What do you get if you combine the best features of a smartphone, a vacuum cleaner, and a pet? No, it’s not Dr. Frankenstein’s dog, but rather the new family members of the household of the future: social companion robots. They might do the chores, guard the house, teach the children and keep company to the elderly or people with health issues. Here are the current best examples on the market, but the best is yet to come.

The newest member of the family?

Joe Hawkins lives in London with his wife and three kids. Running a household and having a job would already be an immense task for the parents, but Laura, the mother, has frequent business trips and leaves the kids and the house to Joe. So, he decides to buy a robotic servant looking precisely like a human. The children name it Anita. These are the first scenes of the series, Humans, but it could also easily be an episode of every family’s future life.

With the advancement of robotics and artificial intelligence, social companion robots started to take shape: these human or animal shaped, smaller or bigger mechanic creatures are able to carry out different tasks and have interactions with humans and their environment. In the future, they might become every parent’s little helper in the kitchen, might support the guard dog in keeping the house safe, might teach the children and be their companion and support the elderly from reminding to take their medication until keeping them company when they feel lonely.

social companion robots
Source: ibtimes.co.uk

Loneliness is a collective experience globally

The fight against social isolation and loneliness is an essential reason for social companion robots. And the phenomena of one-person households and non-shared dinners are rising. As roughly 10 percent of all Brits regularly feel isolated, London appointed a “minister of loneliness” in mid-January 2018 – the first European nation to do so, but we believe others will follow their example soon. In the US, The New York Times labeled the situation as an epidemic, implying a growing number of lonely individuals also in the States.

In Japan, the citadel of new-age solitude, the average number of people in a Tokyo home already dropped below two in 2012. At that time, the NLI Research Institute projected that by 2020, living alone will be the norm in Japan. And that’s already happening with more and more people dying alone – they are called the kodokushi – and an emerging literary genre even trying to take pride in it.

However, that might be an erroneous path to follow as living a solitary life is not only a state of mind, but it also has severe consequences for the body. Being lonely can be as bad for someone’s health as having a long-term illness such as diabetes or high blood pressure, the leader of Britain’s GPs said in 2017. Moreover, researchers found that social isolation is a better predictor of early death than obesity.

While it’s evident that a robotic companion cannot replace human interaction, where there is no chance for human care, a friendly and cute robotic creature is way better than nothing at all. So, let’s see the alternatives.

social companion robots
Source: www.firstwefeast.com

1) Pepper

The humanoid robot of the height of a schoolchild makes eye contact, dances the lambada, cracks jokes or navigates through any exhibition hall. At Vivatech in May 2018, The Medical Futurist team met Pepper several times, and we were not surprised that the little social companion robot was introduced in two Belgian hospitals as receptionists already in 2016. It is perfect for that role.

It is able to recognize principal human emotions, respond appropriately to moods as well as questions. More than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan are using Pepper as a new way of welcoming, informing and amusing their customers.

2) SAM

Founded in 2013, Luvozo PBC has been focusing on developing solutions for improving quality of life for older adults and persons with disabilities. In July 2015, it started testing its flagship product — SAM, the robotic concierge — in a leading senior living community in the Washington D.C. area.

The human-sized, smiling robot combines the very best in cutting-edge technology and human touch to provide frequent check-ins and non-medical care for residents in long-term care settings. By doing so, it reduces the costs of care, while raises patient satisfaction index by merely being there for the elderly all the time.

social companion robots
Source: www.luvozo.com

3) Lynx

You have to travel abroad but want to give a hug to your daughter and be there when she performs at the school play? Just ask your Lynx robot produced by the Chinese robotics company, Ubtech, to do it for you!

Through the Avatar Mode in the Lynx app, the doll-sized robot is able to see, hear and speak for you or wave hi, dance or hug. With its touch sensors, the mechanic creature responds to human touch and detects motion or light. Combined with its video recording feature and surveillance mode, it is a viable option for home security. Moreover, users can sync it with Amazon Alexa, so Lynx can perform its commands: play music, search show times, check traffic, weather or news reports.

social companion robots
Source: cnet.com

4) Buddy

The wide-eyed, flat-faced French robot has already been in high society having met and trolled French President Emmanuel Macron at last year’s Vivatech. However, the creature is set to rather become the newest family member in every household. Its features allow it to protect the home, offer assistance in the kitchen, act as a personal assistant by reminding family members of important dates as well as a playmate for children.

As an emotional robot, it promises to express various emotions throughout the day. It might cheerfully welcome you when you come home from work, but might be grumpy if you don’t spend much time with it.

5) Professor Einstein

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to learn about science or maths from Einstein himself? Hanson Robotics offers you that – or something similar, apparently. The little robot, which looks as if it came right from Sesame Street, can smile, frown and even stick his tongue out just as the father of modern physics did.

If you connect Professor Einstein to your tablet or smartphone, it will even play brain games and teaches you science. Moreover, it promises to chitchat with you about the weather as well as famous people. I’m wondering what it has to say about Taylor Swift or the Kardashians, but anyhow, it seems to be a fun way to explore science for kids.

6) Cognitoys

New York-based Elemental Path develops Cognitoys, dinosaur-shaped toys kids can have a discussion with. It teaches them how to count, how to create stories together, remember colors and more. They can sing or play games, and they also have amazingly bad word-wits.

