Will artificial companions be our best friend in the future?

Updated 2017-01-27 10:18:12 China Daily
A boy interacts with a robot at a fair in Tianjin.

A boy interacts with a robot at a fair in Tianjin.

Companion robots are playing an ever-increasing role in helping busy people look after the elderly and children.

With an aging population and an increasing labor shortage, the demand for companion robots for elder care and children's companions is on the rise.

Xiaoyuzaijia is an intelligent companion robot produced by Zaijia.com, a Beijing-based startup engaged in internet hardware and intelligent home appliances businesses. It specializes in security monitoring, human-computer emotional communication and entertainment functions.

If the elderly people are ill at home, the robot can bring medicine and water. The robot will open the door when the guest comes. It can even tell a story, sing a song and play chess.

The number of elderly people aged 60 and above reached more than 222 million in 2015, accounting for 16.2 percent of the total population, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. It is estimated that the number will reach 243 million in 2020.

Song Chenfeng, founder and CEO of Zaijia, said: "The robot is equipped with a monitoring camera and other hardware for facial and voice recognition.

"Family members could also connect their smartphones with the robot. When the elderly fall or the children cry at home, the robot will send messages to inform other family members," he said.

"The companion robot should be an important 'blue sea' in the intelligent household robot market. Xiaoyuzaijia aims at white-collar people who are busy with their work and spend less time accompanying their family members. It builds a bridge among family members and satisfies the emotional communications needs of modern people," said Song.

Yuan Wenhui, chairman of Zaijia, said the company will offer personalized service in the family healthcare and children's education sectors, based on big data algorithms, aiming to be an indispensable intelligent family housekeeper in the future.

Statistics from the International Federation of Robotics show that the market demand for service robots will boom in the next three years, with the market scale reaching billion.

Nanjing Avatarmind Robot Technology Co, an innovative company dedicated to the development of service robots, launched a companion robot iPal for kids aged three to eight years old.

With its cute cartoon outlook, fine craftwork, latest natural language understanding technology and cloud apps, iPal aims to become the best friend of the child.

It can dance, tell stories, play games and enable them to chat with friends by sharing videos, and connecting to social media. The parents can also control iPal and monitor their child's safety and activity on their smartphones.

Wang Xiangyi, vice-president of Turing Robot, said: "Although we still lag behind European countries and the US in robotics, our market potential is gradually unleashing."

Wang said the elderly care market has a promising prospect as the demand in the social security and service sector is urgent.

The elderly-care companion robots, which offer a good solution to labor shortages, has a huge development space.

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