The design of robots is not just about technology

The man-machine interface may be hampered by clichés that convey particular films. Engineers study the perception of robots to optimize the creation of future humanoid.

Help engineers to design robots that correspond to the end user. It is the goal pursued by the robotics Bill Smart and literature researcher Lara Bovilsky, both teachers at Washington University in St. Louis. They presented a workshop on how fictional robots are perceived by many in the RO-MAN conference 2008 held in Munich. The image of robots that carry into effect such films as Terminator or Matrix hinders the massive development of robots and especially the quality of interaction between man and machine. “Most people have never seen a robot of their lives. The only experience they have comes from movies or books,” said Bill Smart in New Scientist. This affects how they react to real robots. “People have a preconceived idea of how a humanoid should behave. If this is not the case, they may be confused.”

Bill Smart cites the case of a robot designed by Smart who was traveling in a room and took photographs of the persons inside. “Those who did saw a camera mounted on a mobile system and were thrilled that this equated to a real robot photographer were less enthusiastic.” This disappointment could be explained by the ultra sophistication with which science fiction has accustomed us. “In Star Wars, C-3PO is close to a human being. But in reality, robots are not as advanced.” Rather than ask the public to review its requirements in the fall, Bill Smart believes that the study of robots as represented in the collective unconscious should help engineers to design machines that better meet our expectations.

Studying the collective unconscious in the field of robots
“Our goal is to design robots with whom humans can interact in the greatest confidence possible.” Another researcher in robotics, Noel Sharkey, of Sheffield University, confirms this: “Researchers in robotics know that the behavior of males confronted with robots is influenced by how science fiction represents them.” The idea of studying the history of robotics in literature and film to enhance the design of future humanoid seemed therefore promising. It would not be the first time the influence fiction reality. The face of the robot of MIT, Kismet, which is supposed to express emotions, could be achieved through the collaboration of a Hollywood special effects. Noel Sharkey, however, warns that such a program robótico-fictional work is still in its premises.