Company behind humanoid robot Sophia to set up in Dubai

SingularityNET's founder says humanoid manufacturing cost will come down once mass production is initiated as it looks to expand in the Middle East

Social humanoid robot Sophia, a latest creation by Hanson Robotics company, attends a news conference after a meeting with young inventors and officials in Kiev, Ukraine October 11, 2018.  REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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SingularityNET, the team behind what many regard as the world's most expressive humanoid robot Sophia, will open a research and business development unit in Dubai as part of plans to expand in the Middle East.

"AI and robotics are in the early stages in Dubai or in the general Middle East. It is a new frontier for the region and that makes things very exciting," Dr Ben Goertzel, chief executive and founder of SingularityNET, told The National.

The Amsterdam-headquartered company, which works in the field of artificial intelligence, blockchain and robotics, has offices in Hong Kong, Brazil, Russia, Ethiopia and India.

Last week, SingularityNET partnered with the Singapore and Malaysia division of Domino's Pizza to implement its blockchain-powered AI to their supply chain processes and logistics.

"Dubai is quite open for experimenting. It is attracting so much attention and there are high levels of resources and enthusiasm for AI. This is the right time to roll out AI in every aspect of industry in Dubai," said Dr Goertzel.

SingularityNET aims to collaborate with local players to start its unit in Dubai, which will house both AI developers and a business development team.

"It will help us to make headway in the Middle East market," he said, without divulging a completion timeline for the new facility.

Dr Goertzel, who is also chief AI advisor of Hanson Robotics based in Hong Kong that developed Sophia, said the manufacturing costs of humanoid robots would come down drastically once there is mass production.

“Right now, it is expensive to build because there are only few Sophias,” he said.

"However, we are working with a factory in Shenzhen [China] to scale up the industry. Once you have a factory producing Sophia-like robots, even if they are not Sophias, costs will come down," added Dr Goertzel, without revealing the exact cost of manufacturing a humanoid.

He said the Chinese ecosystem of budget manufacturing would bring down the cost of Sophia-like humanoids in the long run.

The robotics market was valued at $31.78 billion in 2018 and is expected to surge at a compound annual growth rate of 25 per cent over 2019-2024, according to the Indian market research company Mordor Intelligence.

Created in 2016, Sophia is described as the most advanced humanoid robot and has been making appearances around the world since then.

Sophia, who received "citizenship" from Saudi Arabia in October 2017, is powered with AI, visual data processing and facial recognition systems. It is designed to get smarter over time, and the  intelligence software was developed by SingularityNET.

Dr Goertzel said there is a large market for humanoid robots, especially in customer-facing roles.

“Commercially there is a big market. They can be used where human interface is required like sales jobs, receptionists, teaching. It’s all about having a personal connection with people and AI can be trained to understand human culture and values.”

Dr Goertzel said the time it takes to manufacture humanoids will come down.

“Now as we have one [Sophia], so having more will be easier. It took many hours to build the first,” he said.