Russell Davies: Promoting robotics is going to require a little human touch

If you've been bored enough to look at my blog recently, you'll have noticed me banging on a lot about robots. I may even have mentioned them here.

They fascinate me, not just because of my sci-fi geekiness but because they feel like a genuine future platform. Robotics, to me, feels like the web did in 1993: full of disruptive promise and excitement.

The other day, I went to a robot trade show to have a sniff around. (I love trade shows, they're easily the best way to learn about a new field. You see an industry talking to itself, you find out what excites and worries it, you see the whites of its eyes.)

So, given you probably don't own a manufacturing concern or do a lot of operations in conditions hazardous to human life, why should you care?

Here are three things to think about:

1. Robotics is arriving in our home via smart appliances such as the floor-cleaning Roomba. These don't need a lot of explaining - they vacuum your floor for you.

But the first wave of domestic robots that actually feel like robots are likely to be providing domestic care for the elderly or infirm - and they have that slightly humanoid quality that lives somewhere between magical and spooky. Some people will instantly bond, others will be instantly freaked out.

These machines will need explaining. We'll need to develop a consumer/marketing language for automatons in the same way we have for shampoo and yellow fats. Actually, hopefully, we'll do better than that. A lot of planners and researchers are going to be having a huge amount of fun.

2. They'll be in our professional lives too. The most conspicuous type of robots roaming the trade show were all telepresence devices. Sleek, shiny machines that can steer themselves around, with screens for faces and video cameras for eyes. They're essentially self-powered video conference cameras meaning you can be on a video chat with someone and then follow them out of the room - so you don't miss the bit of the meeting that's actually interesting.

Or, perhaps more alarmingly, you could be chatting in the coffee bar when a robot with the voice and face of your boss can turn up and say "hi" - even though you know for certain they're in California. Collaboration, carbon-saving and corporate gadgetry, all in one package. We're not going to be able to resist.

3. But perhaps most significantly, when products can walk around and talk about themselves, the branding action is going to relocate - from media channels back into the product. How will shopper marketing work when the products can walk around the shelves? Should you be negotiating extra shelf space in case they want to stretch their legs?

- russell@russelldavies.com

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