The market for humanoid robots is forecast to grow to $4 billion in about five years, according to a new report by ReportsnReports.
The researcher values the current market at approximately $320 million in 2017. So that would mean annual growth of more than 50 per cent.
Humanoids include such robots as Pepper and Nao, which are owned by SoftBank Robotics, as well as Emiew, produced by Hitachi, and Honda’s famous Asimo, although that one is more of an exhibition robot.
The others, like Nao and Pepper, for example, are already finding many buyers. SoftBank says it has sold 10,000 units of Nao, and it releases batches of 1,000 at a time of the Pepper robot, and it sells out online within minutes.
Pepper and Nao tend to be bought by hotels and other places where they can interact with visitors and customers.
There are other humanoids on the market, including Kuri, by Bosch, and Zenbo, from Asus. These robots tend to be aimed at the home market.
But they all feature the same functions, in principle, in that they are designed mainly to communicate via voice, and move around a little bit.
Most of them are not designed to pick things up or move things, or, in fact, do anything other than move around and communicate.
Most of these humanoids do not actually resemble humans all that much, neither in dimensions nor in looks, although overall, Pepper, Nao, and Asimo are probably the closest to looking “robotically human”, if there is such a term.
The others, such as Zenbo, are basically spherical objects with screens attached to them, which basically makes them another way to access the web and internet – a mobile computer that talks, if you will.
Some of these humanoid robots, such as Nao, walk around on two feet or two legs, while others, such as Emiew and Pepper, get around on their own wheels.
Others don’t really have a lower half at all, and are meant to be stationary – although they do have arms. Nasa’s Valkyrie and Kawada’s Hiro machines are examples of this.
It may have been previously thought that very few people would buy such things, but with the success of Nao and Pepper, as well as the moderately good reception for the others, it turns out that there are quite a lot of people willing to part with thousands of dollars to avail themselves of the company of talking machines.
The segment the humanoid makers are particularly interested in seems to be the home market, where it is believed that these machines may be particularly useful to the elderly.
They can remind the elderly of when to take any medications they may need and notify relatives of any emergencies and so on.
However, while some companies have launched home robots with elderly care in mind, there have been a similar number of companies which have launched robots that could be seen as toys, aimed at a much younger market.
Neither approach the companies have taken has resulted in massive sales, but it probably is worth their while continuing to develop this market.
Sony’s Aibo, the robot pet dog, is probably in a class of its own, but could be categorised as a home robot.
And, perhaps contrary to popular ideas, the Japanese market is not necessarily the only one that is welcoming to humanoid – and canine – robots.
According to ReportsnReports, the North and South American market have the largest share of the humanoid market.
“The Americas is the early adopter of humanoids for all the major applications, such as public relations, personal assistance and caregiving, and education and entertainment, resulting in the maximum demand for robots from this region,” according to the report.
It adds, however, that the Asia-Pacific market is likely to be more diverse, but with particular emphasis on the elderly care market.
“APAC is likely to adopt humanoids for almost all the major applications during the forecast period,” says the report.
“As the elderly population in APAC countries such as China and Japan is on the rise, the region is expected to employ humanoids for the personal assistance and caregiving application.”
Some of the key companies in the humanoid robots market that ReportsnReports lists include:
- Hajime Research Institute;
- Hanson Robotics;
- DST Robot;
- PAL Robotics;
- Robo Garage;
- Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia; and
Of the list, some seem to be developing humanoids for industrial applications – Kawada, for example.
Nasa, of course, is developing humanoids for space. Asimo, meanwhile, has been decked out in a spacesuit since it was created in 2000.
In terms of segmentation – home, customer service in a business environment, industrial applications, or space – the average humanoid robot has an interesting and diverse future ahead of it.
In terms of business sectors which are showing strong demand for humanoids, ReportsnReports highlights medical and logistics.
It adds that “the rising trend of autonomous rescue operations are expected to generate opportunities for the humanoid robot market”.
Retail, too, is another potential growth area.
It’s likely that all markets will grow, just at different rates.
The only limiting factor may be, according to ReportsnReports, the “high initial cost and research and development expenses”, which it says currently “restrict the growth of the humanoid robot market”.
One company that this report does not appear to mention is Boston Dynamics, which makes arguably the most scarily realistic humanoid and canine robots in the world.
It’s not that they look scary as such, but they move in a way that is so lifelike that it’s just uncanny, and makes you wonder whether the engineers have captured some essence of human or animal nature, if only as it relates to movement – you can see it best when it stumbles or is pushed.
Impressive as they are, however, Boston Dynamics doesn’t seem to be chasing commercial markets all that much.
Similarly, the even-more-creepy and super-realistic humanoids that have been developed in universities and research labs are also yet to find a mass market.