Column: What 5G Innovation Manager Matthias Jungen hopes to get from the 5G network at home.
My partner and I both work, which means we only have time for household chores at the weekend – and we usually have other activities planned then. To be honest, though, cleaning is always my lowest priority. Of course, like most Swiss households, we have machines at home to do our tasks for us: for example, dishwashers and washing machines. But we don’t have robots to do the vacuuming. We did have one once, but it got stuck on the door sills and was pretty stupid. It kept chewing up our cables and getting stuck in corners.
Unlike industrial or service robots, humanoid robots are modelled on human beings. Their appearance and movements are like ours; they usually travel on two legs and communicate with us in our languages. Depending on how developed they are, they can already run, catch balls, play the violin or serve drinks. One notable humanoid robot is Pepper; the superstar of humanoid robotics is called Sophia.
Whenever Saturday rolls around and I find myself standing in the living room with the vacuum cleaner again, I think about how nice it would be to live in a world with real household robots. Humanoid robots that wouldn’t just negotiate door sills, but would also look friendly and interact with humans. I’d call my household robot ‘Charlie’ after Charlie Chaplin in the film Modern Times, which always made me laugh as a child.
Evenings in a clean apartment
While we pore over Excel spreadsheets in the office (or whatever it is we do at work), the laundry is steaming in the machine. Charlie is hard at work washing the dark clothes; his sensor eyes allow him to sort them according to colour. And because all our household devices are connected via 5G, our robot also knows exactly when the washing is done. Okay, pairing socks still poses something of a problem for his motor functions – especially when yet another sock has gone missing in the wash. But thanks to his connectivity, Charlie can learn how complex movements work from other robots online, increasing his knowledge independently.
When we arrive home in the evening, the apartment is sparkling clean and the kitchen tidy. My smartphone has let Charlie know when the bus will arrive, so he meets me at the door. I’m tempted to give him a kiss … but maybe that’s going too far.
Instead, I head to the kitchen and start cooking. I enjoy that too much to leave it to a robot – even if he’d have a better idea of which items in the fridge and pantry are nearing their use-by dates.
Fresh food delivered by drone
I’d be perfectly happy if a household robot just took the tedious housework off my hands. But now that I think about it, a Charlie could do a lot more than that for me. After all, he’s not only connected to my household devices, but also to the drone that delivers the fresh groceries Charlie has ordered from the farmer. He makes sure there’s plenty of vegetables in the fridge, just like I told him. A household robot solves the problem of a fridge that can reorder staple foods but can’t restock its shelves itself.
Now that it’s spring, the dust and pollen is building up. And when the sun shines… yes, I should definitely clean the windows this weekend. An intelligent robot would be very helpful here, too. It would connect with its colleagues online and discover that 62.3% of those in a 100 km radius are also planning to clean the windows tomorrow – so it’s the perfect day for it.
Collective intelligence saves the water glass
A Charlie would also be a huge help when it comes to basic repairs – sometimes I just need a third hand. Recently, the handle fell off one of my cups. It was unique, that cup: hand-made, not exactly beautiful, but still a beautiful memory – a gift from my godson. Charlie could lend a hand with these everyday household accidents, too: one of us could hold it and the other apply the glue. Robots can interact with each other and learn in the blink of an eye things that would take a human years. And I could be sure that Charlie wouldn’t mistake my finger for the handle or squeeze out too much glue – he’d calculate the quantity needed too precisely for that.
I’m waving my hands around while I think about all this, and now I’ve knocked my water glass right off the table. If Charlie were here, he’d have caught it. He would have recognised my clumsy movement using collective intelligence and the fast 5G network, and saved the glass from smashing. Is that just practical, or does it border on infantilising? To what extent should robots act independently to support human life? I’m confident that we will have solved these ethical questions by the time Charlie is ready to go into mass production. Now, what was I planning to cook?
I’m looking forward to 5G, which will allow us to do things which are still inconceivable today!