Robotic bush poet could be coming soon to a campsite near you

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Grey nomads ready for robots in the Big Lap
Will ‘Pepper’ soon be reciting bush poetry at campfires?

One thing that the coronavirus pandemic has done is show just how fragile our economic system really is, and how susceptible humans are to sickness.

Paradoxically, the villain of countless Hollywood movies which is often portrayed as trying to destroy mankind could yet prove its saviour … and throw a quirky hand grenade into the grey nomad lifestyle along the way.

Yup, the virus-proof artificially-intelligent machines, more commonly known as robots, are about to become the good guys. For Outback travellers who thought the technology was little more than a fad in faraway gadget-loving countries like Japan and something that would never change their Big Lap experience, it’s time to think again.

With hospitals in some parts of the world using robots to tend to patients, supermarkets using them to relentlessly stack quickly-emptying shelves, and coffee shops using them to serve customers, a recurring question seems to be … why haven’t we got more of them at a time like this?

The bottom line is that we soon will have.

The Covid-19 crisis will inevitably lead to more research and investment in robotics, and the results will slowly reveal themselves in all aspects of our lives. In years to come, it will be robots checking you in at the caravan park, it may even be robots helping you reverse your van into a tight site, or cleaning the amenities blocks, or – heaven forbid – entertaining you with some bush poetry around the campfire.

The potential is enormous and the progress that has already been made is mind-boggling. One of the most well used robots in stores, cafes and offices in Japan is Pepper from Soft Bank Robotics.

Billed as the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognise faces and basic human emotions, it stands 120 centimetres tall and has no trouble in perceiving its environment and entering into conversations with people. The touch screen on its chest displays content to highlight messages and support speech.

Pepper already works as a receptionist at several offices and it is able to identify visitors with speech recognition and facial recognition. The robot uses two cameras as eyes, and one camera on its bottom body to identify obstacles in its path. It never tires of repetitive tasks or questions, and its designers say this then enables human staff to focus on more important tasks.

Researchers in Germany have been taking things one step further and have created a robot that has changing facial expressions that can communicate the seven universal emotions, namely anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise and a neutral state.

Phil Duffy, from robotics company, Brain Corp, says it is inevitable that retailers and other businesses will come out of this health crisis with a completely different perspective on robots.

“We believe people are already developing a more positive attitude toward robots,” he said. “As we have seen in the last few weeks, humans need help during a crisis like this one, and autonomous mobile robots have the ability to support them in meaningful ways.”

Watch this space.

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