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Humanoid robots bringing ‘cobotics’ to life in workplace

The future of automation in the workplace was glimpsed at the recent UCD Innovation Week, where 200 students from 26 countries met Pepper, a humanoid robot and the first in the world to read emotions and develop empathy.

Completing an accredited module hosted by PwC in collaboration with the University’s Innovation Academy, it was presented as an engaging introduction to ‘cobotics’ — the collaboration between humans and robots, working in tandem to improve lives by removing repetitive tasks.

“The democratisation of technology has arrived, with cost no longer being the limiting factor to technology adoption,” said Professor Suzi Jarvis, UCD Innovation Academy founding director. “We hope that by making leading-edge technology readily available to our students, alongside developing their creative confidence and thirst for learning, we can equip them to live well in the world.”

According to PwC’s 2019 CEO survey, artificial intelligence will change how business is done in the next five years and will have a bigger impact on the world than the internet revolution.

Pepper, which has been designated female, is designed to enrich and simplify lives via meaningful interactions, speech analysis, and facial recognition, and she is an example to students of the workplace of the future.

The humanoid, whose artificial intelligence allows her to read emotions and develop empathy, is a first in Irish education.

“This collaboration allows students, from a diversity of disciplines, curious about innovation and creativity in professional services, to meet our people and experience for themselves our collaborative and creative environment,” said Feargal O’Rourke, PwC managing partner.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, IDA chief executive, Martin Shanahan, said Ireland will have more robots in manufacturing over the coming years.

Robotics will create different jobs, as opposed to replacing them.

He said: “We see more higher-value jobs being created and some of the low-to-medium scale jobs are declining. That change is already happening within the portfolio of companies. On the manufacturing side, we see increased use of robotics. I think that will only continue to increase and, certainly, across all sectors, technology is having an impact.”

Ireland’s first master’s degree in artificial intelligence was launched last year at the University of Limerick and developed in collaboration with Skillnets and IDA Ireland to address the growing need for AI skills in Ireland.

“Artificial intelligence will have a transformational effect on business and on society over the coming years,” said Paul Healy, chief executive of Skillnets. “In supporting the skills needs of over 14,000 companies in Ireland, we consistently hear of both the opportunities and risks presented by AI. Although a thriving AI ecosystem is taking root in Ireland, we know that a significant skills shortage in AI is emerging, which needs to be addressed.

“We see the launch of this master’s programme as a great opportunity to not only respond to the needs of business, but also to grow our economy by making Ireland a centre of excellence in artificial intelligence,” he added.

Companies that already have an artificial intelligence presence in Ireland include Siemens, Zalando, SAP, HubSpot, Deutsche Bank, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce, Ericsson, Intel, Dell EMC, Microsoft and Huawei.

Paul Sweetman, director, Technology Ireland, said: “Design and development activity for AI systems is growing exponentially, constrained only by a skills demand. Investing in AI skills will produce a pipeline of highly capable experts for this strategically important sector and will have a positive impact on the Irish economy.”