Robots are about to take over service work, at least in the US.
Robots can be found in manufacturing plants, or even in the form of a disc-shaped vacuum cleaner that sweeps across your floor, and now a California startup is planning to kick things up a notch with a new security guard robot called K5.
But here's the thing: The K5 is not the only robot poised to take over service jobs once held by mere humans.
Knightscope has been developing the K5 robot for more than a year. The K5 is a five-foot tall, 300 pound autonomous security robot that can move across different terrains and avoid obstacles. It features an array of sensors including four cameras, GPS, microphones, weather monitors, a laser-based rangefinder, and a battery.
Knightscope emphasised that one of the K5's high-definition cameras is actually a license-plate recognition camera. The robot could use such a camera to capture the plates of suspicious vehicles and then use Wi-Fi or a wireless network to communicate data to people who are remotely monitoring the K5's cameras, microphones, etc.
The K5 is in fact designed to act as a patrol bot for college campuses, parking lots, malls, companies, etc. The robot can detect someone walking in a restricted area and send alerts to a security center. Five units are currently patrolling Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus, and four more will soon go to an unnamed technology company.
The whole idea behind K5 actually sounds similar to another robot currently being deployed at a select Lowe's store.
The hardware retail giant recently announced it will launch robotic shopping assistants at an Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose in late November. Lowe’s, which acquired Orchard Supply in 2013, said the robots are called OSHbots, and they will greet customers, offer help, and guide people through the store.
The OSHbot is 5-fett tall robot and white, just like the K5. It features natural-language-processing technology, two large rectangular screens on the front and back for video conferences and displaying in-store specials, a 3-D scanner for identifying items, and lasers with a light detection and range system for navigating around.
Singularity University Labs, based near NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, began developing OSHbot less than a year ago and is now working with Lowe’s and a startup called Fellow Robots to put two OSHbots in the Orchard Supply Hardware store in order to study how their bots interact with customers.
Robots are appearing not only in retail and on corporate campuses but also hotels, among other places. In August, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide introduced a room-service robot at its Aloft hotel in Cupertino.
At the farthest end of the spectrum, a New York-based hotel called Yotel offers a robot concierge in the form of 20-foot-tall arm. It automatically checks bags and places suitcases in lockers for guests who want to wander around the city.
Robots in the (future) workplace
The International Federation of Robotics has estimated that more than 400 robots will be sold worldwide during the next three years, and that they will work as service machines at places like grocery stores and museums.
These robots will be able to serve up information on food items or maybe guide you to a new exhibition, for instance. The possibilities are endless. There's just one problem: robot technology is still super expensive.
Both Knightscope and Lowe's haven't revealed how much their respective robots will cost or how much they spent to develop them, but the Lidar navigation system alone, which is used in the OSHbot, costs about $50,000.
As time goes on however, and technology becomes more affordable, it's safe to assume more and more robots will appear in the workplace and potentially vie for service workers' jobs.
Whether that's considered a good thing is up to you.