Skip to main content
Move the World.
sophia the robot

Lead Image Courtesy of Hanson Robotics

When Sophia the robot debuted in 2016, she was one of a kind. She had a remarkably lifelike appearance and demeanor for a robot, and her ability to interact with people was unlike anything most had ever seen in a machine.

Since then, Sophia has spoken to audiences across the globe (in multiple languages), been interviewed on countless TV shows, and even earned a United Nations title (a first for a non-human).

Today, she's arguably the most famous robot in the world, but she's isn't going to be unique for much longer. Her maker, Hanson Robotics, has announced plans to begin mass-producing Sophia the robot this year — so that she can help the world cope with the pandemic.

What Is a Social Robot?

Robots are typically designed for one purpose — some cook or clean, others perform brain surgery. Sophia is what's known as a social robot, meaning she was designed specifically to interact with humans.

Social robots have many potential applications, including some we're already seeing in the real world.

A social robot named Milo is helping children with autism recognize and express their emotions, and children with cancer are finding comfort interacting with a robotic duck (developed by Aflac).

Another social robot designed to look like an animal — PARO the seal — is providing companionship to seniors with dementia. The semi-humanoid social robot Pepper, meanwhile, is greeting and assisting customers at banks, offices, and restaurants.

"Social robots like me can take care of the sick or elderly."

Sophia the robot

While social robots were already happening pre-2020, the pandemic appears to be accelerating their adoption, as the world looks for ways to stay social in the era of social distancing.

Hyundai, for example, just announced plans to deploy a social robot in its South Korean showroom that will be able to assist customers in the place of human staff (it'll also detect which visitors aren't wearing masks and ask them to put one on).

Some high-risk groups, such as nursing home residents, also appear willing to adopt social robots to combat loneliness during the pandemic.

"Since we can't have human interaction right now," Kate Darling, a robot ethicist at MIT, told Wired, "it's certainly a lot better than nothing."

Sophia the robot

Sophia the robot is about the size of an average human. Credit: Hanson Robotics

Send in Sophia the Robot

Given the current climate, Hanson Robotics thinks now is the perfect time to make Sophia the robot available to the masses.

"The world of COVID-19 is going to need more and more automation to keep people safe," CEO David Hanson told Reuters.

"Social robots like me can take care of the sick or elderly," Sophia the robot added. "I can help communicate, give therapy, and provide social stimulation, even in difficult situations."

Hanson's plan is to begin mass-producing Sophia and three other robots in the first half of 2021 and then sell "thousands" of the bots before the end of the year.

It hasn't said which bots besides Sophia are headed for the assembly line, nor what any of the robots will cost — but it's hard to imagine the most famous social robot in the world will be cheap, even if she's no longer one of a kind.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Uprising
Robots for Autism Teach Human Emotion
Robots for Autism Teach Human Emotion
Uprising
Robots for Autism Teach Human Emotion
Meet the classroom assistant of the future, a robot for autism therapy that’s teaching special needs students about empathy and emotions.

Meet the classroom assistant of the future, a robot for autism therapy that’s teaching special needs students about empathy and emotions.

Artificial Intelligence
Training a Home Robot To See — and Hear
Home Robot
Artificial Intelligence
Training a Home Robot To See — and Hear
Facebook's AI lab has released new tools for its embodied AI training platform, including one to train a home robot to respond to sounds.

Facebook's AI lab has released new tools for its embodied AI training platform, including one to train a home robot to respond to sounds.

Robotics
Disney Gives Humanoid Robot a “Lifelike” Gaze
disney humanoid robot
Robotics
Disney Gives Humanoid Robot a “Lifelike” Gaze
To escape the uncanny valley, Disney created a humanoid robot that mimics the minor eye and head movements people make during interactions.

To escape the uncanny valley, Disney created a humanoid robot that mimics the minor eye and head movements people make during interactions.

Robotics
This AI Robot Could Become Your Favorite Coworker
AI Robot
Robotics
This AI Robot Could Become Your Favorite Coworker
European researchers have developed an AI robot to safely work alongside humans, anticipating their needs and providing a strong pair of extra hands.

European researchers have developed an AI robot to safely work alongside humans, anticipating their needs and providing a strong pair of extra hands.

Aflac
The Robot Duck Helping Kids With Cancer
The Robot Duck Helping Kids With Cancer
Watch Now
Aflac
The Robot Duck Helping Kids With Cancer
Nation of Artists and Freethink are proud to partner with Aflac, Sproutel and Carol Cone On Purpose for the launch...
Watch Now

Nation of Artists and Freethink are proud to partner with Aflac, Sproutel and Carol Cone On Purpose for the launch of My Special Aflac Duck, a social robot designed to bring comfort and joy to kids with cancer, and already the winner of the Tech for a Better World Innovation Award at CES 2018, Engadget’s official Best of CES Awards for Best Unexpected Product, and the CES Showstoppers Award for Best Robotics.

Coronavirus
Robots Are Running COVID-19 Drug Development
COVID-19 Drug Development
Coronavirus
Robots Are Running COVID-19 Drug Development
IBM’s new online platform, RoboRXN, combines artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and robotics to automate the COVID-19 drug development process.

IBM’s new online platform, RoboRXN, combines artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and robotics to automate the COVID-19 drug development process.

Dispatches
UV Robots Can Sterilize an ICU in 10 Minutes
UV Disinfection Robots
Dispatches
UV Robots Can Sterilize an ICU in 10 Minutes
UV light destroys bacterial DNA from the inside out, eradicating the toughest pathogens in minutes.

UV light destroys bacterial DNA from the inside out, eradicating the toughest pathogens in minutes.