Your Companions – Top Social Robotsby Lorena Nessi, PhD, MA | September 20, 2015
Personal robots are already amongst us. They can dance, play music, chat and respond to our touch. However, personal robots that could ably assist us with the housework are still far from being properly developed.
Some are still very slow, or have problems recognising speech, their movements can be clumsy, their bodies might be carried just by a pair of wheels and overall they might not be very handy just yet. But before we completely disappoint you about the idea of having a robot at home we have some good news for you. Robots are developing fast and there are some fine examples which are already being used as companions.
Some prototypes have good memories and can serve to remind us of things such as important dates and meetings, and some appear to possess a better sense of humour than many humans! They can recognise when they are being found amusing or not and can respond with a laugh when they realise that we are laughing with them.
According to Rodney Brooks, roboticist and MIT professor, we will rely on autonomous robots in the near future. He considers that they will replace people in carrying out mechanical and repetitive tasks and will become our main collaborators at home, something which could be particularly useful among populations with increasing numbers of elderly people.
Jibo and Buddy
Jibo and Buddy are both currently prototypes of social robots which are partly funded from crowdfunding projects. According to their developers, they are connected devices which can be considered family robots.
They can recognise the members of the family, work as cameramen for video and photo work as well as follow instructions, play music, hold conversations, remind us of personal appointments or tasks, entertain and educate. Jibo and Buddy can also answer the phone and leave voice messages.
This is a humanoid, rather short and chatty robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics. He can currently speak English, French, Japanese and Spanish. According to his developers he is a very empathic robot and can detect people’s emotions.
Pepper can give the weather forecast and make jokes. He comes with a tablet to display images and app developers are creating a number of entertaining and educational functionalities which can make him an increasingly funny and interesting companion.
This personal programmable robot is based on the use of an app and a little piece of hardware with wheels that can be attached to a smartphone so the robot can roam from one place to the other.
Romo can have emotional reactions and respond to your facial expression. It can smile or be shy and and even sneeze. It can use other smartphone functions such as taking photographs. The developers refer to it as a friendly robot with a personality that can be enjoyed by old and young alike.
We are far from having anthropomorphic companions to help us around the house. For now Roombas continue to sell well. These are contact sensitive vacuum cleaners which can change direction when encountering obstacles, sense spots of dirt and stop themselves from falling down stairs.
These Roombas can be considered as robots being used for very basic house chores, but their status as companion is obviously pretty much non-existent. We’ll just need to wait a little longer to have affordable robots in our homes doing far more than the vacuuming.
Breazeal, C. and Bar-Cohen, Y. (2003) Biologically Inspired Intelligent Robots, Bellingham, Washington: SPIE (The International Society for Optical Engineering) ISBN 0-8194-4872-9.
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