Entertainment robots the latest craze worldwide as the pandemic rages on

The Gundam warrior robotic in Yokogama’s Ymahita Habor is a giant attraction for Japanese Sci-Fi followers.

Photo: Tim Hornyak

When Boston Dynamics posted its latest video of its robots performing gravity-defying acrobatics, this time dancing to The Contours’ “Do You Love Me,” the web was agog. A YouTube clip of Atlas and Spot robots shifting with balletic fluidity has racked up over 23 million views since Dec. 30 and numerous warnings that the ‘Terminator sequence’ Skynet is upon us. Boston Dynamics, which Hyundai Motor Group is buying from SoftBank Group, makes robots that aren’t solely sensible, they’re enjoyable to look at.

Long utilized by firms like Walt Disney Imagineering, robots are rising as entertainers even as the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the rollout of numerous sorts of robots that may assist struggle the virus and help society and the economic system in a myriad of the way – from offering automation in factories and warehouses to working as medical assistants in hospitals and nursing properties. As the world seems to be to vaccines and the reopening of economies, clever machines shall be taking on an more and more public function as entertainers. Entertainment robots as a market may develop 10% yearly by means of 2023 as extra public venues embrace machines that don’t tire, get sick or must be quarantined, in line with the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).   

The IFR classifies leisure robots as a sort of service robotic, a broad class together with every part from hospital supply droids to edutainment robotic toys. The class grew 32% from $8.5 billion to $11.2 billion in 2019. Sales of leisure robots have been up 13% to 4.6 million items in 2019, and had a possible progress of 10% to five.1 million items in 2020 and 6.7 million items in 2023, in line with the IFR.

Robots fashionable in Japan

One nation making nice strides on this nascent market is Japan, identified for its prowess in robotics. In 2018, Japan was the world’s high industrial robotic producer and delivered 52% of the international provide, in line with the IFR. Japan has actively embraced robotics as its inhabitants shrinks, its workforce shrinks and the coronavirus pandemic makes human interplay tough.

Companies in Japan not too long ago unveiled a large robotic that may transfer its legs and arms, showing to stroll. Nearly 60 ft tall, about half the peak of the copper Statue of Liberty, the machine is impressed by the Gundam science fiction sequence and is drawing followers in Japan and on the web.

Just south of Tokyo, Gundam Factory Yokohama not too long ago opened as the fruits of a long-term undertaking to construct a life-sized, cellular model of the titular robotic from Mobile Suit Gundam. Yoshiyuki Tomino’s wildly profitable anime franchise spawned a merchandise empire now price some 78 billion yen ($758 million) in annual gross sales. The sequence is a sprawling science fiction epic during which folks pilot big robots in an area battle. While different likenesses of Gundam robots have been erected since 2009, the one in Yokohama is the fruit of the Gundam Global Challenge (GGC), an effort to create a full-scale big robotic that may stroll.

When it is showtime, the Gundam robotic appears to slowly step ahead, bend its knees after which get up on what seems to be like a launchpad for a rocket. Bathed in mist and dramatic lighting, it raises its arms as stirring music fills the air. The 25-ton colossus appears set to take off into the twilight over the port metropolis, nevertheless it by no means leaves its supportive gantry. The whole setup is a extremely elaborate sound and lightweight present to supply the phantasm that the Gundam robotic has, in a way, come to life. And that is ok for legions of followers that can pay 1,650 yen ($16) to see it from floor degree or 3,300 yen ($32) for gantry entry.

“The sight of the 18-meter giant walking was a surprise I had never experienced in my life,” says a Gundam fan who goes by the nickname Yokkun and requested anonymity. “It’s as if you’re a crewmember on the [Gundam spaceship] White Base. You won’t get bored no matter how many times you see it. Going up the tower for a closeup view is a must.”

“No one has ever seen an 18-meter standing Gundam statue moving like this before, and I think that’s very important,” says Yasuo Miyakawa, consultant director of GGC and CEO of Bandai Namco, which has offered almost 700 million Gundam mannequin kits in the a long time since the sequence debuted in 1979. “Showing what has been created in the anime — that is, the world seen in the videos — is closer to reality is a new form of entertainment.”

