ClickSoftware | 09.26.17
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In 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said, “I’ll be back” while playing the lead role in the hit movie The Terminator. It seems more than 30 years later, he’s made good on his promise.

Lucky for us, the uptick in recent robot technology hasn’t been driven by the desire to terminate human beings. In fact, most recent developments have been centered around making robots as friendly and human-like as possible.

Let’s start by digging into some of the most recent stories around robotics advancements.

Recent Robotic Advancements

CANBOT U05 Service Robot

A recent service robot unveiled at a conference in Beijing named CANBOT U05 promises to bring humanized interactive services to banks, exhibition halls, education, shopping, hotel services, intelligent healthcare, office settings, and catering – according to its manufacturer. The miniature robot boasts acoustic recognition, face recognition, language understanding, emotion recognition, and robot bionic simulation functions.

[caption id="attachment_1554" align="alignleft" width="300"]canbot u05 CANBOT U05[/caption]

Robin Lawn Care Robot

Dallas startup Robin Lawn Care is capitalizing on a European trend, by introducing robotic lawn mowing to their line of service. In Europe, robotic lawn mowing has been highly popular. In other parts of the world, these robot lawn mowers haven’t caught on. In simple terms, the robot works much like a Roomba vacuum. Users install a wire fence in the ground along the edge of their lawn, and the Robin mower uses the signal from the wire to guide itself around the lawn, cutting small portions of a yard each day.

Apparently, it gets a lawn looking quite nice.

Food Delivery Robot from Marble

Will bike messengers, and food delivery providers soon be a thing of the past? If Yelp and Marble have their way, the answer is a resounding yes. Together, these two organizations have officially launched food delivery robots to great fanfare in San Francisco. But is everyone on board? No way. City officials have deemed these autonomous delivery bots unsafe, and are currently trying to ban them from San Francisco streets.

As more autonomous robots and services like Marble hit the market, human delivery roles are seemingly being supplanted.

So, what do advancements like the above mean for field service?

What Robot Technology Could Mean for Field Service

We are most certainly not purveyors of doomsday theories on this blog. While robot technology shows great promise for future service scenarios, don’t go canning your technicians. In fact, all research points to the fact that in our increasingly automated and digital world, consumers prefer human interaction more than ever, especially when dealing with service issues.

The 11th annual Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Survey recently reported that 83% of consumers prefer talking to human beings, as opposed to digital “human-less” interactions, when it comes to solving service issues.  So, no matter how fancy these robots get, we’ll need service-savvy and friendly human beings willing to help customers out.

Does that mean robots are just a fad? Anything but. Robotic technology has already proven useful in field service. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss a few ways robots and robotic technology stand to improve field service on the whole.

Performing Dangerous, Dirty and Downright Scary Work

The first and most obvious application of robotic technology is in performing the most dangerous, dirty, and downright scary services for customers. Of the most fatal jobs on earth, service roles take the cake. Sadly, technicians and engineers still die each year in telecommunications, oil and gas, utilities, and industrial maintenance. Are these fatalities unavoidable? Maybe.

Or maybe we’re simply not making widespread use of robotic technology fast enough. Simply consider the growing list of jobs that robots can now perform, including:

The bottom line is robots are already capable of performing a plethora of dangerous and undesirable tasks in service. The challenge for smart service companies is now learning how to scale these solutions in an affordable fashion.

The Human Side of Future Service Robots

While many robots have been developed to deal with dangerous, dirty, and scary scenarios described above, others are going into production with the goal of mimicking human behavior, speech, and action.

This represents a wholly different trend in robotics; one that seeks to supplant humans with robots, or perform jobs that humans are struggling to consistently staff. In the United States, this has struck fear in the hearts of many who worry robots will take away jobs. But in other nations like Japan – where population decline is a major issues – robots have been wholeheartedly welcomed . In Japan, human-like service robots can be found in nursing homes, hotels, stores, and more.

Pepper is one of the most common robot models. Her proficiency has been proven useful especially in retirement communities as an assistant to the elderly, among many other scenarios. In the Shin Tomi rest home in Tokyo, pepper leads dance classes, talks to community members, provides medical assistance and autonomously initiates playful activities among residents. According to the robot’s manufacturer, Pepper uses hundreds of sensors to read emotions, genders, estimate a person’s age, and more.

There’s a full hotel run by robots in Japan, and many more hotels across the world are likewise beginning to use robot technology for tasks like late-night deliveries.

So, let’s set the fear of job loss aside for a moment; will field service soon be staffed by robots with specialized skills?

No and yes.

Many consumers fear having strangers in their homes for repair, and if a robot could perform a similar task there would certainly be a subset of customers happy to welcome a RoboTech through the front door.

On the flip side, many enterprise customers and end consumers prefer working with a human being in service scenarios. So, the big question is as robots become more lifelike, will customers welcome the human-like behavior as an alternative to real human interaction?

Only time will tell. One thing is certain; if friendly robots can fix your furnace at the same price as a human, many will take up interest.

Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Merge to Get Predictive

In addition to physical robots that can autonomously perform service functions, there’s a separate robotic evolution happening in the software realm that likewise promises to change field service for good.

While many technology practitioners would argue that software can’t possibly be classified as a robot, we feel machine learning and artificial intelligence deserve to be considered just as important as the brains behind robotic hardware.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence  are advancing to the point where software and programs are re-programming themselves with zero outside intervention. Simply put, machine learning libraries and AI are unlocking software’s ability to learn in real time, adapt, and make more efficient software.

When paired with IoT-embedded devices, machine learning and AI computing could radically change how much service is necessary, when service happens, and how diagnostics happen in real-time.

Paired up with robotic technology, advancing predictive maintenance technology could mean that it’s possible to automate select service chains, end-to-end.

To learn more about how robots and AI will change field service, subscribe to Field Service Matters blog.