Should You Shake Hands with a Robot?

Why do we shake hands?

One story is that a handshake proved that the greeters were unarmed. You can’t shake hands and hold a spear usefully at the same time. What’s more, a hearty shake would loosen any knives tucked into sleeve for spontaneous stabbing.

Some historians say that the use of a handshake for a ubiquitous greeting was popularized by Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries. They thought that a curtsy, bow, or doffing of a hat was too fancy. The egalitarian handshake fit better with their philosophy, and it became the norm in America.

By now, shaking hands is a sign of good sportsmanship and willingness to do business. People from countries where the handshake is not common have to practice shaking hands when they prepare to do business in the United States.

None of these reasons make any sense at all for robots. and yet researchers at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany are trying not only to train robots to shake hands, but to make their handshakes convincingly human.

The German researchers believe that a handshake with a robot will make humans more comfortable with their automated allies. An experiment conducted by researchers from the University of Bath found that humans negotiating with robots were more cooperative and less likely to take advantage of robots if they shook hands with them first.

Portuguese researchers found that people were more likely to offer to help a robot if they had shaken hands with them upon their first meeting. French researchers found that they could train robots to distinguish between men and women on the basis of handshakes. (It its not clear what the robots would do with this information.)

Coronavirus and handshakes

Wired Magazine thinks things should go in the opposite directions: human beings should give up handshakes instead of robots taking them up. Dr. Fauci agrees.

With the pandemic in full swing, handshakes are no longer customary. But this has left an uncomfortable gap for many people, especially men. How can you demonstrate good sportsmanship and businesslike friendliness without pressing the flesh? How can you casually prove that you don’t have any knives up your sleeve?

Bowing is widespread, with variations in many different countries so you can pick a style you like, from namaste to wai to a courtly British bow. The problem is that Americans officially do not bow to anybody but God. As Miss Manners explains, “Although we believe that all human beings are worthy of respect, we do not believe that any one of them is born at a higher level than the rest of us.”

A wave or salute might be another option. The “Wuhan Shake” with foot-touching is another possibility, since we don’t touch our faces with our feet. It might require practice.

As for robots, we think that — at least in an industrial setting — we can do without handshakes. Or they could shake hands with each other as business proxies.

When you need service or support for your Rexroth electric industrial motion control, whether they’re going to shake hands or pack pallets, we can help. Call for immediate assistance with Rexroth or Indramat components.

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