When you’re building an industrial robot to pick and pack or tighten bolts, your design decisions can be pretty straightforward. Practical issues and branding may cover most of them.
When you’re designing cobots (collaborative robots) or service robots, one big decision starts you off. Will you make your robot humanoid or not? Will there be a face involved?
Choosing a face
One company is actually inviting people to send in a photo of their friendly face if they’re willing to license it for $130,000. Just as Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker once wore the faces of real women, Geomiq wants to start its robot off with the face of a real human. It might be a marketing stunt, but there might also be some practical advantages.
Researchers have found that nonverbal cues — hugely important in human communication — actually make a difference in the effectiveness of human communication with robots. It probably doesn’t make much difference for the robots, but people find that it makes a big difference in their ability and even willingness to interact with robots.
Humanoid robots, up to the edge of the uncanny valley, are less threatening — as long as, like Pepper, they’re designed to be.
In fact, recent research suggests that people are more cooperative with robots designed to look not just like humans, but like female humans.
On the other hand, humanoid robots tend to cost more to make, and might not be ideal for every task. They can also be deceptive, giving people the impression that they care or have emotions machines do not in fact have. They can even delude people into thinking that they are smarter or more skillful than they really are, a trait which could have negative safety consequences.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take a whole lot of humanity to get the advantages. Anything close to a face can feel like a face to people. Nonverbal cues take a little more… but think how many people believe that their dogs smile. We’re hardwired to accept almost anything as communication.
Making nonverbal communication meaningful takes more effort.
In the meantime, you can rely on us for service and support whenever your Rexroth drive and control systems need it. Call (479) 422-0390 and you can be sure of getting a human response. We’re in the U.S. and we’re ready to help.