Robots are thriving with artificial intelligence (AI) integration. According to recent studies, the global robotics market is expected to reach $200 billion by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of 17%.
With AI advancements, robots are becoming more autonomous and capable of performing various tasks, from manufacturing and healthcare to retail and hospitality. However, despite these advancements, most robots lack a sense of touch, hindering their ability to interact with objects and environments in a nuanced, human-like way.
To truly revolutionise the way we live and work, there is a pressing need to develop robots with a sense of touch.
The Importance of Touch for Robots
A sense of touch is critical for the robotics industry to progress because it dramatically enhances a robot’s ability to interact with its environment and perform tasks more human-likely. Without a sense of touch, robots are limited to rigid and repetitive motions, unable to adjust their movements based on objects’ texture, shape, and weight.
By incorporating a sense of touch, robots could be programmed to handle delicate items, such as fragile electronics or perishable goods, with greater precision and care. Additionally, a sense of touch would allow robots to adapt to changing environments, making them more versatile and flexible in their applications.
With this newfound ability, robots could revolutionise industries ranging from manufacturing and healthcare to retail and hospitality, providing a more efficient and cost-effective solution for various tasks. Therefore, a sense of touch is a crucial step in advancing the robotics industry and bringing it closer to becoming a fully integrated part of our daily lives.
Developing Touch Sensors for Robots
Engineers use AI to develop a sense of touch for robots by incorporating sensors that can detect pressure, temperature, and texture. These sensors, known as tactile sensors, are integrated into the robot’s skin or outer surface, allowing it to sense the physical properties of objects it interacts with.
The sensor data is then processed by AI algorithms, which use machine learning techniques to recognise patterns and make predictions based on the data received. By analysing the sensor data in real-time, the AI algorithms can allow the robot to distinguish between objects and environments, such as hard and soft surfaces or hot and cold temperatures.
In addition, AI algorithms can continuously improve their performance over time as the robot gathers more data and experiences through its interactions with the world. In this way, engineers can use AI to create robots with a sense of touch that can make nuanced, human-like decisions, greatly expanding their abilities and applications.
The Benefits of a Sense of Touch
Developing a sense of touch brings numerous benefits to robots, including:
- Enhanced precision and care in handling delicate and fragile items, such as fragile electronics or perishable goods.
- Increased versatility and flexibility in adapting to changing environments and interacting with different surfaces and objects.
- Improved safety in detecting and responding to obstacles, reducing the risk of collisions and other accidents.
- Greater efficiency in performing tasks, as robots can make more informed decisions about how to interact with their surroundings.
- Expansion of robots’ abilities and applications, making them more capable and valuable in industries ranging from manufacturing and healthcare to retail and hospitality.
Several industries could take advantage of robots with a sense of touch.
Industry Use Cases
Integrating a sense of touch into robots offers numerous benefits across various industries, greatly enhancing their abilities and efficiency. From manufacturing to healthcare, retail to hospitality, a sense of touch dramatically expands the potential applications of robots, making them more capable and valuable in our daily lives.
The manufacturing industry is one of the earliest adopters of robots and integrating a sense of touch is expected to bring significant improvements to the industry. With the ability to sense the physical properties of objects they interact with, robots with a sense of touch can handle delicate and fragile items, such as fragile electronics or perishable goods, with greater precision and care.
This reduces the risk of damage and increases efficiency in the manufacturing process, leading to lower costs and higher-quality products. Companies such as Boston Dynamics, which specialises in robotics research and development, are already exploring the potential of robots with a sense of touch in the manufacturing industry.
In the healthcare industry, robots with a sense of touch have the potential to revolutionise the way medical procedures are performed. For example, robots with a sense of touch can assist with surgeries by providing a stable and precise platform for surgical instruments, allowing for improved accuracy and control.
Additionally, robots with a sense of touch can also be used to assist with physical therapy, providing more accurate and effective treatments by sensing the physical properties of the patient’s body and responding in real time. Companies such as Intuitive Surgical, which develops robots for minimally invasive surgery, are already exploring the potential of robots with a sense of touch in the healthcare industry.
