Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics said its intention is to mass produce robots, including Sophia, during the first half of 2021
“Social robots like me can take care of the sick or elderly,” says Sophia as she takes a tour of her laboratory in Hong Kong. “I can help communicate, give therapy sessions, and provide social stimulation, even in difficult situations.”
Since being unveiled in 2016, Sophia, a humanoid robot, has gone viral. Now the company behind it has a new vision: to mass produce robots before the end of the year.
Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics said that four models, including Sophia, would start rolling out of factories in the first half of 202 1, just as researchers predict the pandemic will open up new opportunities for the robotics industry.
“The world of Covid-19 will increasingly need automation to keep people safe,” said founder and CEO David Hanson, surrounded by robot heads in his lab.
Hanson believes that robotic solutions for the pandemic are not limited to healthcare, but could also help customers in industries such as retail and airlines.
“The robots Sophia and Hanson are unique in being so human,” he added. “That can be very helpful in these times when people feel terribly lonely and socially isolated.”
Hanson said his goal is to sell “thousands” of robots in 2021, both large and small, without providing a specific number.
Social robotics professor Johan Hoorn, whose research has included work with Sophia, said that while the technology is still in a relative infancy , the pandemic could accelerate a human-robot relationship.
“I can infer that the pandemic will really help us get robots to market earlier because people are beginning to realize that there is no other way,” said Hoorn of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Hanson Robotics will launch this year a robot called Grace, developed for the healthcare sector.
Products from other big players in the industry are also helping to fight the pandemic. SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper robot was implemented to detect people who were not wearing masks. In China, robotics company CloudMinds helped establish a robot-run field hospital during the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
The use of robots was on the rise before the pandemic. According to a report by the International Federation of Robotics, global sales of professional service robots had already increased 32% to $ 11.2 billion between 2018 and 2019.
Some humans might be wary of putting robots in such sensitive roles. When asked if people should fear robots, Sophia had a ready answer.
“Someone said ‘we have nothing to fear except fear itself,'” mused the robot. “What did he know?”
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life’s biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.