In a message to followers, director Tomino apologized that the monumental machine can’t truly stroll as a result of its nice bulk. Nonetheless, followers have come to see the “moving Gundam,” take photographs, have a chunk at the on-site café and naturally purchase merchandise in the memento store, which even sells mannequin kits of the Yokohama Gundam and its gantry. A showroom particulars how 9 Japanese firms got here collectively to construct the robotic, together with contractor Kawada Group, which assembled the gantry, industrial robotic maker Yaskawa Electric, which did to the motors and management gadgets, and engineering agency Nabtesco, which offered the discount gears to make the Gundam transfer.  

Serving up meals, drinks and laughs

Robots as a draw for diners and vacationers are catching on in Asia. Built in 2012 by the Morishita Group at a reported price of some 10 billion yen ($125 million), Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant was usually full of vacationers and locals who got here to see performers cavorting with robotic dinosaurs, LED-lit tanks and different contraptions in a 90-minute, sensory-overload cabaret.

While the coronavirus pressured the momentary closure of Robot Restaurant, different companies are additionally mobilizing droids regardless of and even due to the pandemic. Last summer time, a subsidiary of property developer Country Garden Holdings opened a restaurant advanced in China’s Guangdong Province that is operated by 20 robots, some with colourful designs and cartoonish faces. Aside from the novelty issue of being served by machines, the facility minimizes human contact and attainable infections. In addition, the robots can put together meals such as scorching pot and noodle dishes from a menu of tons of of alternatives in as little as 20 seconds. The firm payments the 21,500 sq. foot advanced, with capability for almost 600 folks, as the first of its form in the world, and introduced plans to increase by producing about 5,000 restaurant robots yearly.   

In 2019, builders unveiled Gyeongnam Masan Robot Land in South Korea, marketed as the first robotic theme park of its form. Costing some $700 million, Robot Land took 10 years to construct and options 22 rides, 11 different services, R&D and conference facilities and about 250 robots doing every part from meeting line work to synchronized dances.

The entrance of Gyeongnam Masan Robot Land in South Korea.

Source: Star Networks

Robots are additionally entertaining folks in a lot smaller venues. Toy-like devices like Sony’s Aibo robotic canine have been successful followers for many years, whereas SoftBank Robotics’ pintsized humanoid robotic NAO, utilized in the RoboCup worldwide soccer match‘s Standard Platform League, additionally does stand-up comedy. Launched throughout the pandemic, Moxie is a $1,499 tabletop robotic from California startup Embodied that is designed to assist youngsters aged 5 to 10 develop their social expertise by means of enjoyable interplay. Backed by traders such as Amazon, Intel, Sony and Toyota, Embodied is led by Paolo Pirjanian, who mentioned in a Toyota AI Ventures weblog put up: “With Moxie, children can engage in meaningful play, every day, with content informed by the best practices in child development and early childhood education.”

A NAO humanoid robotic, developed by Softbank Corp. subsidiary Aldebaran Robotics SA.

Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Major industrial robotic makers are additionally embracing leisure robots. Germany’s KUKA produces industrial robotic arms that assist assemble vehicles, trains, photo voltaic panels and different autos and infrastructure. But it has additionally been working with companions like Milanese drinks firm Makr Shakr to create a totally automated cocktail bar referred to as Toni. Its two robotic arms seize drinks elements embedded in the ceiling, shake and stir earlier than inserting the completed cocktail on the bar counter. Billed as the world’s first mass-market robotic bar, Toni can serve as much as 80 drinks an hour. Industrial robots may also be used for extra hands-on experiences.     

“Our portfolio includes robot-based amusement rides,” says spokesperson Teresa Fischer, pointing to the KUKA Coaster, which might twirl folks round in midair. “Here, KUKA offers special robots that have been developed specifically for carrying passengers. They combine the options of action-packed entertainment with the high requirements on safety when working with people. In this way, a wide variety of different rides can be implemented and customized, for example in leisure and theme parks.”

Joanne Pransky, a California-based robotics knowledgeable who helped KUKA launch the Coaster, notes that many individuals already spend extra time speaking to a tool than different people. She sees enormous potential for robots as entertainers.

“Worldwide, the acceptance and use of robotics has especially catapulted as a result of Covid and the lack of available humans,” says Pransky, who additionally payments herself as the world’s first robotics psychiatrist. “The public’s increased acceptance of robots, coupled with the exponential technological increase of robots’ capabilities, will result in societies growing accustomed to having robots entertain them, which will further drive the robotic entertainment market.”

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