For Robots, Is Brainless Better?

We’ve been hearing a lot about humanoid robots, social robots, robots that can be our “buddies” and companions, robots that can learn new skills on their own.

A South Korean company is taking another route. They’ve discovered that people feel more comfortable with brainless robots that do menial tasks and look like trash cans.

Naver Labs has been working with a force of 100 robots designed to work in office spaces. Far from branding out into brave new worlds of robotic skill, these robots fetch and carry, delivering coffee and packages to office workers in an unobtrusive and helpful manner.

They make no pretense to being buddies or companions or even coworkers. They’re servants. They look like trash cans and their primary goal is to make the human workers feel comfortable.

No challenges

The building the robots work in was designed and built in 2016 with the robots in mind. There are no obstacles. Doors are designed to open automatically for the robots and floor plans are intentionally easy for the robots to navigate. Where robots in hotels and on sidewalks sometimes need human workers to help them when they fall down or get stuck, the Naver robots operate smoothly in their space.

They ride elevators designed to respond to them, and they stand in the spot which makes humans most comfortable — in the front, opposite the side with the operating buttons. Turns out human beings feel nervous if the robots are behind them at the back of the elevators.

No brains?

These robots don’t have computers for brains. They are cloud-enabled like Alexa. They use a special private 5G network to communicate rather than having a computer in their bodies.

“Since all complex processing is done in the cloud, no expensive computing or sensors are required in the body of the robots themselves,” says the company’s website. “NAVER Cloud’s brainless robots are capable of high-performance autonomous driving using only cameras for positioning, basic sensors, and a small amount of compute power, drastically lowering costs. Furthermore, large numbers of robots can be controlled simultaneously by the central cloud, greatly easing operation.”

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