Researchers in robotics spend a lot of time on mobility, grasping, and things of that nature. But new area of research is moving into prominence. Robot voices are becoming more common… and bringing up new issues as they do so.
Robots don’t usually have a gender… unless they have a voice. Research suggests that the more human a robot appears, the more likely it is that people will decide for themselves what gender it has. People tend to call anthropomorphic robots like Pepper “he” or “she.”
When a voice is provided, it usually settles the gender question. Early research designed to figure out whether voices of cars or personal assistants should be male or female typically found that most people preferred female voices.
On the other hand, men didn’t like being told to put their seat belts on — one of the earliest jobs for robot voices — by women. Some companies are now working toward gender-neutral voices for their AI helpers.
Those are disembodied voices, though. When the humanoid robot comes first and it is then equipped with a voice, it is usually male.
Obviously robotic voices — “That does not compute!” — aren’t as pleasant to listen to, but near-human voices can creep people out. One researcher found that humans were inclined to bully robots with convincingly human voices.
Companies are working on training computers to sample human recordings and use AI to create natural sounding human voices. The uses are very limited, because the automated voices can only manage a sentence or two at a time. They’re reading the sentences aloud, too; they aren’t programmed to generate meaningful speech. They can’t even read a full length article.
Robots on the factory floor probably won’t be asked to read articles, but nearly half of all Americans now use voice assistants like Alexa and Siri. Many factory workers must already feel that it’s strange they can’t control industrial machinery by speaking to that robotic arm.
What kind of voice will play best in a factory setting? Whatever voice machine makers choose, workers will get used to it.
In the meantime, when you need service or support for your Rexroth industrial motion control systems, call us first. We’re specialists, and our primary goal is always to get you back up and running fast.