The retail industry is also poised to benefit from robots with a sense of touch. For example, robots with a sense of touch can handle and sort merchandise, providing a more efficient and cost-effective solution for various tasks. Additionally, robots with a sense of touch can be used in customer service, providing a more human-like experience by sensing and responding to customers’ needs and preferences. Amazon uses robots in its fulfilment centres, exploring the potential of robots with a sense of touch in the retail industry.
In the hospitality industry, robots with a sense of touch can significantly enhance the customer experience by providing a more personal and human-like interaction. For example, robots with a sense of touch can be used as concierges, providing information and assistance to guests, or as restaurant servers, taking orders and serving food.
Additionally, robots with a sense of touch can also be used in hotels for cleaning and maintenance, providing a more efficient and cost-effective solution for these tasks. Hilton is exploring the use of robots in its hotels.
Integrating a sense of touch into robots offers numerous benefits across various industries, greatly enhancing their abilities and efficiency. With the ability to sense the physical properties of objects they interact with, robots with a sense of touch can handle delicate and fragile items, provide more accurate and effective treatments, provide a more efficient and cost-effective solution for various tasks, and provide more personal and human-like interaction.
Risks and Challenges
Developing a robot with a sense of touch presents several challenges and risks that must be addressed to ensure its success. One of the biggest challenges is the technical difficulty of creating a system that can accurately and reliably detect and respond to physical touch. This requires sophisticated algorithms and sensors that can process information from the environment and react in real-time.
Another challenge is ensuring the safety of people and objects in the environment. Robots with a sense of touch must be able to safely interact with their environment and avoid causing harm to people or damaging objects. This requires careful consideration of the design of the robot and its controls, as well as its algorithms and sensors, to ensure that it operates responsibly.
One example of a robot with a sense of touch gone wrong is the case of a robot at a Volkswagen factory in Germany in 2015. The robot, which was designed to handle car parts, accidentally grabbed and crushed a worker. The worker suffered severe injuries and had to be taken to the hospital, and later died.
The incident was later determined to result from a programming error in the robot’s control system, which caused it to behave in a way that was not intended. The incident highlighted the importance of careful design and testing of robots with a sense of touch to ensure their safety and reliability.
And Addressing the Challenges
In addition to these technical challenges, several risks are associated with developing a robot with a sense of touch. One of the most significant risks is that the robot may malfunction or fail, leading to accidents or injuries. This risk can be mitigated through careful testing and development, as well as ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the robot.
Another risk is that the robot may be used in ways that are not intended or that cause harm. For example, a robot with a sense of touch could be used in manufacturing to handle dangerous or hazardous materials, leading to accidents or harm to workers. This risk can be mitigated through careful consideration of the design of the robot and its controls, as well as through education and training for those who will use the robot.
Finally, there is also a risk that the development and use of robots with a sense of touch may lead to job loss and other social and economic consequences. This risk can be mitigated through careful consideration of the impact of the technology on society, as well as through efforts to provide education and training for those who may be affected.
The quest to give robots a sense of touch is an ongoing process, but the advancements that have been made so far are impressive. Robots with touch sensors are already being used in various industries, from manufacturing to healthcare, and are having a significant impact. As technology continues to advance, robots with a sense of touch will likely become even more widespread, offering new possibilities for the field of robotics.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely the author’s opinion and not investment advice – it is provided for educational purposes only. By using this, you agree that the information does not constitute any investment or financial instructions. Do conduct your own research and reach out to financial advisors before making any investment decisions.
The author of this text, Jean Chalopin, is a global business leader with a background encompassing banking, biotech, and entertainment. Mr. Chalopin is Chairman of Deltec International Group, www.deltec.io.
The co-author of this text, Robin Trehan, has a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s in international business and finance, and an MBA in electronic business. Mr. Trehan is a Senior VP at Deltec International Group, www.deltec.io.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text are solely the views of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Deltec International Group, its subsidiaries, and/or its employees.