I have been trying, and failing, to write a piece about the direction I think the information society is going in as a continuation on a theme, but I have not been able to get out of my head the fact Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer has not only axed his popular AIBO robot line, but also axed the entire robotics department.
I appreciate that Sir Howard is trying to bring Sony back into the massive profitability it once had, although I think this is impossible with the strong competition across the sea of Japan, but axing the robotics division is immensely short-sighted to the extent of being myopic.
There are two old capitalist sayings that he would do well to remember;
- You must speculate to accumulate
- The early bird catches the worm
Forget traditional consumer electronics, which is being slowly commoditized due to extreme competition, and focus on a burgeoning future market.
Sony will never get back to its past prosperity with this policy of risk reduction in extremis.
It must find new markets, and products for those markets.
Ironically for Sony the Robot Revolution is just such a market in which they could easily have become a market leader, and helped re-establish themselves.
The QRIO has been in development by Sony for years, and is considered one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever.
It is seen as a market leader.
So why kill it now before it has even been productionized?
I think there are good reasons robots are going to be used more and more in everyday situations.
I can even think up some typical applications for robots off the top of my head.
- Companions: These are pets, such as the AIBO, that have been shown in studies to have the same positive mental and physical benefits as owning a real pet.
- Industrial: Robots have been used in the automotive and electronics industry for years. Expect to see them used in other industries such as construction, naval and mining.
- Hazardous Environments: One of the first uses of robots was in bomb disposal and other hazardous tasks. Expect them to expand to take a greater role in such environments and tasks. From search and rescue in the rubble after a natural disaster, to deep sea oil rigs, even into space, robots are going to be there.
- Assistants: NASA is developing a robot assistant for astronauts in the ISS. It will float autonomously around them and make sure they are OK. Hospitals in Japan are already using robotic dispensaries to hand out the correct medication to the correct patients. You can expect a lot more of these kind of applications. Also expect robots designed to assist people in theme parks and tourist areas. Answering simple questions like “where is the toilet” or getting medical assistance if required.
- Combatants: When the US fitted missiles to its reconnaissance ddrone we saw into the minds of military planners. They want a fully robotic army. Imagine a battlefield where the tanks are autonamous and can identify and destroy enemy targets. Imagine the supply convoys that are fully autonomous. Casualties will be significantly reduced.
Sony has led the way in developing autonomous software AI.
They were market leaders in this emerging, soon to be very profitable, market.
But I guess that if you hire an old-school capitalist CEO you get old-school thinking.
“Reduce risks to increase profits”