Meet DAL-e - that’s pronounced ‘dahl’ as in the curry and then eee as in - well - loads of eees. Just so you know in case you meet.
DAL-e is a robot, and he is your new customer service representative when you take your car in for a service.
Standing just over 1m tall, the humanoid body has a friendly, welcoming appearance, possibly unlike some customer service representatives you may have encountered in the past...
The robot has been developed by Hyundai, the Korean car maker, and DAL-e has been deployed as a highly advanced customer service robot in one of its showrooms. The robot can communicate independently with people with a variety of recognition capabilities and mobility functions using artificial intelligence to understand facial expressions. It has the ability to speak thanks to a sophisticated platform that can decode speech and respond accordingly.
As you might expect from a car maker, they couldn’t resist an acronym, so DAL-e stands for ‘Drive you, Assist you, Link with you-experience’. Personally, I prefer the still awkward but less clumsy DAL-e.
OK, so why do this? Hyundai says it’s a peek into the future into how and what automated customer services may look like. The robot has arms that can gesticulate and four wheels at each corner allow omni-directional movement.
Dong Jin Hyun, Vice President and Head of the Robotics Lab at Hyundai Motor Group, explains:
“Our objective is to enable the DAL-e to engage in a smooth and entertaining communication with customers and present valuable services to them.”
It’s difficult to say at this moment whether DAL-e is also programmed with a bunch of jokes and anecdotes to keep customers entertained or not. More likely, DAL-e will be able to engage customers while they are waiting with a look at some of the models on the showroom and showcase some of their key attributes thanks to a display located on the robot’s head.
At the moment, Hyundai says there is also a practical purpose to DAL-e, and that’s to provide non-human contact during where customers may feel uncomfortable with dealership staff during the ongoing pandemic. The progress of DAL-e is being monitored during its pilot run before any necessary upgrades are deemed essential.
While DAL-e is the newest car maker-built robot to say hello, that’s something Honda’s ASIMO has been doing for some time. Twenty years in fact.
ASIMO is a humanoid robot that stands 1.3m tall and is capable of walking and human interaction. It can even run at over 5mph. And - of course! - ASIMO is an acronym for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility. Couldn’t be anything else, really.
Unlike the new-to-this-earth DAL-e, ASIMO has met a variety of people including welcoming the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to the Miraikan science museum in Tokyo in April 2014. The robot even showed off its footballing skills with the President.
Honda engineers have designed the robot to help people that require assistance in real-world situations rather than the showroom.
But much of what Honda has learned with ASIMO has been used to develop a different kind of robot, the Honda Walking Assist device.
This helps people walk by lengthening their stride; an upgraded version with Bodyweight Support System reduces the load on leg muscles and joints (in the hip, knees, and ankles) by supporting a portion of the person's bodyweight. This has been used by Honda workers on the car factory line to make car building easier and more comfortable.
Hyundai has done something similar, which it calls the ‘wearable robot’ and has developed a variety of applications, such as the H-LEX walking support for those with walking difficulties and the H-MEX to assist those whose lower legs are paralysed; then there’s Heavy-Load Handling Fullbody Wearable Robot. Basically, you strap on a robot frame which allows you to easily handle up to 80kg using a hydraulic driving mechanism on both arms. Especially useful if you haven't been to the gym for a while.
These exoskeletons - wearable robotics - are really useful on the car production line to reduce worker fatigue and facilitate more accurate build. Which is really smart stuff and provides us with another perspective on what role robots play in our motoring lives - more than we probably thought...
So far, we’ve had automotive robots acting as service agents, and assisting with general help, exoskeletons to assist car build, but how about a robot that takes all the effort out of recharging your electric car? Yeah, sounds good to me.
And that’s exactly what Volkswagen has done with a mobile charging robot. Currently it’s a concept that Volkswagen hopes will expand available charging infrastructure by topping up vehicles in restricted parking areas, such as underground car parks.
So how does it work? Well the charging robot is activated either by an app, or by Car-to-X communication, and picks up a charging trailer which it transports to the vehicle that needs charging. It then opens the flap and connects the trailer to the car before returning to its docking station leaving the trailer to charge the car. The charging robot continues the same function for other vehicles, before returning to retrieve the trailer, and take it to its docking station to ‘refuel’.
According to Thomas Schmall, CEO of Volkswagen Group Components, such robotised charging is critical for the future. He says:
“Setting up an efficient charging infrastructure for the future is a central task that challenges the entire sector. We are developing solutions to help avoid costly stand-alone measures. The mobile charging robot and our flexible quick-charging station are just two of these solutions.”
The great thing behind this Volkswagen project is that it enables the electrification of every parking bay thanks to the mobile charging robot. Volkswagen expects to have the first deployment of the flexible charging process operational this year.
DAL-e might seem far-fetched, sci-fi even, but robots are delivering to your door already.
Robots in Milton Keynes, operated by a company called Starship Technologies, are already making autonomous deliveries to residents without the requirement for a human. The dinky little six-wheeled vehicles trundle around the streets and have proven a huge success, particularly during lockdown. The company has already exceeded 1m deliveries.
Another business, the Academy of Robotics, is expanding its human-contact free delivery programme using its Kar-go delivery bot. Following a successful trial in Hounslow, west London during November 2020, the programme is going rural beginning this February in Surrey.
The Academy of Robotics says it will begin supporting a range of small, local businesses in Surrey, making deliveries from shops, such as pharmacies, to residential addresses as part of its solution to ending last-mile delivery, often the most expensive and most polluting element of the delivery journey.
So, in many ways robots are touching our lives in ways we had never imagined or thought possible. No doubt we’ll be saying hello to more robots like DAL-e and the Kar-go bot in the future – and possibly one day you’ll find them on the list of more traditional vehicles that Creditplus finances.