Why is consumer ML/AI technology so "disembodied" compared to industrial mechanical/robotics projects?

Q:

Why is consumer ML/AI technology so "disembodied" compared to industrial mechanical/robotics projects?

A:

The question of why robotics has not kept pace with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) work in consumer electronics is an interesting one, and one that sheds light on where technology is apt to go in the future.

Different analysts will give different reasons for why robotics is not more prominent in the consumer markets. One suggestion is that the internet of things is a new phenomenon that will take time to evolve, where robotics will become part of that consumer model. Another compelling argument is that robotics is simply expensive for consumers – for instance, in recent weeks, a company called UBTECH announced the market debut of the "Lynx" robot containing Amazon's Alexa AI platform. The fact that consumers are not flocking to store aisles to purchase Lynx, combined with its retail price of $800, provides an excellent example of why a lack of robotics is a result of a general lack of consumer demand.

However, this can't fully explain the current lack of consumer robotics products on the market. Products like Roomba, an autonomous vacuum cleaner, have been popular for years, and network connectivity along with artificial intelligence progress mean tomorrow's robots can be smarter, more agile and more capable. Some sources suggest that there is actually due to be a real boom in consumer robotics – for instance, a Robo Global article from August of 2016 encourages investors to become involved in what writers understand to be an industry that's headed toward rapid growth.

Another way to understand this is to contrast the consumer market with robotics in business technology. Industrial systems often use robotic installations equipped with cutting-edge artificial intelligence capabilities, or at least smart mechanical systems with machine-to-machine communication and data capture setups. One evident difference is that the main role of technology in industrial settings is to manufacture and produce products, where the main role of technology in the consumer world is to enable communications and enhance personal experience. However, there is a good case to be made that consumer robots are coming our way sooner rather than later.

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Written by Justin Stoltzfus
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Justin Stoltzfus is a freelance writer for various Web and print publications. His work has appeared in online magazines including Preservation Online, a project of the National Historic Trust, and many other venues.
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