Rise of the robots at US electronics show
The FT's Tim Bradshaw plays table tennis and football with the robots at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to find out whether they are learning to play better with humans
Filmed and presented by Tim Bradshaw. Edited by Paolo Pascual. Additional footage from Reuters.
Spend more than a few minutes walking the halls at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and one thing becomes immediately obvious, the robots are coming. CES 2018 has a much larger number of robots than previous years. There are roving entertainment systems, walking Amazon Alexa assistants, and many more robots designed for elder care, retail, and security. All are taking advantage of big leaps forward in artificial intelligence and the falling cost of hardware.
Robotics has always been a big theme at the Consumer Electronics Show, but it's attracting an ever wider array of attendees and exhibitors. Omron is a Japanese multi-billion dollar automation and AI company that is found in the ingredients in everything from cell phones, to cars, to factory robots.
But it's here at CES showing off a robotic table tennis player to highlight the advances that it's been making in not just the robotic arms and the machinery, but also the image recognition and the computer vision capabilities that allow it to hit a ball backwards and forwards with a real person and respond to their reactions as it does so.
This is Forpheus. Forpheus is a table tennis tutoring robot. This is using all of Omron's sensor and AI technology. And it's adapting to the way that you're playing and adjusting to its own ability. So it's purely a teaching product, but it's there to demonstrate our capability of sensing and control.
Forpheus here is featuring our three camera vision system, that is analysing the player's movements. Also our Okowa vision, taking the player's sensitivity, and also the projectile of the ball.
It is unusual for a company like Omron, that mainly sells to manufacturers rather than consumers to have such a prominent presence at CES. But these days, the show is as much about dealmaking and recruitment as selling gadgets.
Many of our customers, but also our potential talent and companies that we want to partner with, are here at CES. So this is our debut to show all of our technology.
One of the most impressive robots I saw at CES this year was from UB Tech, a robotic startup based in Shenzhen, China. It's walker bipedal robot will not go on sale until next year. But it is already capable of walking down stairs and kicking a football, a big step up from the many wheeled robots on display. But many of the robots at CES will struggle to attract significant sales because they're both expensive and limited.
We see the artificial intelligence kind of nebulous term being used for all sorts of products, where there's absolutely no intelligence at all as well I can see. And then also you got all of the kind of idiot tech as well. Lots of products which are regarded as almost devices that it's hard to understand why people would even want them. And I think the robots are falling firmly into that category.
Most of them are closer to toys than something that adds real utility to your life. Now of course, there's an opportunity there. But we've seen some opportunities, for example verticals focusing on robots for the elderly, or something around education, but I didn't see anything here that really convinced me that those products are ready for prime time yet.
Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times in Las Vegas.