Dimitrios Prodromou is the Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Humanizing Technologies, a company that advises, sells, and develops applications for social robots. Their current focus is Pepper, the most advanced humanoid robot available on the market today.
The company is growing rapidly and every day is a jam-packed work day but Dimitrios was able to step away for a few minutes to talk to us about his company, Pepper, and the ambition he has for his company’s future.
What made you start Humanizing Technologies?
I’ve worked in robotics now for over 13 years. Last year I met Tim Schuster (Co-Founder and CEO of Humanizing Technologies) and we decided to combine forces: his business know-how with my skills in robotics. We’re a perfect match! And we chose to pursue this idea of humanizing robots starting with Pepper.
What is the goal of your company?
The goal is to not just have more human-like robots but to have robots that benefit and complement humanity. This is what’s called social robotics and service robotics. What we ultimately want is for the robot to be a valued assistant or a companion that frees up time for the user to do things that people are more capable of doing—creativity for example.
Why now? What makes what you offer important for today?
In the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of robots—an automatic vacuum cleaner for example—which were handy but not necessarily socially accepted. But now there’s Pepper, who is socially accepted and most importantly, affordable. Now’s the time because it wasn’t feasible or affordable before. And instead of creating robots that are seen as a threat to people’s livelihoods, we’d like to do the opposite.
Can you describe Pepper?
Pepper is a humanoid robot or half humanoid because she has wheels instead of legs. She is 120 cm tall and we refer to her as a female because her name is Pepper after Pepper Potts. She’s friendly, petite, cute, has big eyes, and approachable. Right now, I think it’s the most advanced humanoid robot that’s commercially available based on her looks and how advanced the software already is.
What are the values that you associate with your company?
We are focused on building a good relationship with our customers. We’re not interested in just taking the projects, doing them, and moving on. We build connections to our projects and to our clients. We listen to them and give them what they really need. Empathy is extremely important to us.
Have you encountered any difficulties to get to where you are now?
Some of the issues we’ve had have been to re-calibrate expectations of what Pepper can and cannot do. Pepper is so advanced that people think that she can do anything and everything. Can she bring me a beer? Can she vacuum? Can she do the dishes? A lot of this current misperception is based on marketing videos which are great to watch but don’t represent reality. It makes the expectations really high. Normally it’s about raising the expectations of the product that you’re offering and we’re having to do the opposite!
A good difficulty is that we’re growing really fast. We’re already up to 13 people in two locations: Germany and here in Austria. Managing that growth is a challenge. Given that we’re a really young company, it’s a lot of people very quickly but everyone is incredibly motivated because they found us and believe in what we’re trying to do.
What’s next for Humanizing Technologies?
We have an upcoming project that’s really exciting. We’re going to use Pepper to help in caregiving for people suffering from dementia. We want to research what the possibilities are. While stopping dementia is out of our hands, we want to see whether we can help slow down the effects of dementia with games or animations being some of the ideas we’re throwing around right now. It’s a long-term project that’s not money-driven but knowledge-driven. We want to use the robot for a good cause. This is what the word humanizing stands for. Doing something with your heart and your mind.
What would you like to see your company become?
We’re definitely moving down the path we want to be on. It would be good if we can shape the perception that people have towards robots and move further into developing new robots, new hardware and seeing what we can do and how we should use it. We definitely have the right people so it’s all just a matter of time until we get there.
What impact would you like to see Humanizing Technologies achieve in the next few years?
There’s a lot of different things! With regards to Pepper, we’d like to make her more alive, more intuitive, more functional. Concerning our upcoming project with the elderly, it would be amazing to be able to have a measurable and lasting impact. Right now, given that we haven’t started, we don’t have any concrete ideas about how Pepper is going to communicate with the elderly—we have theories and we’re going to test and we’re going to iterate until we get it right but as of this moment it’s unexplored territory which is exciting! The idea is that Pepper becomes a companion who can recognize and remember and interact with an elderly person in a fluid way. It might sound like a dream but the technology is there. Sometimes you need to push your dreams to get where you need to go.
How can members of Impact Hub help?
Ideas! We always need ideas. We can always use ideas, input, knowledge, or mentoring. This will never stop! As technicians, we have specific ideas and we go down specific roads and are more often than not preoccupied with the path we have chosen. We don’t think about other possibilities. But from personal experience, someone comes along who has nothing to do with this industry and they have a suggestion for an idea that we never even thought about and it’s great! You might not have the technical skills but you do have the ideas so come talk to us!