joon, senior lecturer at SIM University, told Channel News Asia that a person-controlled car will be cheaper than a self-propelled car until 2030.. He referred his statement to a corresponding pilot project which is currently being carried out in Singapore.

In addition to the high costs, technical difficulties in the field of artificial intelligence should also be mentioned. For example, algorithms cannot yet correctly interpret the gestures of a traffic policeman or construction worker. And although machine-controlled vehicles already move without problems in the rain, there are no problems with the Snow or fog an obstacle. It's true Google announced advances in this area at the annual developer fair Google I/O 2018. Nevertheless, it will still take a few years until we can do without our driving licence.

3) Robots in retail trade

Man versus machine is also the name of the game in supermarkets. On average, an employee needs 25 hours for a inventory and achieves a 65 percent correct result. It is therefore a lengthy process with a questionable result. This strategic business challenge of the retail trade addresses several companies at the same time. In the USA, Simbe Robotics and Bossa Nova have made it their goal to solve the problem of to be solved by automation. Both companies offer robots which autonomously scan shelves and products. The machines detect in real time the number of products in stock, price errors or necessary repeat orders. For a complete inspection, the intelligent assistants need on average half an hour and achieve a 95 percent correct result.. Numbers that cannot be topped by humans. Ideally, robots such as Tally (Simbe Robotics) help to increase sales and reduce costs.

The new technology is already being used in the American supermarket chains Target, Walmart and Schnucks. The responsible persons of all participating companies emphasize, that it wasn't about replacing employees. Rather, they would now have the opportunity to take more care of customer service, sell products and take over goods receiving and shelf replenishment. The robot is presented as a helpful colleague, not as a competitor.

My conclusion:Robots save time, money and minimize the risk of accidents. They perform simple tasks and allow employees to take care of less repetitive tasks. Due to the comparatively high acquisition costs, the autonomous helpers have so far been reserved for luxury hotels or large supermarket chains. Even there they are limited in use at the moment. With the further development of capabilities and decreasing price, robots will become part of our everyday lives within the next 15 to 20 years.


  • Photo by Grlls Mnmxms, EyeEm
  • https://www.wired.com/story/self-driving-cars-texas-frisco-driveai/
  • https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/autonomous-vehicle-trials-to-be-expanded-beyond-one-north-khaw-8972562
  • https://twitter.com/andrewyng/status/882711849392680960
  • https://medium.com/@andrewng/self-driving-cars-are-here-aea1752b1ad0
  • https://futurestores.wbresearch.com/simbe-robotics-innovative-shelf-auditing-technology-strategy-ty-u
  • https://www.postscapes.com/pulse/tally-the-retail-shelf-auditing-robot/
  • https://futurestores.wbresearch.com/simbe-robotics-innovative-shelf-auditing-technology-strategy-ty-u
  • http://insideunmannedsystems.com/robots-in-retail/
  • https://www.tripzilla.com/yotel-singapore-twin-robots/69784
  • https://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/m-social-singapore-bags-awards-with-help-from-robot
  • https://www.businessinsider.sg/robots-are-taking-singapores-hotel-industry-by-storm-heres-where-to-go-for-some-robot-hospitality/

MIT Sloan & MIT CSAIL Artificial Intelligence: Implications for business strategy program 2018-04-04

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