In the future, toys that use artificial intelligence will become friends with kids. It must be frightening to some parents now, but children will have real as well as A.I. friends within a couple of years. If for the first time, you have a conversation with an A.I. driven toy, you will understand how hard it is to distinguish between real and artificial personalities.

7) Miko

The tiny, wheel-powered robot is the Indian response to the robotic revolution started in the Western part of the world. It is the first companion robot developed by a Mumbai-based startup Emotix. Miko is aimed at children above the age of five years. Similar to the smart dinosaur of Cognitoys, it is also artificial intelligence-based growing and changing together with your kid. It can talk, respond, educate and entertain. It understands the specific needs and emotions of your child and reacts accordingly.

However, it seems to have the massive downside of running up only for 3 hours on a single charge. That might be less than enough for a little kid perpetually in motion. By all means, we would gladly test and review it personally!

8) PARO

It is a well-known fact that pets and cute animals help to ease stress; to divert attention from pain and to reduce the feeling of loneliness. Unfortunately, not every hospital or extended care facility allows animals to live next to patients.

That’s where leading Japanese industrial automation pioneer, AIST comes into the picture. It developed PARO, an advanced interactive robot. It allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in medical environments. For it has the shape of a baby harp seal covered with soft artificial fur to make people feel comfortable as if they are touching a real animal. This therapeutic robot reduces the stress factor experienced both by patients and by their caregivers – and apparently, by astronauts inside a shuttle or a space station.

social companion robots
Source: www.youtube.com

9) Vortex

DFRobot, a leading robotics and open source hardware provider empowering the Maker Movement and having an eye on STEM education, takes the learning-by-doing method seriously.

It designed a programmable robot for kids. The smart and responsive little creature is shaped like a huge white bug that children can program and play robot soccer or virtual golf with. Moreover, they can use it as a music player or a vacuum cleaner as well. Mom will be glad to know that kids are not only playing but learning about robotics, creating their own versions, and doing some chores with their newest robotic toy. It’s a pure win-win situation.

social companion robots
Source: www.automaticvacuumcleaners.com

10) Jibo

Each year, TIME magazine’s technology editors curate a list of the year’s “best inventions that are making the world better, smarter and—in some cases—a little more fun.” In 2017, the cute, tiny and definitely fun Jibo robot made the cover.

The artificial intelligence-powered helper not only answers questions, but makes smart homes even smarter turning the lights on and off, or connecting to other home automation devices. Moreover, it is able to learn up to 16 different people with advanced facial and voice recognition technology – so Jibo is able to create genuinely personalized experiences. And every now and then, it will also crack a joke. We cannot wait to try one!

social companion robots
Source: PRNewsfoto/Jibo, Inc.

11) ROBEAR

Next time your grandpa says that a giant bear lifted him out of the hospital bed, believe him, it could definitely happen! Scientists from RIKEN and Sumitomo Riko Company Limited have developed a new experimental nursing care robot, ROBEAR, which is capable of performing tasks such as lifting a patient from a bed into a wheelchair or providing assistance to a patient who is able to stand up but requires help to do so.

These robots shaped like a giant, gentle bear with a cartoonish head not only promise to make up for the shortage of carers but to save human personnel from having to carry out strenuous tasks, such as lifting patients out of bed 40 times a day.

12) AV1

A Norwegian start-up, No Isolation developed a small telepresence robot, AV1 for children suffering from long-term illness to reduce their loneliness. The friendly robot makes it possible for kids to participate in school and the daily life of the class. AV1 was introduced in Norway in 2016 and is currently in use in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK. Later on, No Isolation plans to go on the German, Spanish, Portuguese, Finnish as well as the North American market.

Karen Dolva, CEO and Co-founder of No Isolation told The Medical Futurist that there are 8 million lonely children in Europe; and over 500,000 kids drop out of school or social interaction due to illness for more than two months per year. The cute AV1 robot working as an Avatar for the sick child in the classroom is aiming to change that forever.

top social companion robots
Source: noisolation.com

More social companion robots coming (very) soon

Due to the boom in the robotics market, there are undoubtedly many more social companion robots to come. The most personalized cognitive assistant’s, Olly’s manufacturing is scheduled for 2018. Aido, the promised next-generation family robot will be shipped in the second quarter of 2019. Intuition Robotics’ first product, ElliQ, an award-winning proactive social robot for older adults, is currently in beta testing in the United States. Zenbo, the cute little ASUS robot, which won the prestigious IF Design Award in 2018, will be available later for commercial purposes.

The producer of the Lynx robot, Ubtech, is also very active in developing its line of humanoid robots, for example, Cruzr, is also in the pipeline. Aelus’ robots are also promising to make life more comfortable in the future, but they haven’t announced yet when they will bring their products to market. At the same time, roboticists from Korea introduced a “social networking” robot called Fribo, which is designed to provide a way for young adults who live alone to maintain daily connections with one another. Although their experiments and research have promising results, there was no word about marketing the product here either.

And one of the most exciting products for The Medical Futurist team, Pillo, the AI-powered health companion, has also only announced its waiting list. But of course, we are on it!

The advancement in robotics, especially for humanoid robotics, is breathtaking. There are more and more developments coming out almost every day. The scenes from Robot & Frank might become part of our lives sooner than expected, and we might also have to deal with issues that the movie touched upon. What happens when people start to form attachment towards AI-based machines? Could robots and humans ever become friends? As our kids, as well as parents, begin to have relations with these cute mechanic creatures, we might find these questions more relevant than ever. Until then, let’s watch some Humans!

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