x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

As their ranks grow, robots are clearly here to stay

Analysis The number of robots being produced, sold and used in various industries, as well as in the home, is growing faster than ever before.

It's official. The global robot population has reached 18.2 million. Not a mere fashion any more, it seems these new "guests" are here to stay. In fact, the number of robots is growing faster than ever before. In 2007, there was one robot per 1,000 humans. Today, there is one per 380 of us. Worldwide, there are more robots than doctors or police officers, while half of the world's robot population inhabits Japan. But there's no need to panic yet.

How will this "invasion" affect our lives?

Some claim that robots will ultimately take away the already few jobs that are left. But let's not be naive. Robots are not just any kind of machine. They are very expensive ones. If we look at the countries with the most robots - Japan, the US, Germany and Switzerland - statistics show that they rank high on living standards. Historically, those standards were raised when robots were introduced. But only the countries that produce them will benefit the most. Unfamiliar to many, the UAE is a respected player in this global race. The Dubai-owned PAL-Robotics produces one of the few robots that can stand up to Honda's famous Asimo.

What will future robots do?

A strong sales trend seems to indicate that the future of robotics, just as with the PC revolution, lies not in the industrial segment, but in the "personal" segment. The Big Bang of robotics will not be industrial machines that make things, but robots that clean, survey and do so-called "services" for us. Therefore, the big investment opportunity lays not in the current "IBM of robotics", but in the next Microsoft for robots. And the next-next-Apple of the future will not sell apps for iPhones, but apps for "home robots" - domestic robots that will cost about Dh72,000. These apps will allow robots to wash the dishes, walk the dog, clean the car and teach children how to play the piano. They will save us time, which is the commodity of the future.

Jose Oriol Lopez Berengueres, PhD, is an assistant professor at United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain. He specialises in bio-inspired robotics and is the director of the university's MediaLab