The Honda Research Institute gives an in-depth look at the design of their newest social robot prototype
Social robots have had it tough recently. There are lots of reasons for this, but a big part of it is that its a challenge to develop a social robot thats able to spark long-term user interest without driving initial expectations impractically high. This isnt just the case for commercial robotssocial robots designed for long-term user interaction studies have the same sorts of issues. The Honda Research Institute is well aware of how tricky this is, and researchers there have been working on the design of a prototype social robot that achieves a balance between human expectation, surface appearance, physical affordance, and robot functionality. Its called Haru, and Honda Research has provided a fascinating and detailed look into how they came up with its design.
A paper on Haru was presented at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI) earlier this year, and the introduction does a lovely job of presenting why its so important to carefully consider the physical design of social robots intended to interact with humans:
Various studies confirm that human expectations are shaped by the physical attributes of a robot. As a consequence, human expectations can set the bar high depending on the promise it holds as a function of its physical appearance and how this measures up with the robots actual affordances. For example, a six-foot-tall humanoid robot with a futuristic look would turn out be a disappointment if it only performed Q&A tasks and nothing more. This indifference does not impact on the smaller and basic-shaped smart devices, as the simple Q&A task completion of current smart devices is proportional to the simple image they project. The physical and aesthetic elements of a robot require considered design as they affect its prospect of acceptance and long-term adoption. It is essential to foresee in advance the implicit illusionary functionality brought upon by the design of the robots physical affordance, and to strike a balance between this and human expectation. Keeping human expectation low while stoking interest at the same time may prove to be a good strategy.
Its possible that this is not just a good strategy, but the best strategy (or in fact the only strategy). Were tempted to ascribe all kinds of things to robots that look even vaguely human, and thats been one of the issues that social robots have had in the pastenough human-ness that users think theyre more competent than they are. Commercial social robots are very much aware of this tendency, which is why they often go for a minimalist appro...