Humanoid robot Sophia could come to hospitals, shops, and airports, as company prepares 2021 launch


Hanson Robotics, the Hong Kong company behind the robot, will start production of four models of robot in the first half of 2021, as researchers predict the pandemic will open new opportunities for the robotics industry.

“The world of COVID-19 is going to need more and more automation to keep people safe,” founder and chief executive David Hanson said.

“Sophia and Hanson [another robot developed by the company] are unique by being so human-like,” he added. “That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.”

Hanson Robotics is launching a robot this year called Grace, developed for the healthcare sector, but is aiming to launch robots in other industries including retail and airlines too.

Hanson aims to sell “thousands” of robots in 2021, both large and small, but did not provide a specific number.

Social robotics professor Johan Hoorn, whose research has included work with Sophia, said that although the technology is still in relative infancy, the pandemic could accelerate a relationship between humans and robots.

“I can infer the pandemic will actually help us get robots earlier in the market because people start to realise that there is no other way,” said Hoorn, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Products from other big players in the industry are helping fight the pandemic as well. SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper robot was deployed to detect people who weren’t wearing masks. In China, robotics company CloudMinds helped set up a robot-run field hospital during the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

The use of robots was on the rise before the pandemic. According to a report by the International Federation of Robotics, worldwide sales of professional-service robots had already jumped 32% to $11.2 billion between 2018 and 2019.

Additional reporting by agencies



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