humanity has long imagined a future of robot sidekicks. leonardo da vinci was sketching up plans for robots as far back as the 1400s, and it’s fair to say that today we’re still more than enamoured with the R2-D2s and C-3POs of the world. but how far have we come to realizing the dream of a charming cyborg assistant, and how far have we yet to go? could 2017 be the year we finally hear the pitter patter of robot feet? 



aethon TUG robot
video courtesy of aethon
(main) image courtesy of NIKE



one of the main fields in which robots are starting to make a tangible difference is medicine. although we’re still a ways from fully robotic surgeons, 2017 could be the year that helper bots make their way to your nearest ER. aethon’s TUG robots are already in use at UCSF’s mission bay hospital. essentially courier bots, the machines save hospital employees valuable time by fetching and delivering everything from lab specimens and surgical instruments to bed linen and patient meals. robots are even making their way into the operating room: the davinci robot (named for the aforementioned inventor) is a surgical robot that collaborates with a human to make minute incisions with far greater precision than the human hand — check out this video of it peeling a grape

tech predictions robotics
human-assisted robots are already becoming commonplace, like this tattoo robot by pierre emm and johan da silveira 



feel like a holiday in 2017? in japan, the henn-na hotel hopes to be the most efficient in the world by introducing a staff that is 90% robotic. the check-in desk is entirely staffed by robot receptionists, with porter and concierge robots taking over tasks like transporting luggage and booking you a taxi. there’s even a robot in your room to help with weather forecasts and wake up calls. still ironing out its fair share of kinks, the system gives us our first hint of what a hotel of the future might look like. 

tech predictions robotics
a cast of characterful robots are aimed to make up 90% of the hotel’s staff
you can read designboom’s coverage of the henn-na hotel here



from hotels to harvesters,  2017 might be the beginning of the end for farming as we know it. with the profession’s steadily declining popularity among youths, autonomous tractors, such as the european commission’s project RHEA, may soon roam the countryside. according to a report by robohub, machines already exist that are capable of detecting and killing up to 90% of weeds, monitoring soil conditions and alerting farmers to ripening plants. the MARS project makes smart ‘swarms’ of robots accessible to farmers via a handy app, and some scientists have even begun to develop robots that mimic plants themselves, burrowing into the soil like roots. 

amazon prime air drone designboom
farming robots pair with drones in the sky to bring precision agriculture to the next level
image courtesy of amazon


of course, many depictions of robots in popular media include a crime-fighting aspect, but robo-cop fans needn’t get their hopes up. uber made news earlier this year when they employed the K5 security robot — produced by knightscope — to patrol their parking lot. equipped with 360 degree vision, heat sensors, microphones and facial recognition these miniature security guards wouldn’t be out of place in the latest star wars, and might even make it as far as your local shopping mall in the not-too-distant future. 

tech predictions robotics
the google-owned boston dynamics is best known for its dog-like four legged creations 
image courtesy of boston dynamics



with google home and amazon echo we’ve seen the start of autonomous robot assistants, but looking to 2017, what advancements can we expect? the long-delayed jibo has finally been granted a 2017 release, promising a robot that can read and express a range of emotions by watching, learning and actively responding to his environment. or course, if you want to go the whole hog, you could ask toshiba’s (admittedly terrifying) ChihiraAico to help you around the house, or honda’s ASIMO to play with your nieces and nephews. but we’re putting our money on robots like mario to become the norm in 2017. granted 4 million euro by the european commission, mario is designed specifically for combating loneliness and dementia among the elderly and will begin a full pilot program in ireland over the coming year. 

the hyundai power suits help humans lift heavy objects with ease
image courtesy of hyundai



when it comes to robots we tend to let our imagination run free a bit, and the sad truth is that real, autonomous human-like androids are likely to be a long way off yet. what we can expect in 2017 is a happy medium — collaborative machines that work in tandem with humans to enhance and expedite existing processes. projects like hyundai’s exoskeleton are likely to be become commonplace in not just a professional capacity, but at home too — providing strength and assistance to the elderly, or those with mobility issues. capable of lifting up to 50 kilograms over long distances, these suits can turn just about anyone into a real life iron-man. so we might not be seeing optimus prime anytime soon, but it looks like his predecessors aren’t too far away.