In 2015 we saw robots replace humans from the kitchen to the battlefield.
Many of the most fascinating developments in robotics this year came out of Japan--a country that has been at the forefront of the industry for decades. In Sasebo the Henna Hotel opened with a friendly staff of robots. A humanoid robot helps to check you in, while an industrial robotic arm helps stow your luggage. A porter robot from Sharp can bring your luggage to your door, which of course you unlock with facial recognition. More than just a gimmick though, these robots helped the hotel cut down on labor costs. That means the rooms are cheaper than competitors at around 70 dollars a night.
Communication droids were all the rage in Japan this year and while they might look cute, their practical applications are somewhat limited. The droids on the right here are communicating with a full size humanoid in a sort of weird press conference at the. They smaller droids use voice and face recognition and are designed to be communications robots for the household. The high price tag around 800 dollars might have you thinking twice before hiring robotic help.
Similarly sized is Robohon which is part smartphone, all robot. You can use it to make phone calls or you can take pictures and display them with a built in projector. And when you're not using it, just stow it away in your pocket. That's normal, right?
Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world and if a gigantic robotic bear doesn't freak you out then maybe that's where you should consider retiring. From research institution Riken, Robear is designed for nursing homes and care facilities to decrease some of the backbreaking work required of caregivers. You need to be thin though because Robear can only lift 176 pounds. Caregivers have to lift patients an average of 40 times a day, so this bot could take some of the weight off their shoulders.
In the US, much of the robotics work is being done by the government. Saffir is a 6-foot tall prototype humanoid that is tasked with putting out fires on ships. It moves very slowly so it's not ready for real fires, but it can walk over uneven floors and detect fires with thermal imagining camera. It can also operate a hose to put the fires out. It uses Lidar to map its surroundings, but it's not completely autonomous. Robots like these are important because the cramped quarters of a ship can quickly fill with smoke. That would be deadly for humans, but has little effect on the sight and operation of a robot.
Another military robot is Spot, which is being tested by the Marines to keep them out of harm's way. Spot is battery powered and can navigate rough terrain on its own. Like Saffir, it too uses Lidar to map its surroundings, but it's not completely autonomous. Spot is designed to enter buildings first and check for danger before humans enter. Spot is another way that robots are helping human counterparts rather than competing with them.
Can you guess what happens when a robot walks into an Apple store? Well, it walks out with an iPhone 6S. This telepresence robot bought an iPhone in a Palo Alto store while being remotely operated from San Diego. The iPhone wasn't very secure, it hung on the side of the robot, which meant anyone could snatch the phone and the person operating the robot might not even know.
Are you a horrible cook? Maybe the Cooki robot can help. Pick a recipe and then load the ingredients into the trays and the robot will dump them into the pot or pan at the right time and mix them together. The company wants to sell prepackaged ingredients to make the prep work even easier. The future isn't far off, the Cooki should start shipping in 2016 for about 500 dollars.