When you hear the word “robot,” an image of a silvery humanoid may conjure in your mind. But if you were in 350 B.C., the beginning of robots, you would think of an Egyptian water clock, where human figurines were used to strike the hour bells every day. As many centuries passed, advancements in mechanics were made to design what we call intellectual, human-like machines: robots.
Japan, the second most automated country in the world, was recorded to have 45,566 units of robot sales in 2018. The country increased 18% from the previous year, which was 37,364 units. This all started in 1928 when Nishimura Makoto built Gakutensoku, a humanoid robot, in Japan. Gakutensoku was designed with dynamic facial expressions and communicated by writing messages with a mechanical pen. However, this robot was not made to walk. So in 1932, Japan produced the first tin toy robot named Lilliput. The square, yellow figure was able to walk and talk, while its arms swung and its eyes lit up.
Decades later, Japan opened the world’s first robot hotel in Nagasaki in the summer of 2015. Henna-na Hotel – which means “Strange Hotel” in Japanese – has two robot receptionists. Japanese-speaking guests are greeted by a human-looking robot, while English-speaking guests are greeted by a robotic talking dinosaur. Furthermore, there are various robots that have different jobs to accommodate hotel guests. There are portable robot carts that carry the guest’s belongings from the reception to the room, a big robot arm that puts away the luggage in a locker, and several cleaning robots to keep the floors clean. All of the robots’ missions are to provide a comfortable stay and world-class efficiency for its customers. Hideo Sawada, the founder of the hotel, has expanded the Henna-na chain to ten locations and is aiming for a hundred locations by 2021.
Almost every household dreads doing chores, especially when it comes to folding the laundry. But in a few years, the chores may be taken over by robots too. On February 7, 2019, Mira Robotics, a company that designs and develops robots, unveiled Ugo at an event in Tokyo. Ugo is a robot that can fold laundry but it is very slow at the job. The robot needs under a full minute to pick the towel up from a basket and drape it over a rod to let it dry. At this pace, Ugo will take hours to fold a basket of laundry. The robot is not autonomous: a human controls the robot’s every move.
According to Mira Robotics, people do not want other humans in their homes and would rather have a machine do the chores. Furthermore, the robot provides a level of privacy that a human housekeeper does not. Its camera filters out anything that is not chore-related and is restricted to areas in the person’s home. The company plans to enhance its project, launch its service in May 2020, and attract thousands of users by 2021.
Although there is a fear of robots fully replacing humans and jobs in the near future, the pace at which the robots are advancing and improving show that they will become a bigger part in our lives. Robots in Japan, along with other countries, are in the process of improving the quality of people’s’ lives. Like mobile phones, robots may be the next to become an integral part of people.
Holly Bae, Grade 9
La Cañada High School