How robots for fun and leisure will change the way we relax and play in years to come
In case you hadn’t noticed, there are robots everywhere.
But instead of the malevolent killers of the Terminator or Battlestar Galactica, robots are making life easier, healthier, more fun and even more inspiring.
Advanced technology in computer processors, materials science and other advanced fields like facial recognition and machine learning are making robots stronger and more versatile and letting them think and act faster than ever.
It’s long been the dream of humanity to give the tasks we find too mundane, dangerous or dirty to machines to do for us. Thanks to well-resourced institutions like the US military and the new breed of tech giants like Google, robots are penetrating collapsed buildings after earthquakes to search for survivors, motoring around other planets to unlock the secrets of the universe and even driving cars autonomously.
But less talked about over the last few years is the potential for robots to make our lives simply more enjoyable. Taking cues from the dangerous or monotonous work described above, a new generation of designers has wondered how robots can change the way we play sport, talk to friends or colleagues and even enjoy a drink.
We’ve always been told hitchhiking is dangerous, but what if a robot could teach us all to be kinder to strangers?
It appears to be a plastic garden bucket with swimming noodles for arms and legs, rubber gloves for hands, rubber wellies for feet and an LED display for a head, but the Hitchbot has journeyed across four countries thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Hitchbot was a social experiment, relying on the kindness of motorists to pick him up from the side of the road, help him tick items off his bucket list and leave him to make another friend.
And he captured imaginations everywhere – when Hitchbot fell victim to vandals in Philadelphia his many fans on social media reacted as if they’d lost someone close.
Teleconferencing to a laptop or dedicated video station is so yesterday now you can control a virtual body in the room.
Imagine a Segway, put a video monitor, camera and microphone on top and you have the Double. It gives you the mobility of a video call on a tablet, but you’re controlling it from a remote location, driving it around the meeting room or office on the mobile base.
It rolls back to a dock to recharge, and when you’re ready for your next interaction, just fire up the app and take command again. Your camera and mike project your image and voice to the Double’s display, and it transmits all the video and audio at the other end back to you.
What’s cooler than a hip mixologist at your next event or resident at the pub? A robot bartender.
A snooty attitude, slack service and tipping might be a thing of the past with the Makr Shakr. The device is a robotic arm kit with a grasping talon that selects and combines ingredients, properly mixes or stirs them and serves your drink with aplomb – just order through the app and watch it go.
The smooth movements of the articulated robot arm are a fascinating-to-watch process that looks like a choreographed dance. No word yet on juggling the cocktail shaker…
Japan’s roboticised hotel offers a thrilling glimpse into a time where domestic help might be completely mechanised.
When you check into Sasebo’s Henn-na Hotel you’re greeted by a humanoid robot (or a robotic velociraptor in a wig – seriously). A robot stores your coat. Another takes your bags to your room. The facial recognition system identifies you at your door and unlocks it.
The services are limited so far – there’s no room service, for example – but the future beckons.
Wheeling your own golf bag is so passé when you can put it on a robotic cart that follows you around.
Clip the handset remote to your belt and the CaddyTrek R2 locks on, following you over any course terrain you might encounter. Set it to march a few feet ahead if you prefer or even on to the next tee.
The best part? Forget it’s there until you need to select a club (or take a drink from the cup holder).
Might the never-ending massage (or at least until the battery runs out) be the pinnacle of robotic technology?
If there’s one thing we wish could go on forever, it’s a massage. Either your partner gets tired fingers or your hour is up way too early.
The Wheeme massager is a cute device the size of a large toy car that crawls around your back, soothing you with its vibrations and rubberised wheels. You can also affix removable metal prongs that draw relaxing circles on your skin, and the tilt-correction technology means it never falls off.
Your fish might be startled for awhile, but they’ll appreciate the robot-cleaned glass of their aquarium.
A bit like your robotic vacuum remembers the layout of your house, the Robosnail plots and then remembers the size and distance of the glass walls of your aquarium, driving itself around and cleaning as it goes.
Watching it work is as welcome as the hours you’ll gain by not having to clean algae off the glass yourself.