Robot Cops, Smart Toasters, and Artificial Dogs

By: Jesse Cryderman

The world is slowly becoming a lot like the science fiction movies I watched as a kid. At Mobile World Congress, there were robots scurrying around on Segways, drones that could deliver the mail or video record a children’s sporting event, self-driving cars, and devices of every stripe that fall into the Internet of Things (IoT) category. This is where the Jetsons stuff is happening, and I, for one, am excited. Robot pets, and smart toasters are coming, and they present some interesting opportunities for service providers.

Integrating communications into robots

Consumer robotics have come a long way since the days of Armatron and Teddy Ruxpin. At CES this year, countless robots for service companionship were on display, and some of them resembled Rosie from the Jetsons, at least in spirit. Some service providers have invested in the hardware and development, like Softbank, which has a 95-percent interest in Aldebaran Robotics. Aldebaran recently developed Pepper, a companion robot for Softbank Mobile. Pepper, says Aldebaran, “is a social robot able to converse with you, recognize and react to your emotions, move and live autonomously.” Softbank Mobile is using Pepper in its retail stores in Japan, but hopes to see the robot adopted by consumers for in-home companionship.

SK Telecom has also been involved with robotics for some time, and drew large crowds at Mobile World Congress with its robot demo. The robot, however, wasn’t the only thing that pulled in the peeps; SK Telecom innovated with body sensors that transmit gesture data with ultra-low latency (.001 seconds or lower)--in other words, the kind of speed we expect to see in 5G networks.

This brings up an important question: what is the role of the service provider in the development of robots? I would argue for the view of the robot as just another connected device, albeit one with perhaps a lot more inputs, outputs, and sensors. Some service providers with a legacy investment in robotics may wish to innovate in the actual device development; but at the end of the day, it’s more likely that pure-play robotics companies will move the fastest to get robots to market. Robots need communication links to be effective, however, and there are several use cases of interest.

For high-value robot jobs, like construction, mining, transportation, or health care assistance, guaranteed reliability and quality of service become paramount. Network operators can charge a premium to create and enforce policies for data traffic prioritization. In many of these cases, two-way high definition video must be incorporated as well.

Robots that cheer you up during the day or bring you a video call could become completely viable in the market simply by integrating a unified, real-time communications (RTC) client. The same RTC client can be used for many other applications, and doesn’t necessarily require a large capital investment. (Side note: this is only one example of why service provider organizations must embrace an API platform.)

Another major benefit to companion robots: data collection. Okay, I know that sounds spooky, and I’ll admit, after seeing Ex Machina, I’m not the only one a little afraid of robots. However, managed correctly, “user” data could be a source of very valuable information, even for the users themselves. Imagine that.

Talking toasters

Smart appliances are growing in popularity, and soon nearly everything from the microwave to the refrigerator will sport native connectivity and perhaps some basic smarts. Combine this with targeted advertising, and we might soon have talking toasters that announce “your strawberry Pop Tart is ready, Mr. St. John,”complete with a video advertisement from Kellogg and perhaps even a coupon off of your next purchase.

Too intrusive? Get a slice of the too-bizarre-to-be-fiction Addicted Toaster. This award-winning toaster incorporates a very strange feature set. Here’s how Addicted Products explains it:


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