Will Robots Be Part Of Our Personal Lives?

Ray Bradbury, the prolific science fiction writer, in his 1976 book There Will Come Soft Rains, said in the future, homes would be interactive. He envisioned homes would also be able to do things on their own, even after their human owners had passed on. Some of Bradbury’s fiction from more than forty years ago has become a reality with the boom in smart home devices and voice assistants such as Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Google, and Siri.

Robots are now commonplace in electronic and automobile manufacturing, retail warehouses, healthcare, and flying drones but not yet commonplace in our personal lives. That is beginning to change. Robots can clean floors and wash the windows. Soon they will be bringing us packages to the front door. They will also begin to serve as companions.

Mark Oleynik, an accomplished Ph.D. mathematician, computer scientist, and inventor, founded Moley Robotics in London in 2014. Mr. Oleynik has a vision to enable consumers to have good food at home without the skills to make it. The vision makes some sense. In fact, it could be extended. Since Mr. Oleynik started his robotic company, numerous home meal delivery services have sprung up including Blue Apron, Dinnerly, Freshly, Green Chef, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Sun Basket, and many more. Imagine leaving the delivered ingredients from one of these services on your robotic kitchen counter. Using your smartphone before leaving work for home, you tell the kitchen robot what time you want to have dinner. You place cooking ingredients prepared in advance in very specific locations for easy access by the robot. At the appropriate time before your selected dining time, the robot takes the ingredients and puts them in an Instant Pot or cooks them in the necessary pots and pans. It adds trimmings just before the serving time and dishes the dinner on to plates. After you have finished enjoying your freshly prepared dinner and have put the dishes back on the robotic kitchen counter, the robot cleans the dishes, cooking utensils and cookware it used. Utopia.

The Robotic Kitchen was slated to launch for consumers in 2018, but as of early 2019 when I wrote Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better, I was not able to find any evidence the product is available for sale. However, other companies are beginning to focus on the kitchen. Leading chip maker, Nvidia, is working with home furniture company Ikea on a robotic kitchen assistant. It appears more development is needed before there is a fully functioning robotic kitchen but, in my opinion, Moley’s vision will happen.

A new idea for robots in our personal lives is aiming to break into the nail salon industry. Three startups are testing technology to automate the process of painting beautiful nails. One of them, Nimble, started in Tel Aviv but is now headquartered in Brooklyn. The company has raised $10 million in seed financing, indicating venture capitalists see potential in the $10 billion nails industry.

The technology for automating nail painting uses optical computer vision and artificial intelligence with machine learning. The AI uses large numbers of pictures enabling it to differentiate nails from skin. A robotic arm does the actual painting in ten minutes. The robotic devices can be at malls, office complexes, or in homes. Part of the appeal is to avoid having to go to a salon to change nail color for an occasion. The devices do not do the trimming, cuticles, and shaping of the nails. You might call it a minicure.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 there were 155,300 jobs in the nail salon industry with average pay of $27,870 per year or $13.40 per hour (before tips). The industry is projected to have double digit growth. The question is whether Nimble and the other startups can disrupt the industry. I would say no because the minicure leaves other tasks to be done. However, the appeal of a ten-minute color change might be enough to build a successful business.

The interesting part to me is the innovation. AI and robotic technologies make a lot of things possible which would have been unheard of not long ago. Some of the ideas will fail but I have no doubt robots and AI will become pervasive in our personal lives.