The first rule about the mall robot appears to be: "Don't talk about the mall robot." Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto had mall robots, one of which was famously accused of knocking over a small child. How many robots did the posh mall have at the time? How many does it have now? When and why did the shopping center rid itself of autonomous patrollers?
In the 1990s, fashion's relationship with robots was the stuff of fantasy. On the runway of Alexander McQueen's imaginative Spring/Summer 1999 show, two robotic arms spray-painted a white dress worn by Shalom Harlow. Today, the industry's relationship with automation is much more practical. In the distribution centres of e-commerce giants like the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group and Amazon (which, in 2012, paid $775 million to acquire Kiva Systems, a manufacturer of robotic fulfilment systems used by Gap, Gilt Groupe and Saks 5th Avenue) software-controlled robots routinely navigate giant warehouses, picking and transporting inventory faster and more accurately than humans, enabling services like same-day delivery. "Automated storage and retrieval systems provide high storage density as well as inventory accuracy and management, yet require a smaller footprint," explains Steve Crease, director of operations at Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, which uses ASRS to deliver its "key service level" of same-day delivery.
The aim of the hotel, as CEO Hideo Sawada puts it, is a serious one: to be the most efficient hotel in the world. He draws on comparisons with low-cost airlines that "changed how we travel." Two years ago, as hotel prices continued to rise, the CEO (who runs the nearby Huis Ten Bosch theme park) began discussions with robotics and engineering experts with the aim of creating an efficient hotel, one that costs (both fiscally and environmentally) less. If you thought Hen-na Hotel was a kitschy gimmick, well, that's partly true. Still, the bigger picture here is that researchers from Japan's largest, most influential university are involving themselves and testing out cutting-edge green technology, as well as trying to create a space where both robots and humans can move around and do what they want (or need) to do.
Last year at CES, LG introduced a bunch of new robots because, as near as we could tell, LG figured that robots were cool so they'd better make some robots or something. The most photogenic (and smallest) was Hub, which bore a striking resemblance to Jibo, but we also met two burly service robots designed to work at airports. For CES 2018, LG is adding three more robots to the CLOi (that's pronounced KLOH-ee, obviously) family. New this year are the Serving Robot, Porter Robot, and Shopping Cart Robot, "developed for commercial use at hotels, airports, and supermarkets," and it's definitely not a coincidence that they're just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where LG is also based.
Though robots are increasingly making their way into factories, offices and even airports, they're still not something you'd encounter walking down a city street -- and definitely not in a way that's personally useful to you. We'd all love to have our own personal BB-8 droid to follow us around and help get things done, but so far we've had to settle for robotic vacuums and airport greeters. Piaggio Fast Forward promises to bring us a bit closer to that science fiction reality with its new smart cargo vehicle, the Gita. It's relatively small, attractive and can follow you everywhere, ready to lend a hand when you've taken on too much to carry. The Gita (pronounced "jee-ta") is the first project from Fast Forward, a new offshoot from the larger Piaggio Group.