Designing robots to work with humans

Here is the good news:

Workers generally warm to collaborative robots quickly. Employees are keen to offload the “mindless, repetitive stuff”, as one roboticist puts it. And because workers themselves do the programming, they tend to regard the robots as subordinate assistants. This is good for morale, says Esben Ostergaard, UR’s technology chief. In late 2012 Mercedes-Benz began equipping workers who assemble gearboxes at a Stuttgart plant with lightweight “third hand” robots initially designed for use in space by the German Aerospace Centre. The German carmaker’s parent company, Daimler, is expanding the initiative, which it describes as “robot farming” because workers shepherd the robots “just like a farmer tending sheep”.

This is interesting too:

It turns out, for example, that people are more trusting of robots that use metaphors rather than abstract language, says Bilge Mutlu, the head of the robotics laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has found that robots are more persuasive when they refer to the opinions of humans and limit pauses to about a third of a second to avoid appearing confused. Robots’ gazes must also be carefully programmed lest a stare make someone uncomfortable. Timing eye contact for “intimacy regulation” is tricky, Dr Mutlu says, in part because gazes are also used in dialogue to seize and yield the floor.

When a person enters a room, robots inside should pause for a moment and acknowledge the newcomer, a sign of deference that puts people at ease, says the University of British Columbia’s Dr Croft. Robots also appear friendlier when their gaze follows a person’s moving hands, says Maya Cakmak of Willow Garage, the California-based maker of the PR2, a $400,000 robot skilled enough to make an omelette—albeit slowly.

This is more discomforting:

The world’s largest compiler of voluntary industrial standards, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in Geneva, has yet to work out safety standards for collaborative robots, such as how much force a robot can safely apply to different parts of a human worker’s body.

The story is interesting throughout, hat tip goes to FT Alphaville.  By the way, humans prefer working with robots which sometimes make mistakes.


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