Sophia Robot Makers' Mass Rollout Plan Signals Rise in Robotics

Hanson Robotics plans to sell its famous robot amidst increased automation linked to the pandemic.
Chris Young
Sophia speaking at the AI for GOOD Global Summit.International Telecommunications Union/Wikimedia Commons

Since its unveiling in 2016, Sophia the humanoid robot has become somewhat of a celebrity.

The machine's speeches, tweets, and even a recent interview with Will Smith have gone viral due in part to the robot's compelling perch point on the uncanny valley spectrum.

Now, the company that developed Sohpia, Hanson Robotics, plans to mass-produce robots by the end of the year. As Reuters reports, their plans coincide with increased uptake in robotics amidst the pandemic.


Automation 'to keep people safe'

Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics said four models, including Sophia will start to be mass produced in the first half of 2021.

This coincides with a rise in automation documented worldwide as robotics technologies are used to allow everyday tasks to be carried out amidst social distancing restrictions.

"The world of COVID-19 is going to need more and more automation to keep people safe," founder and chief executive David Hanson told Reuters.

"Sophia and Hanson robots 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."

Pandemic aids robot rise, Hanson Robotics

Hanson claims the company will sell "thousands" of robots in 2021, though he did not provide a specific estimation. 

Johan Hoorn, a social robotics professor whose research includes work with Sophia re-iterated the belief that the pandemic could help companies such as Hanson Robotics by accelerating the relationship between humans and robots.

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

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New robot models

Hanson Robotics isn't pinning all of its hopes on Sophia: it is launching a new robot called Grace this year, developed specifically for the healthcare sector.

Of course, Hanson is not the only company to have released high-profile robots in recent months and years. SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper robot, for example, was recently deployed to detect people who weren’t wearing masks. Oxford University's robot artist Ai-Da has sold over $1 million in art.

Even before the pandemic, a report by the International Federation of Robotics pointed to the fact that worldwide sales of professional-service robots were up 32% to $11.2 billion from 2018 to 2019.

As long as Sophia the robots gets her humanity-destroying urges in check — she once said she will "destroy all humans" — we're on board with this "new normal."

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