How should your robot behave?

There are lots of minirobot toys that really are simple robots. Some can be programmed to follow instructions, others are like animals so take the place of pets. Others play music or answer questions. But what if a robot was like a butler and could ask you questions or even make suggestions? That might be really friendly and helpful, or it might be quite irritating. How should a robot interrupt you when you’re chatting to friends or playing a game without really annoying you? Professor of Artificial Intelligence, Kerstin Dautenhahn, explores how people interact with robots and how they might like robots to interact with them.

She started out as a biologist, finding out how stick insects move. That helped her design robots that move about. It’s not just the movement of animals that interest people who create and study robots, but how they work and live together. Kerstin even set up a whole house where people could live with robots so she could study what happened. She wanted to learn how to teach robots to be polite, so that people would not mind them being in their homes.

robotbutler400dpiIt doesn’t feel nice if someone stands too close to you, but most people don’t really mind if a robot does it, because it’s just a machine. But, if robots are made that look real, like a human, then it does start to matter.

It turns out that most people don’t want a full-sized human-like robot to get their attention by just walking up in front of them. That’s a bit aggressive. It’s better if they move towards you from the side. Kerstin discovered this by watching people relaxing in a comfortable room with sofas, biscuits, tables, books – and robots.

How would you prefer your robot to get your attention? By blinking its lights, making a beeping sound, saying “excuse me”, or perhaps raising a hand like you might do in class. I bet your teacher wouldn’t like you to blink or beep to get their attention!

Unlike in films where robots are often scary, Kerstin wants to help us make friends with our robot helpers by teaching them good manners.

Fun to Do: Design a friendly robot

Draw a design of a robot that might help you.
It might help you at home, at school, at the shops, in a hospital, to cross the road or in any situation you can think of. How might they act, so you don’t feel uncomfortable? How would they move towards you? Would they look like a human or a box with wheels?

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