Firstly, what makes a robot social? From what I’ve seen first-hand, it is the human-centred physical design and embedded social behaviours of the robots that enable them to interact with us through a social mechanism. Now not all designers get it right some robots visibly frighten humans especially young audiences. Which makes choosing a social robot that much harder for a business.

I was recently invited to SoftBank Robot World 2017 as a special delegate to consult on a series of product offerings from the corporation. This trip provided a comprehensive behind the scenes look at a range of businesses implementing the SoftBank robotics service catalogue. The intent, of course, was to learn and share experiences from a Western market approach as they were keen to gather my team’s insights. Here in Australia, it’s key to keep in mind that our population is more extroverted and wants to get hands-on with robots. I must say the development of the hands on some of these robots are still a way off, making handshakes quite troublesome. As opposed to an Eastern market approach where the culture is more reserved and cautious.

Social Robots on the market today excel with personal conversations, data presentation recall, and consistent service delivery. Competent solutions that I have developed come from interactions where a customer needs personalized service. A robot can initiate a conversation and recommend a product based on a tailored conversation often ending in a purchase from a mobile device or home delivery. Of course, this is only one instance. This experience is somewhat similar to what a ChatBot can provide in today’s market. Though an interaction with a friendly Social Robot can establish a deeper meaningful connection with your user.

Some of my clients have required a more approachable robot such as Pepper to teach children and others require a more mobile robot to traverse a shop floor such as Sanbot. Social Robots on the market today each have varying characteristics that are hard to analyse for the uninitiated and even more difficult to predict long-term portfolio value. They may have missed out on an in-depth product demo or have been caught off-kilter by a splurging marketing manager and have now been left to fend for themselves completely in the dark. Choosing the right Social Robot is only half the battle developing a software solution to load onto the robot will be the biggest test for your team. This takes a considerable amount of time and can influence what robot your purchase depending on your team’s technical background your hoping to leverage off.

Understanding the TRUE VALUE of what a Social Robot brings to your business is the challenge facing today’s organisations. Sure, the novelty will bring increased foot traffic and get your brand on the front foot of innovation. I’m sure those are KPI’s for some of you!

More importantly, we as a collective need to understand our users and how they will cooperate with the Social Robot. I’ve been using Design Thinking combined with a Lean Start-up approach to rapidly prototype solutions in a business environment whilst keeping users at the heart of the process. If your business has the capability to explore a proof of concept project with a manufacturer and an in-house development team I’d recommend investing a small portion of the research and development budget to gain the insight if Social Robots are ready to be deployed into your business.

To enable this process, you’ll need to leverage specialist help to scope your business offerings to understand if a Social Robot can fill a process gap or improve your business’s core value proposition. Building rapport with a manufacturer can help but be prepared for endless calls, emails and LinkedIn messages from various sales reps. Definitely, a task to delegate to a colleague if possible!

Frontlines is a first-hand look at cutting-edge technology or new practices of thinking at the implementation level of solutions and a deep dive into project learnings.

Harrison Moore

Harrison is a co-founder of a Social Robotics Solutions start-up and is a Consultant at GLASS, who works 24/7 to create new experiences for his customers. If you would like to reach out to Harrison for a coffee (cappuccino, no sugar) to discuss opportunities surrounding Social Robots and Business Transformation drop him a line here