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#HouseofWonder: Our five favourite innovators

#HouseofWonder: Our five favourite innovators

It’s hard to imagine a world without Uber, Airbnb or Deliveroo, and yet surprisingly, not one of these global pioneers existed eight years ago. In fact, in less than ten years, consumer awareness has grown at such an incredible pace that new start-ups are no longer just seen as ‘the Uber for X’ but as innovative companies within the wider sharing economy!

One of those companies, Wonder, held their own ‘app’-tly #HouseofWonder event this week to showcase some ground-breaking new technology, and as sharing economy enthusiasts, naturally we had to attend. Here, we’ve chosen our five favourite brands who showcased their tech on the night.

Pepper – Created by Softbank Robotics

According to his creators, Pepper is a kindly, endearing, and surprising human-shaped robot – this is certainly the case! Designed to be a day-to-day companion, Pepper is the first humanoid robot that can recognise the principal human emotions and adapt his behaviour to the mood of whoever is interacting with him. To date, more than 140 Softbank Mobile stores in Japan use Pepper as a welcoming face when customers enter stores and he is also the first humanoid robot to be brought to Japanese homes. As Pepper grows and becomes more advanced, it’s likely that we’ll start to see him as a regular in our shops and homes.

Thync

The first consumer health solution devoted to lowering stress and anxiety, Thync uses safe, low-level electrical stimulation to activate specific nerve pathways on the head and neck. It’s these pathways which communicate with areas in the brain that help control stress levels, mood and sleep quality. The ‘pod’ which attaches to the user’s temples, delivers carefully constructed stimulation patterns that tap into your body’s own mechanisms to relax, improve mood and sleep better. With a team made up of neurobiologists, neuroscientists, and consumer electronic specialists from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, Thync is a unique product which combines cutting-edge science, with accessible tech.

Generic Robotics

Generic Robotics is taking Virtual Reality to the next level. Through their innovative interactive computer-based simulation which combines VR and haptics – the science of simulating the sensation of touch with machines – the company is bringing true immersion to VR simulations. Focused on real-world applications, the team have applied their haptic technology to training and education, specifically developing simulators to train clinical students in medicine and dentistry. Using the VR and haptic simulation, students can practice procedures in a safe environment, gaining the confidence necessary to move on to real patients when they are experienced enough to do so. As the technology becomes more widely adopted, we will definitely see more real-world applications like this take off.

Micro drone 3.0

The Micro drone 3.0 is just that, micro. At 50mm x 145mm x 55mm, this tiny drone can fly up to 45mph and has a range of up to 500ft. Gimbal equipped and with an upgraded camera, the third iteration of the micro drone can shoot up to 720p HD, perfect for livestreaming and social content. Users can also view live streaming drone footage in 3D with a VR headset. The drone’s FPV (first person view) puts users in the pilot’s seat, providing an immersive flying experience.

Wonder

Wonder, the night’s hosts, are also more than deserving for a place in our top five. The company, who are aiming to make ‘trying things really easy’, is a sharing economy platform for anyone who owns or makes new and hot tech products. Users can explore the platform for inspiration, experiments or just for fun and rent products for a couple of days from like-minded people at a fraction of the cost of purchasing the product. The innovative platform already has some ground-breaking tech listed on its website, from the brand new DJI Spark, to the world’s first roast-grind-brew coffee maker from Bonaverde.

Robocalypse – are the machines taking over?

From Pepper, the emotional robot and Aiko, the humanoid robot receptionist, to Mecha bot battles and clumsy bipedal robots competing to open doors, there doesn’t seem to be a day that goes by without us hearing about the latest exciting development in robotics technology.

Last week, however, robomania struck a new and more ominous tone when a man died at a Volkswagen factory in Germany, crushed by an industrial arm while installing software.

Initial conclusions indicated ‘human error’ was to blame for the accident, while experts rushed to explain that assembly line robots have no independent thought and mis-programming can therefore lead to such incidents, rare as they are.

Of course, that doesn’t make quite as catchy a headline as ‘Robot Kills Man’.

And therein lies an interesting dispute – according to Mashable, robots cause fewer deaths than toilets, zips and trousers at less than one incident a year. Yet social media channels were alive with the sound of fear and scepticism as questions were raised about human safety in the coming era of robotics. One billionaire entrepreneur went as far as to announce a £6m donation to fund research projects dedicated to keeping artificial intelligence under “meaningful human control”.

It’s not as though this is the first time we’ve felt intimidated by the technology either – you need look no further than The Matrix trilogy, I, Robot or Channel 4’s new Humans series to know that humanity is obsessed with the idea of machines conquering the world.

Channel 4's new show demonstrates our obsession with robots.

Channel 4’s new show demonstrates our obsession with robots.

In some ways, maybe we’re right to. After all, how many manufacturers are there that now put products together by hand? In Japan (who, let’s face it, are well and truly leading the pack when it comes to robotics adoption), robots are even being used to plug the skills gap in hospitals and geriatric care as the country battles with a rapidly ageing society.

But it’s not those robots that we generally fear – it’s the ones we’ve created in our own image, capable of emotional reactions and conversation, that truly take us aback and make us question whether we’re not developing the technology too quickly, or whether we’ve really thought through the consequences it could entail.

Personally, I think we’re on the cusp of a critical ethical debate – to build or not to build? Do we play God and push to achieve more than we ever dreamed possible, or do we accept our mortality and admit that some things were just not meant to be because what happens if, one day, our creations turn around and decide they don’t need a God? Then again, it’s not really in our nature to give up when we know that we’re capable of more.

However, I do believe developers and engineers need to take heed of people’s genuine concerns. Yes, perhaps we have been over-sensitised by the media. And yes, when disaster bots end up collapsing in the dust unable to complete the simple task of climbing over some rubble, perhaps we do have a long way to go before we even come close to such a scenario.

But if robots are going to be embedded into everyday life, would it not be wiser to spend some time educating society, instead of ploughing on ahead and making the very concept inaccessible to all but a few? After all, in the famous words of Andrew Smith, “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer”.

Funny thing, no one actually seems to know who Andrew Smith was – maybe the robots got to him first.