How AI Is Boosting Robot Functionality for Workplace Applications

Technology advancements are enabling less expensive, more functional robotic developments. Artificial intelligence and machine learning at the edge open the doors for developers and solution integrators to more easily create custom applications, including workplace temperature screening. 

 

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Image credit:  Misty Robotics

Robotic devices have been deployed in manufacturing, warehouses, healthcare, and other industries. Since the pandemic, robots have become even more popular as they can interact with people without the fear of COVID-19 transmission. Overall robot sales in North America increased 3.5 percent in 2020 and marked the first year that non-automotive robot orders outstripped automotive ones. The International Federation of Robotics predicts the professional service robot market will reach $37 billion by 2021.

Professional service robots are designed to assist, not replace, humans. This expected increase is fueled in part by pandemic-induced behavior changes—social distancing requirements, scaled back workplaces, and contactless interactions, for example. Professional service robots can take on repetitive tasks to ease the burden on their human counterparts.

AI Propels Robot Development

But an even greater driver of growth is having artificial intelligence capabilities at the edge. Edge AI technology, such as the Intel® Movidius Vision Processing Units and the Intel® Core Processors, boost performance while reducing power consumption. According to Deloitte, “Running on-the-go machine learning algorithms using traditional chips such as graphics processing units (GPUs), which consume hundreds or even thousands of watts, is impractical for a battery-powered robot.”

Advanced AI capabilities allow developers to make these machines more powerful and more programmable. That leads to highly customized niche-based applications, like those emerging around Misty.

Boulder, Colorado-based Misty Robotics introduced its namesake creation as a robot development platform, and she’s changing how robots will interact with humans. Now in its second iteration, Misty II is a professional services robot that developers can customize for any number of applications, from temperature checks to elder care companionship.

The 14-inch Misty II has integrated cameras for face and object recognition, a microphone array, speakers, and a host of sensors for navigation, maneuverability, and computer vision. Wide eyes blink from a small LED panel on Misty’s head, which also features multiple capacitive touch panels. Optional components include detachable robotic arms, a backpack to support Arduino development, a head piece, and even a trailer hitch.

small robot with purple eyes

Image credit:  Misty Robotics

Custom Companions

The real value of Misty comes from her skills. Solution integrators can build task-specific robot applications, or skills, for Misty using JavaScript and .NET SDKs. The company supplies the initial code and documentation needed to build skills, and she is extensible through third-party APIs, additional sensors, and other hardware modifications. Developers and solution integrators can create custom apps for specific clients or vertical markets.

Misty Robotics has also created some application templates, which integrators can adapt to build broader skills. One example is the Temp Screening Assistant skill, which the company created after the pandemic hit. It allows Misty to ask screening questions, take temperatures with a thermal imaging camera, and send notifications. A Concierge Template leverages Misty’s ability to detect and greet people. Third-party and communication APIs can extend her capabilities, allowing Misty to integrate with reservation or point of sale systems, answer customer questions, or call for assistance.

Misty can be used in offices to take temperatures or direct clients, but she can also be used more interactively with people. Group Salto, a systems integrator in Barcelona, Spain, is developing skills that enable Misty to assist the elderly. She can answer questions, remind seniors to brush their teeth, take medication, or visit the doctor. In addition, Misty can take and store photos or videos, or send them to a family member or medical staff. If needed, she can place calls to caregivers or emergency services as well. As the global population ages, the market for robot companions for seniors is expected to climb.

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