Opinion: Heineken's B.O.T Proves The Robot Revolution Isn't Here Just Yet
The chances are that if someone mentioned the concept of robots to you that the first two things that'll come into your head are impending revolution and job losses thanks to automation. In principle, these are the arguably expected effects of bringing in perceivably cleverer devices than people, and it's natural to fear such, in the eyes of many.
This fear of not only change, but just the idea of a robot uprising is really nothing new. Samuel Butler, in his 1872 novel Erewhon was one of the first to indicate the possibility of robots replacing humans through the Darwinian ideal of natural selection, or in other words, a technological revolution. Before then, automata had been given a new lease of life thanks to the Renaissance. Jacques de Vaucanson, in 1737, developed one of the world's first life-like robots - a flute player who had a repertoire of twelve songs. Before this, Da Vinci had made a mechanical camel and lion, but in all instances, these examples are nothing more than pure fascination.
Even as we've entered the twenty-first century, there hasn't been anything to suggest that the Butlerian description of "affectionate machine-tickling aphids" to describe engineers of the day has come true, or the impending rising of robots, or even AI. This is not the least the case for Heineken, the Dutch lager firm, who have themselves entered the world of robotics within the last couple of weeks with a cute little companion to merry holidaymakers that can apparently identify parched people on a sun lounger and offer them a refreshing bottle or can of Heineken.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine the other day, and his views were rather intriguing. He said to me that he felt that engineers or companies had nothing better to do if they can make a robot that follows people round, giving out lager at their request. At the end of the day, all this is is a coolbox on wheels. It is an essential reapplication of the idea of the suitcases that follow holidaymakers round airports, although arguably to serve a much greater purpose. His argument, from a personal perspective, seems short sighted. Were people saying the same thing about Honda's ASIMO some ten years ago?
"Oh great, the Japanese have made a dancing robot - what use is that to society?" I'm sure some people cried in response to the announcements and ASIMO news - I remember James May featuring it on an old episode of Big Ideas a few years ago. In reality, the likes of Heineken's B.O.T. or the since decommissioned ASIMO are there as research projects so engineers can work out the use cases of robots in everyday life. Of course, automation is present within the manufacturing industry in pretty much every part of the process, but to us ordinary folk, the closest many get to using a robot is through one of those smart Morphy Richards water dispensers or using a Nest thermostat to control their heating.
Robotics is meant to be something that people are apparently frightened of, but Heineken's lager-fetching droid may just be a useful insight into what's to come. People have often dreamed for more convenience within their daily lives and the barrage of smart assistants and home tech look to be the mere tip of the iceberg. For a good while now, anything that had the tag of being a 'smart' product made it better, and we've now got everything from smart televisions to smart fridges. I'll let you decide if the latter's a good idea.
The idea for Heineken may be to simply sell the idea of a competition, but its mere existence as a gimmicky piece of tech serves a purpose in explaining life's potential future convenience. Having a little robot friend that can offer you a refreshing beverage is certainly an idea that plenty of people would take to, as it stops lugging around a coolbag or anything of the sort on a hot summer's day. It could even be possible to integrate the little guy with a voice assistant so, if you have the Alexa app on your phone, you could shout to it the usual command of "Alexa, fetch me a beer!" and the little wheeled friend pops up and provides.
In short, Heineken's drink-carrying droid is not only indicative of the potential convenient future that may already be upon us, but also how useful robots can be. The dystopian future of them taking jobs and turning on their creators looks an awful lot further away than writers such as Butler thought many decades ago. The B.O.T. just goes to prove that even though there may come a time when robots do turn, they'll most likely end up serving us a cold lager just before.