Remember when you were younger and you thought that in 2012 we would all be travelling in flying cars and have at least one household robot to help us with the housework?
Antonio Espingardeiro, independent robotics expert from the IEEE, explains that while we may have to wait a little longer before we can ditch the feather duster for good, personal robots are definitely something we can look forward to…
Robotics experts are currently focussed on developing personal robots for use with the general public through Human Robotic Interactions (HRIs). Just like the future gazing scenario with a robot helper at home, the cutting edge of this field of robotic research aims to automate certain tasks in the home or workplace – making human life more productive and enjoyable. The most successful example of this to date is a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner (Roomba) – this is a “service robot” that cleans the floor autonomously when you’re out of the house. And whilst the ideal robot is one that can multi-task with the best of us, what’s more likely is that we’ll see a surge in small, cheap, task-specific robots, like Roomba.
Robots can do so much more than tidy up after us though – an enormous amount of interest in this space has been driven by the therapeutic properties displayed by the first robotic prototypes. An excellent example of this is in the research of strategies to aid people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) are being used by robotics researchers to automate a set of gestures or behaviours for children that suffer from ASD. These SARs can carry out repetitive tasks such as imitating a set of gestures or behaviours for prolonged periods of time allowing children to become more familiar, and therefore more receptive to, these gestures in humans. Care for the elderly is another area driving interest in SARs. Dementia, isolation, depression and lack of human interaction are just some of the common issues in elderly care. In this context SARs can offer cognitive assistance, entertainment, supervision, telecommunication and even companionship.
there’s a point in time where our impressions of a humanoid robot or automaton change from positive to negative as it becomes more human like
In 2011 I created a set of charity events called “Robots on the Road” for entertaining elderly and disabled people within extra care facilities around the UK. These shows involved the use of baby robotic seals, robotic cats and virtual environments technologies to promote physical and psychological exercises.
Interestingly, whilst your childhood daydreams probably included robots that looked just like humans, studies have shown that when human replicas look and act almost like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. In other words there’s a point in time where our impressions of a humanoid robot or automaton change from positive to negative as it becomes more human like.
The future of SARs is that they could become much more mainstream allowing them to enter the global market – people tend to be curious about robots, and as they become cute, cheap, and easy to use (think Furby!) they will only grow in popularity.