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Learning to Love to Hate Robots

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Aethon's TUG robot

Hospital workers had polarized opinions of TUG, a robotic delivery system. Some saw it as a team player and loved it; others thought it was attention-seeking and resented it.


Several studies have recently been conducted to determine how humans and robots interact and how to improve the human-robot relationship. For example, a Carnegie Mellon University study examined how people responded to the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. The researchers found that people had low expectations, which Roomba then exceeded.

In another study, the University of Wisconsin, Madison's Bilge Mutlu observed how hospital workers responded to TUG, a robot that carries medical supplies from ward to ward. Mutlu found that TUG was a polarizing presence. Some workers loved the robot and found it pleasant, while others hated it and found it annoying.

Researchers are now trying to design robots to be more aesthetically pleasing. University College London's Kathleen Richardson says that researchers "design lots of robots to look like children so that people will imagine they have a more childlike mentality." Better-looking robots also may help humans to be more forgiving of mistakes.

Although the robots are functional, it is the lack of social skills that is coming between robots and humans. "If you are going to design robots with human-like capabilities, you have to design the appropriate social behavior that goes along with it," Mutlu says.

From New Scientist
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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