Oki Japan was demonstrating this eye-catching cockpit at CEATEC 2019, and it goes a bit against the grain because it is supposed to let humans help robots.

The industry is trying to move fast towards a world where robots are fully autonomous and don’t require human intervention. While this may happen at some point, the reality is that we’re not quite there yet, and it’s not obvious when we will eventually get there.

Oki takes a pragmatic view and proposes a cockpit from which human operators can “jump in” and assist robots that encounter situations they cannot deal with. In this particular demo, the robot encounters a crying child in a park, and can report it, but not much more. A human operator then takes over and communicates remotely with the child.

The technology to do this is already out there, although probably not as fancy looking. After all, this kind of cockpit can remind you of the ones used to operate military drones, which already are semi-autonomous. However, Oki seems to think that robots will need human supervisors for a long while. That’s in line with Japan’s Society 5.0 vision that we published about.

Conceptually, it is still very valuable to deploy dozens or hundreds of robots or drones that cover a lot of ground and have few human operators taking over when the situation requires it.

Robots such as the one shown in the Oki demo remind me of the Knightscope security robots that have been deployed in our home area: the Silicon Valley.

They have been confined to private property surveillance because, despite all the artificial intelligence available, it’s really hard to make them operate 100% safe to do simple things such as patrolling around without bumping into kids or pets, for example.

There are plenty of reasons to supervise robots, and Oki thinks its cockpit provides the technological foundation to do it well. Oki told me that the design shown on the CEATEC 2019 floor is not representative of an actual product, which will have to be tailor-made for clients. Alternatively, that could be a very expensive gaming station.

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