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7 Sightings That Prove The Robot Invasion Is Already Here

Robots may be working behind the scenes building our cars and working in warehouses, but these automated workers are becoming a bigger part of everyday life for humans, especially in commercial real estate. Automation and robots are expected to claim 800 million jobs by 2030, and some robots are even starting to look like humans. Hanson Robotics created Sophia, a human-like robot that can make 62 facial expressions, and Sophia received Saudi Arabian citizenship in 2017.

While we may be a long way from human-like robots joining the general population, there is already clear evidence that lesser robots are taking their place in society.

Sighting No. 1: Serving Up Coffee

A robot was seen in late February serving specialty coffee drinks, such as espresso and nitrogen-infused cold brews, to customers at San Francisco’s Cafe X in One Bush Plaza. This is not the first instance of robots serving humans at food establishments, and there have been several incidents of robots serving ice cream.

Customers can order from a Cafe X app or from kiosks at One Bush Street and receive a drink from Robotic Coffeebar 2.0. 

So far, these robots appear to be peaceful and willing to work with humans. While the robot will consistently handle drink orders, product specialists will be on-site to provide customer service and coffee education.

“We are demonstrating that it is possible to have a much better customer experience when robots and humans work together,” Cafe X Community Manager Sam Blum said in a statement.

The robot barista army is expected to increase in numbers later this year as Cafe X expands its in-house manufacturing operations in the Bay Area. Additional Robotic Coffeebar units will be available for deployment in commercial real estate and other highly trafficked areas starting midyear.

Sighting No. 2: Masquerading As Mall Cops

The integration of security robots into civilian life has not gone as smoothly as food service robots. In December, a Knightscope security robot was suspended from its job of patrolling a San Francisco animal shelter after it reportedly harassed the local homeless residents, who felt the robot was taking unnecessary photos of them. The city has since banned the robot from city streets until a permitting process is complete.

A similar robot was issued its marching orders after it collided with a child in a Palo Alto mall last year.

And then there is Steve, the security robot in Washington, D.C., that met with even more unfortunate circumstances last year when it drowned itself in a fountain at Washington Harbour.

Sighting No. 3: Delivering Food And Groceries

Roads could soon be flooded with driverless vehicles filled with fresh produce. Santa Clara-based startup Robomart is deploying a fleet of autonomous vehicles to bring produce, baked goods and prepared foods direct to humans, who can then pick and choose the produce they want from the mobile cart.

Grocery stores can rent the vehicle two years at a time and deploy it to consumers within minutes. The electric vehicles have an 80-mile radius with top speeds of 25 mph. The startup is working with retailers to sponsor pilot runs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A much smaller version of this robot tech is already being tested by San Francisco-based DoorDash. The company partnered with robotics startup Marble last year to deploy a fleet of robots to deliver meals to Bay Area customers.

Sighting No. 4: Helping Hotel Guests

Robots are coming to the aid of hotel staff and guests. San Jose-based Savioke has unleashed Relay, a 3-foot-tall robot, which can fetch guests anything it can fit in its cylindrical body. Savioke already has 70 contracts signed for Relay, which could soon also inform hotel staff of trash or debris inside the hotel.

Hilton Worldwide has already deployed a robot concierge enabled with artificial intelligence at its Hotel McLean in Virginia to provide helpful information to tourists about attractions, restaurants and hotel features. Startup Maidbot is testing its Rosie robot, which would clean a hotel room similar to iRobot's Roomba, allowing human housekeepers to spend more time fixing up the room than vacuuming.

Sighting No. 5: Renting Homes

Human-powered robots were seen leading prospective residential tenants on property tours around the country. Tech-centric property management company Zenplace deployed its fleet of robot property managers last year to provide easier access to rental units to tenants. Prospective renters sign up for tours online and a robot, which is guided by a human leasing agent, shows residents around the property.

Sighting No. 6: Preparing Packages For Retailers

With the rise of e-commerce, robots have crept into the retail and logistics sectors. Various retailers, such as Hudson’s Bay Co. and, are testing robots to handle picking products and placing objects in packages to make the often labor-intensive task easier for warehouse workers.

Amazon already uses robots in its warehouses, with an army of over 100,000 deployed around the world. An aerial fleet is in the works as Amazon prepares a fleet of drones to deliver packages within hours.

Automation, technology and robots are expected to claim 2 million jobs in stock and order fulfillment in the U.S., and no job in retail is considered safe from being overthrown by a robot.

Sighting No. 7: Building Cars

The most concerning sighting is the growing army of robots building cars. The number of robots in the auto industry started to grow in the 1980s after companies invested billions of dollars toward automating basic tasks at assembly plants, according to Robotics Online.

About 233,000 robots work in the auto sector. Detroit uses 15,000 robots, five times higher than other major markets. Smaller armies of robots have been spotted in the upper Midwest, Northeast and Upper South as well as in San Francisco and Los Angeles. About half of the robots do welding, painting and product assembling and packaging, skills that could be particularly useful during an all-out invasion.

And now, with the latest autonomous vehicle technology, a growing number of robots building cars are actually building ... more robots.