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A robot on your wrist
Wrists can come in very handy. Smartphones tell time if you look at them, but that takes extra steps and extra time just to see the hour and minute of the day. It’s so much simpler to twist a wrist to your eye and instantly see the time. That’s why a whole lot of wristwatches are sold to owners of Smartphones.
Annually, 1.8 billion wristwatches are sold worldwide, according to Statistic Brain, while Gartner forecasts 66.7 million smartwatches to be sold in 2017.
That said, speaking to your wrist and getting a return voice announcing the time is one step better than raising your wrist to take a peek. Think, Dick Tracy’s do-everything, two-way wrist radio.
By extension, if your wrist can be made to announce the hour of the day, what else can it announce? Can it multi-task?
All of which is precisely why Amazon’s Alexa ($180) has been dating Fitbit ($130 Charge 2 Activity Tracker). You can now ask Alexa for your Fitbit fitness stats using just your voice. That sort of “recombinant innovation” opens up all sorts of possibilities, not only for Alexa but also for any of the dozen other home/personal robots in the marketplace. Instead of pining away for its master or mistress to return home, it merely hops on its owner’s wrist.
However, like Dick Tracy’s wrist pal, two-way communication between wearer and smartwatch is the ultimate goal. There’s lots of value added to a mobile Alexa or a Google Home or LingLong DingDong or Zenbo or Tapia or AIBO or whatever robot patrols your home or office, if it’s also capable of hooking up with your wrist or at least becoming a wearable somewhere on your body.
Will they marry? Probably not. Fitbit needs a marriage more than Alexa; its shares are going for $7.13 as of January 20th (Fitbit was trading as high as $51 a share in August 2015). Plus, Alexa has a lot of partners like Capital One and Uber, to name just two of the wealthier suitors.
Then there’s iMCO Technology (Shenzhen-based with offices in San Jose) that is producing a traditional-looking wristwatch that also carries Alexa along for the ride. The iMCO product is called CoWatch, which picked up $300k crowd funding on Indiegogo.
With 66.7 million smartwatches to be sold in 2017 as well as 1.8 billion wristwatches, a huge market awaits anyone who can artfully combine the talents of a home robot with the mobility of a wristwatch.
For all who'll be attempting to "recombine" a few things during 2017:
“Do not seek the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.”
Recombinant innovation at play in 2017 as "knowledge and seed ideas" recombine for new advances
With that in mind, 2016 was an unabashed riot of both new knowledge pieces and new seed ideas springing up through the fabric of technology. And many of the advances for robotics and automation in 2017 will be based upon and will result from new eyes seeing new combinations from these pieces.
For instance, two pieces of hardware hooking up , Amazon’s Alexa and Fitbit, is a recombination with vast potential.
Recombinant innovation and robotics in 2017
In The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andy McAfee write about economist Paul Romer’s idea of recombinant innovation, defining it as “an innovation-as-building-block view of the world, where both the knowledge pieces and the seed ideas can be combined and recombined over time. [p.80]”
The sheer number of these building blocks makes it near impossible to run out of combinations of new innovations.
Top Predictions for 2017: Robotics & IT..."Recombined!"
Smartwatches have the greatest revenue potential among all wearables through 2019, reaching $17.5 billion," said Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner. Seems there’s an upside worth taking a chance on with that recombination.
Human-robot interaction in 2017 will take more advantage of advances from 2016’s Deep Learning. “Deep Neural Networks are the first kind of models that can really see and hear our world with an acceptable level of robustness.”
Incredibly, “deep neural networks can now describe to us in full sentences what they see.”
Baidu’s DuLight project is enabling visually-impaired people to see the world around them through a sight-to-speech earpiece.
Imagine the value of a home/personal robot that can utilize full sentences of what it sees, or a manufacturing cobot reporting on the job it is working, or an autonomous vehicle describing traffic or geography?
Smart industrial robots
The computational prowess and data of cloud-enabled robotics will assist industrial robots in learning specialized tasks, such as “threading cables, or share information in a group for collaborative tasks; and medical robots that tap into cloud-based resources, such as electronic medical records and patient health management systems, to better serve patients.”
The cognitive supply chain
Jim Lawton from Rethink Robotics had an interesting prediction regarding “smart” supply chains. He sees for 2017 the hallmark for supply chains as an ability to “sense, think and act on real-time information” from production and equipment data. He says “adaptable, self-configuring and self-optimizing supply chains are made possible only by the advancement of automation of both physical and cognitive tasks.”
In 2017, he says: “Robots will use computation at vast scales, deep learning and other forms of AI and the cloud to process additional data and to share learning with robots in other operations. Ultimately, the information they glean will be used to modify the supply chain in real-time and build supply chains that are truly adaptive.”
Emergence of AI in China
MIT’s Technology Review reports that 2017 will see the emergence of China as a world player in artificial intelligence and machine learning. This may also be the year in which China starts looking like a major player in the field of AI. The country’s tech industry is shifting away from copying Western companies, and it has identified as the next big areas of innovation.
A good way for China to get the "copy" monkey off its back and to go "original": For 2017, take LingLong out for a walk, like on someone's wrist. China has over four billion wrists!
And it has all the tech talent it needs to get the job done.
“China’s leading search company, Baidu, has had an AI-focused lab for some time, and it is reaping the rewards in terms of improvements in technologies such as voice recognition and natural language processing, as well as a better-optimized advertising business. Other players are now scrambling to catch up."
“Tencent, which offers the hugely successful mobile-first messaging and networking app WeChat, opened an AI lab last year, and the company was busy recruiting talent at the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference [NIPS]. Didi, the ride-sharing giant that bought Uber’s Chinese operations earlier this year, is also building out a lab and reportedly working on its own driverless cars.”
Chinese investors are now pouring money into AI-focused startups, and the Chinese government has signaled a desire to see the country’s AI industry blossom, pledging to invest about $15 billion by 2018.”
Yes, that's $15 BILLION!
Retail robots for 2017
Steve Carlin, general manager and vice president at SoftBank Robotics America: “Robotics is getting a lot of buzz, but many uses are extremely limited in functionality. The promise of robots as ‘human helpers’ hasn’t yet been brought to life. But that is set to change in 2017.
"With U.S. businesses looking for better ways to engage with customers and humanoid customer service robots poised to enter American retail environments, 2017 is on track to be the year a robot will help customers pick paint colors or find items in the grocery store.”
Better yet, the retail robot speaking directly to my wrist might be more efficient when it comes to color schemes or picking gluten-free foods.
Plus, my wrist keeps a voice record of the entire conversation.