Ten jobs that robots are eyeing up
Sadly, not the England football manager...
Honda's Asimo robot is living the high life right now. Not only is he wowing the crowds at consumer technology shows, he's also the star of several Honda TV adverts.
But what if it all goes wrong? What if Honda dumps Asimo the way Sony ditched its QRIO humanoid robot when it decided to shift its R&D budget elsewhere?
Thankfully, Asimo probably won't end up in the gutter: a wealth of career opportunities will be opening up to robots in the years ahead, from being a teacher or a nurse, through to fighting terrorists or playing up front for England.
Let's start with the obvious option, given England's shoddy performances recently in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. Asimo proved at CES this year that he's more than capable of playing a slick pass'n'move game. If - sorry, when - Michael Owen's much-anticipated comeback ends up in tears (the muscular kind), Steve McClaren could do worse than turn to Asimo, assuming the necessary passport documents can be
forged found. And it might get us into the Robo World Cup.
Perhaps Asimo could ply his talents in a hospital instead – at least it would mean the UK could stop poaching nurses from the developing world where they're much needed. The EU-funded IWARD project is already working on robots capable of mopping up spillages, taking messages, guiding visitors to hospital beds, and distributing thermometers. If Honda can upgrade Asimo with an MRSA-detector attachment, he'd be pounding the wards alongside them.
3. Home entertainment companion
Right now, Asimo's mainly about walking, running, going up and down stairs, and booting balls around. But let's face it, how hard would it be for Honda to stick a Blu-ray or HD DVD drive in his chest and let you use him as a walking projector? With the added bonus that you could send him down to Blockbuster to get the movies too...If it can be done with a pint-sized R2-D2 clone, it could work for Asimo.
Admittedly, Asimo has only graduated to walking up stairs at the moment, so ladders may be a bit of a stretch. Yet there's strong interest within the robotics industry in developing robots capable of taking on dangerous jobs like firefighting - check this site for proof. Assuming Honda can nail the ladder thing (well, and sliding down poles), Asimo could be rocking the big hose 'n' shiny helmet look within the next decade.
Assuming Boy George and Naomi Campbell don't get the taste for community service and switch careers, we're always going to need street cleaners. Asimo's near-perfect balance and nimble fingers would be ideal for picking up litter, assuming he can boot out the rival Figla robot, which uses a combination of infrared, gyro, and ultrasonic sensors to rid the streets of chip packets, used condoms, and collapsed binge drinkers.
Adults are a bit scared of robots, mainly because we've read and/or seen too much sci-fi suggesting they're going to take over the world violently. Kids have no such qualms – they've grown up with friendly robo-toys (or AIBOs, if their parents are stinking-rich). In the US, Asimo already works with kids as part of his educational tours, which Honda runs in schools. But his chirpy demeanour would be as suited to childminding within the home. At least he looks less silly than the Anty "huggy" robot that's been designed to cheer kids up.
7. Urban soldier
Asimo can walk, run, climb stairs, and wisecrack. All he needs now is the ability to fire explosive weapons and he'd be the ideal soldier. Although, Honda might want to give him a camouflage makeover: that white exterior would stand out in an urban warfare zone. He'd at least be in with a shout of winning the Singapore Government's TechX Challenge, which plans to award £330,000 to the best street-fighting robot scientists can come up with. Or Honda could just stick tank treads on Asimo and make him clear mines, of course.
Back to the kids for a moment though. If Asimo could keep them entertained in the home, couldn't he also make them informed in the classroom? A Wi-Fi connection into Wikipedia would ensure he'd never be caught out by cheeky questions about obscure historical figures, while he could be easily reconfigured to speak seven or eight different languages – bots like iRobiQ are already being used to teach Japanese children English, for example. Even better, if you combined these features from those in Number 7, Asimo wouldn't have to worry about being intimidated by unruly children – a problem for human teachers.
9. Home security guard
Let's say at some point you buy an Asimo and keep him in the house. Why not make use of his connected features to protect your home while you're at work? The idea of bots as security guards isn't new. Chinese researchers have already created the aptly-named Security Guard Robot, while the French-developed Spyke is more of a sneaky home-spy, using his Wi-Fi, camera, and microphone to snoop on any burglars who break in while you're away. The downside of using Asimo as a home security bot would be his high price: any robber worth their salt would ignore your TV and hi-fi in favour of walking off with your robot.
10. Fiery trade unionist
Whatever jobs Asimo ends up doing, don't expect him to put up with any old tasks just because he's been created by human scientists to be obedient. A report by the UK Government has suggested that once we put robots to work, they might eventually get uppity and start to demand all manner of rights, including income support, housing, and even healthcare. Asimo's humanoid appearance and way with a punchline would make him the perfect robo-spokesman – can't you see him bringing the house down at the TUC conference? ®