Sociable Humanoid Robots

Sociable humanoid robots pose a dramatic and intriguing shift in the way one thinks about control of autonomous robots. Traditionally, autonomous robots are designed to operate as independently and remotely as possible from humans, often performing tasks in hazardous and hostile environments (such as sweeping minefields, inspecting oil wells, or exploring other planets). Other applications such as delivering hospital meals, mowing lawns, or vacuuming floors bring autonomous robots into environments shared with people, but human-robot interaction in these tasks is still minimal.

However, a new range of application domains (domestic, entertainment, health care, etc) are driving the development of robots that can interact and cooperate with people as a partner, rather than as a tool. In the field of human computer interaction (HCI), research has shown that humans (whether computer experts, lay people, or computer critics) generally treat computers as they might treat other people. From their studies, they argue that a social interface may be a truly universal interface.

Humanoid robots are arguably well suited to this. Sharing morphology, they can communicate in a manner that supports the natural communication modalities of humans. It is not surprising that studies such as these have strongly influenced work is designing technologies that communicate with and cooperate with people as collaborators.

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